Some of you are too young to remember Waco, in terms of what happened there to a group of people with strong Adventist connections twenty five years ago. Led by David Koresh, a group of people often described as former Adventists, established a community, more accurately a commune, near Waco, Texas, that became a subject of interest for the ATF. Koresh somehow managed to convince his followers that he was the “imperfect messiah.” His followers seemed to believe every word that came from his mouth and committed acts, as he directed, that otherwise would be seen by them as immoral or illegal.
I am not in a position to provide clear reasons why Waco happened but there are two reflections on the subject that I wish to share with you in this short article. The first is that extreme interpretation of scripture by any church can lead to extreme actions and ideas by church members. We often use the term “former Adventists” to describe members of the Koresh community near Waco but the truth is that many who perished in the fire there were members of Seventh-day Adventist churches when they died. Some friends and acquaintances, even a former co-worker of mine, were a part of the Koresh community, a number of whom perished when their compound was attacked by members of the ATF. Care needs to be taken by all of us to ensure that Adventism does not become in our homes and in our churches a religion that thrives on extreme views of prophecy, other denominations, lifestyle and relationships, in order to give validity to what we believe. My own observations suggest that Koresh was able to attract some folks in the church who had extreme inclinations. He simply took their extremism in biblical interpretation a step higher, which sadly had a fatal outcome. Commenting on the Waco Siege and the resulting deaths, Roy Branson correctly concluded, “We didn’t start the fire, but the tinder was ours.”
My second reflection is that Waco reminds me that Jesus is not looking for extra-ordinary, cloistered or special people to be his followers. He makes us all special when we come to Him. He wants ordinary salt of the earth people to be His followers. He wants the guy next door, the lady I meet on the bus, the student who sits beside me to become His followers just as they are. Jesus is not looking for super people to be Christians, people who must achieve a certain level of knowledge or a certain degree of respectability before they are considered worthy of Him. He spent three and a half years trying to make this very point: He came for ordinary people who are broken and who bear in their minds, emotions and bodies the scars of thousands of years of sin. In fact, Jesus was aggressively opposed to those in the church with extreme teachings and who made adherence to certain views and practices the test of discipleship. Steve Brown sums up my thoughts perfectly in saying, “It’s worth noting that Jesus didn’t condemn bad people. He condemned “stiff” people. We condemn the bad ones and affirm the stiff ones. Whether it was a prostitute or a tax collector or an outcast … Jesus reached out to them. It was a motley crew of riffraff that followed Him around, and it never embarrassed Him or made Him feel uncomfortable.”
I mourn with those who lost loved ones in Koresh’s Waco and hold to the belief that God is gracious and will judge compassionately. At the same time I urge you not to allow your actions and views to provide the tinder for extreme and explosive positions, which could possibly lead to another Waco. After all, it’s not really about prophecies, theories and mathematical equations; it’s about Jesus and the fact that He came to save us and not to condemn us.