We Didn't Start the Fire but the Tinder was Ours


(Spectrumbot) #1

Editor’s Note: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Waco Siege that occurred from February 28 to April 19, 1993. Throughout the coming weeks, we will be sharing on the website the articles that appeared in the May 1993 edition (vol. 23, no. 1) of Spectrum concerning this tragedy. What follows here is the editorial by Roy Branson, then editor of Spectrum:

Until their February shootout with law-enforcement officers, I had never heard of the Branch Davidians. Shepherd's Rods were familiar enough, but who were these people?

Despite the easy familiarity with which denominational spokespersons on network television referred to the church's long-standing problems with "Vernon," the world media has carefully disassociated the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists from Seventh-day Adventists. That is still a relief. We are different. Seventh-day Adventists don't condone stockpiling weapons, drinking in the local bars, or carrying on polygamous marriages.

But then we began to learn more about the people who died at Ranch Apocalypse: sisters in their 20s from an Adventist family in California; a former student at Andrews University; young adults from Australia; several former ministerial students from Newbold College and their lifelong Adventist relatives; a younger brother of an active layman in Sligo church. These were not third-generation children of the Shepherd's Rods. Most estimates now say that 90 percent of those who died at Waco came directly from Seventh-day Adventist churches. This issue explores the extent to which they were us. Koresh set the flame, but we provided many of the materials.

The special section in this issue grapples with questions that will haunt Adventism for some time: How did Adventism contribute to this kind of tragedy, and what do we learn from the experience? Some Seventh-day Adventists no doubt blame immersion in the rock-and-roll culture, while others point to fundamentalist distortion of apocalyptic literature. Both are right.

What should give the greatest pause are the similarities between Koresh and Adventists—what both Koresh and Adventists feel in their bones: salvation arrives quickly, not slowly; God works most clearly in moments of crisis; the remnant's actions are the hinge of history; the majority of society will always remain hostile to the truth; loyalty to God may demand the ultimate sacrifice. Waco was the shadow side of this worldview. Other religious communities have their own darker side. Ours should not frighten us into rejecting everything we shared with Koresh. But it is our responsibility to learn also how not just our weaknesses but our strengths can be powerfully distorted. In this issue some have begun that task.

It will not be easy. During a recent visit to Battle Creek, I listened to a father talk of his son, a successful computer specialist, an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church until he joined Koresh in Waco, and a victim of the April 19 inferno. "If that is what religion does," the Adventist father told me, "I'm not sure I want to continue having any part of it."

Some Adventist congregations have already held memorial services; hopefully others will soon do so. Spectrum is not a congregation, but we dedicate this issue to all the families who lost relatives or friends in Waco, and to those whom they continue to remember with deep, unquenchable love.

Roy Branson was the founder of Spectrum and served as its editor for over 20 years. He passed away from complications of cardiovascular disease on July 7, 2015 at the age of 77.

Read more about Roy Branson’s legacy here: Roy Branson (1937 - 2015) He Left Us With Hope Roy Branson Memorial Service Saturday, August 8

Further reading on the Waco tragedy: New TV Series Premieres for 25th Anniversary of the Waco Tragedy, January 24, 2018 Beware of Wolves Disguised as Sheep, June 8, 2017 Death of a Branch Davidian Friend and Other Memories, April 19, 2014 Branch Davidians (and Adventists) Revisited in The New Yorker, March 30, 2014 My Trip to Waco, December 27, 2017

Image: SpectrumMagazine.org

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8541

(Pensiero) #2

I saw a short tv program on this last night Down Under and there was no mention of the SDA church.


(Cfowler) #3

We watched the first episode and Koresh said that he was a Seventh-day Adventist.


(DENNIS HOFER) #4

A year after Waco, I had had enough.

As a child I had attended a grades 1-10 SDA school located between Battle Creek and Berrien Springs until the 10th grade when I escaped to public school Hell, instead.

In the 9th grade I had had a very painful ulcer, and often had to leave school early. Not only were my parents no help, but there was no help at my SDA school. You see, the local SDA youth pastor would not stop trying to seduce me. He would even abuse his ‘pastoral’ authority by calling me out of my teacher’s classroom during school hours in order to try to get me to agree to go on a canoeing and camping trip with him. I was a fast-growing tall kid or I would not have been able to fight him off when he got me down one time.

