He was one of 77 Branch Davidians who perished after a botched raid by federal law enforcement.
To those of us who have never stepped foot in the Mount Carmel compound, this claim by David Koresh is crazy talk. We may think we’d have sense enough to run from a man who said he was the Messiah.
But, as I looked closer at Christ and Koresh, I noticed they have eerie similarities. Take a look:
- Both Christ and Koresh were born to teenage mothers.
- Both Christ and Koresh had absent fathers.
- Both Christ and Koresh came from towns of little reputation.
Their Ministries and Gifts
- Both Christ and Koresh spent time in Jerusalem.
- Both Christ and Koresh claimed to be heirs of King David’s heritage.
- Both Christ and Koresh were considered good teachers who could quote scripture.
Their Betrayals and Deaths
- Both Christ and Koresh prophesied about their demise.
- Both Christ and Koresh had a disciple they knew would betray them and then try to call off the raids.
- Both Christ and Koresh died at the hands of the State at 33 years old.
Their Followers and the Future
- Both Christ and Koresh had followers who died.
- Both Christ and Koresh have followers who believe they are coming back again.
- Both Christ and Koresh have followers who are considered fanatics.
There’s a saying that, “A religion is an old cult. A cult is a new religious movement.”
And to many people that’s true, there’s a thin line between a cult and a religion. I’ve been a Christian for 26 years. I’ve just come to terms with the fact that Jesus was a cult leader too.
Jesus was killed because He claimed to be the Messiah. Christianity was a cult of Judaism. And, the whole reason the ruse to our redemption worked is because we like to control and kill cults and cult leaders. God knew a cult leader would rouse and rile us up just the way it does today.
I grew up with Kool-Aid and its catchy phrase. I was born in 1978, the same year as the Jonestown Massacre. Jonestown was a shadow that haunted my spiritual life. As I got more religious in my teens, my parents had a looming fear I’d run off with a cult. (My enrollment at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, a few years after the raid on the Branch Davidians, didn’t help.)
And growing up Baptist, everyone who wasn’t Protestant or Catholic had it wrong and had it coming. Okay, I’ll be honest, even some Protestants and Catholics got a sanctimonious side-eye from me. But it doesn’t matter how you spin it, cult members and unbelievers were going to hell. I had to “go-and-tell” so people could escape hell. My light was bright, and it didn’t bother me if it seared eye sockets.
So, as a high schooler and as an early university student, I tried to convert my family members who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. And when the Mormons came by, I tried to help them see the light too. To date, I’ve led no one to Christ who I thought was in a cult.
And years later, when I came out as gay, I understood my faith better. As a gay Christian, I stopped trying to convert people. Evangelicalism can be a form of conversion therapy. Now, I’m interested in inclusion. I realized how wrongheaded religion had wronged me. My church treated me like a cult member. My sexuality and my faith were cult-like practices to my church. And while some may say my church was the cult, the word queer is how some people spell the word cult too. Churches have an immune system that attacks anything close to a cult. Some may even think they’re immune as they attack each other.
And the more I think about the term “cult,” and how we treat people with that term, I see it as wrong. The word cult is a pejorative. Shouldn’t we be more careful about using four-letter fighting words?
In Christian Supremacy circles, the word cult and heretic are spiritual slurs and smears. And unbelievers hurl the insult at religious folk and institutions too.
Sociologists and historians will tell you the term cult has been a green light to persecute and kill people. In one study about public perceptions about cults, it says the word “cult” dehumanizes people.
And a few sociologists believe it was the c-word applied to the Branch Davidians that led to their deaths. Once the government saw the Branch Davidians as a cult, their response reflected their animus and bias.
So, these days I don’t need to convince, control, or convert. Instead, I seek to collaborate across faiths.
Looking back at Koresh, would it be acceptable to collaborate with a group like the Branch Davidians?
Well, we have to draw the lines somewhere, right? With all the talk about interfaith collaboration, cooperation, understanding, and dialogue, are there any limits? And what kinds of lines do we draw?
Life requires lines, I’m comfortable with guardrails. We need lines, we need boundaries. But we also need lines of communication. For the most part, unless there’s a risk of harm, those lines must stay open — even to groups like the Branch Davidians.
A root of many problems is a failure to communicate. The world needs more conversations and not conversions, conformity, and control. Let’s not blur those lines any longer. Communication is a lifeline.