My father hated the SDA church. When I tried to tell my SDA mother, all she said was, “N-o-o-o !” So my San Francisco-‘Hippy’ guitar teacher became my ‘pastor’ and I didn’t learn a lick of guitar while he listened to my sad song. One Friday winter night, after my mother turned off my James Taylor record for not being ‘Sabbath music’, I locked my basement bedroom door, crawled up through the tiny window and hitch-hiked down to Andrews University where I discovered that my student-sister was away from campus with the women’s quartet she performed in. So as the cops cruised Berrien at bar-closing time I snuck into an all night laundry and called ‘home’. I stopped going to my SDA church and the next year I enrolled with the boozers and dopers at the Public High School in Otsego, Michigan, where Ellen had her vision regarding the Health work. . . .This is merely a part, of merely my own, small struggle with SDA ‘authority’-gone-wrong.
(As a hormone-diseased teen-ager, I myself was in no way ‘without sin’ as a hetero-sexually-oriented, acne-plastered ‘geek’ . . . but I myself was in no way in a position of ‘authority’,
and abusing that ‘pastoral’ ‘authority’ ‘with sin’ in mind. And, like too many of my pathetically ‘captive’ peers at the time, I was raised to feel guilt for dis-respecting any of my ‘elders’.)

So, when I learned that ‘official’ SDA GC leaders were distancing themselves from ‘Koresh’ as if ‘his’ sin was some new thing in SDA circles . . . instead of seeing ‘Waco’ as a warning and encouragement for the GC to publicly confess to having also committed such abuses of authority – on behalf of the whole SDA church – and repent before, and thereby also evangelize, the whole watching world . . . well, let’s just say I was not going to be the one getting the ulcer, again.

A year after ‘Waco’ I tried to have my name erased quietly from SDA membership records. Nope !
I was told that I had to contact the pastor where my membership was, and I was given 3 abusive choices for obtaining freedom from the abuses of SDA ‘authority’: 1) Die. 2) Be legally missing for 2 years. 3) Apostasy. This ‘fundamental doctrine’ had not been mentioned to me in ‘Baptismal classes’ when I was 11.

Over the phone, I tried to get the new pastor – whom I had never even met, and whose name I had not even known – to agree to let me at least write a letter to the older church members who knew me, explaining my move, in order to avoid the inevitable rumor-and-gossip-fed misunderstandings
. . .“No.”

I suggested that it would be fine if the letter was locked in a drawer in the church office and only shown to those requesting its answers
. . . “No.”

Then he insisted on meeting me because he – this strange man who had never before even attempted to contact me, a church member – repeatedly insisted that he was my ‘pastor’ ! ?
( I was nearly 37 years old and in business for myself at the time and was, nevertheless, being ‘patronized’ like I was a dependent witless baby.)
Finally, amazed at his ‘authoritative’ arrogance, I followed my father’s example and cussed at him,
“You’re NOT MY F_ _ _ _ _ _ ‘pastor’ !”, at which point he dared to play the ‘offended party’ !
But, just who was wanting to ‘get into’ whose ‘pants’, yet again ?

Then, according to church ‘policy’ and ‘by-laws’, he dragged this ‘apostate’s’ silenced plea before the whole ‘constituency’ of the church I was raised in, and the ‘constituency’ blindly voted that ‘Scarlet Letter’ ‘choice’ in return for setting me free. Of course I got a letter from a ‘little old lady’ who had watched me grow up, begging me to, ‘. . . come back to the Lord.’ And, of course I wrote back, explaining that I had not left the Lord. . . . Yet, brainwashed as she was in believing that SDA positions of ‘authority’ truly meant ‘Lord’-ship – regardless of Koresh-style abuses of that ‘lord-ship’
– I’m sure she died, still ‘weeping’ for my ‘lost soul’.

In 2009 I rejoined the SDA church, only to run head on into ‘Spiritual Formation’ with my new ‘Pastor’. . . So, just how did you vote while leading in that small, ‘authoritative’ GC committee that mandated ‘SF’ classes for all SDA ‘authority figures’ dealing with the public, around 2001, ‘Pastor’ Wilson, before you ‘authoritatively’ anathematized ‘SF’ at 2010’s far larger ‘constituency’ meeting ? Maybe I could more heartily submit to your unclear ‘pastoral’ ‘authority’ if you and the voted representatives of the SDA ‘constituency’ would simply choose one of the following 3 clear paths on which to lead me:

  1. Die. 2) Be legally missing for 2 years. 3) Apostasy. . . !

So, my birthday this year, will be the 24th anniversary of my escape from SDA GC ‘Waco’.
Why did I return ? . . . This time I’m not going to be the one getting an ulcer !

What other SDA publication allows its readers to tell stories like this ?
Thanks ‘Hippy’- Spectrum !


#5

Anyone here know if this is the official position of SDA or if not WHAT IS?

To clarify…what does it take to get one’s name off the SDA church membership books?


(Thomas J Zwemer) #6

Closed minds are generally abusive. Tothemselves or to others. Ted is trying the other.


(Andy Hansen) #7

Freedom from SDA authority? I know that when I was living in the Adventist ghetto of Loma Linda . . . I simply chose to stay away from church, etc. for about 3 years. I did not feel constrained or bound by Adventist authority.


(Carolyn Wesner) #9

I had a friend who wanted to join a different denomination, where THEY would accept a letter of transfer from the SDA church. But, the SDA church doesn’t transfer members out. Going elsewhere is Apostasy. It’s true, only three choices: death, disappearance, or apostasy. Sad. I think most churches these days just quietly remove names of the disappeared from the books - nobody wants to make a big hoopla about it, it means the church has failed.


(Cfowler) #10

Carolyn, when I found out about this policy, I was shocked, to say the least. It was probably the cherry on top of the pile of shocks that I had encountered through the years.:astonished:

How arrogant of them not to respect my wishes regarding my name.

This comes across as punitive, controlling, and not a Christian response, in any way.

But the reality is, whatever they want to write down on their little pieces of paper is of no consequence. It just shows their pettiness and lack of Christian understanding.


(Johnny Carson) #11

Funny thing I’ve noticed is that if the congregation in question is part of an Adventist school constituency, they are generally quite willing to drop names from their books on a simple request.

Why?

Because the congregation is billed for participation in that school constituency on a formulary of membership and tithe. If they can reduce the amount they owe to the school each month they get to keep it within their own congregation.

It’s all about the money in many cases.


(Cfowler) #13

I’m pretty sure it is a policy. As said above, death, transfers to another SDA church, or apostacy, are the only way to get your name off the books. With the possible exception of removing members who haven’t been in contact with the church in decades, I’m not sure that even those names are removed that often.

There may be a few (and I mean a few) slightly enlightened SDA churches that will do it, but overall, I do believe it is officially a policy. It would be interesting to find out. It seems that people have contacted some of the SDA churches, and that was the answer…we don’t transfer names to other denominations or churches other than SDA churches.

And yes totally about control. Not a fruit of the Spirit!


#14

In fairness, since the church regards moving to anther denomination as apostasy, that certainly should be ground for dropping a name. As to whether the church is obligated to provide a transfer letter in such an instance is another question entirely. I don’t even get why one would be requested. And as someone without a dog in this fight, I must ask, shouldn’t those on the books be assumed to be members “in good and regular standing”? Can someone who has been out of contact for a decade really be in that category?


(Cfowler) #15

Yes, dropping a name is fine. But, I was referring to people who request a transfer of their name to another church regardless of the denomination.
I think if a person wants to transfer to another Christian church, it should be done graciously. Why can’t they just write “transferred to the First Baptist Church”. Most churches (non-Sevie) do just that.

They aren’t obligated to, it just seems like the Christian thing to do. Why shouldn’t they?

Sometimes people join a different denomination and they would like their name transferred to their new church, and removed from the SDA church records. For me, personally, I don’t really care about that kind of thing. I haven’t attended the SDA church for 15+ years. My name being on a piece of paper in some dusty office (or computer) is not important to me, but for some it is like closing a chapter and taking care of a loose end, I guess.

To me, it reeks of unkindness and ungraciousness to not respect someones wishes and simply write “Transferred to…”, instead of writing Apostate. Apostate sounds so negative. I know that technically, you are an apostate from the SDA church, but this isn’t how other churches respond to a membership transfer to another denomination. I called several to check how they handled membership transfers. And yes, it’s done in a respectful, loving manner.

I wouldn’t think they would be considered members in good standing.


#16

I think the decent thing that the church could do in the case of one who is switching denominations, is to provide at least a letter confirming the person’s time of membership and perhaps character.
And yes, I think “transferred to the First Baptist Church” in the book would work.


#17

Then again, what if it’s “transferred to Our Lady The Virgin Catholic Church,” or Rainbow Unitarian Fellowship?


(Cfowler) #18

Then that’s where it should go…without commentary.

What do you think? :slightly_smiling_face:


#19

Of course, one could say, to every principle there are exceptions. Nothing wrong with that.


#20

Very observant, John. Also true in regards to % tithe payers per membership!


#21

Beres, unfortunately the simple “transfer” request is erroneously interpreted as a “conversion”, or worse, as an “apostasy”! How insensitive… and rarely is such true. Perhaps simpler to forego the request and simply state “I’m vacating my membership. Good-bye!”


(Elmer Cupino) #22

The worse of the “many materials” is the silent church culture to never to question doctrines and leaders. The lack of healthy scepticism is what doomed the Davidians. The same can be said with the prevailing GC Compliance Committees. When will we ever learn?

For this, we have to thank Spectrum for providing a venue to express critical thinking.