The Waco tragedy and the cult of Christian evangelicalism

In the March 31st, 2014 New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 1993 F.B.I siege on David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the government’s failure to understand the motivations of the group they were dealing with.

Gladwell places the Branch Davidians in “the religious tradition that sees Christ’s return to earth and the establishment of a divine Kingdom as imminent. They were millennialists. Millennial movements believe that within the pages of the Bible are specific clues about when and how the Second Coming will arrive.”

He also compares the Branch Davidians to Mormons, identifying both groups as actively cultivating a culture of separatism. From David Koresh’s Branch Davidians to Joseph Smith’s Mormons, “countless religious innovators over the years have played the game of establishing an identity for themselves by accentuating their otherness.”

It seems clear to me that modern American evangelicals also fit this mold. These self-proclaimed “defenders of biblical Christianity” perpetuate a narrative of themselves in constant conflict with a debased and immoral culture; it’s all us versus them, the faithful versus the faithless, their sacred versus everyone else’s secular.

As today’s evangelicals continue to self-identify in terms of opposition to society, they find themselves increasingly isolated not only from American culture, but from the mainstream of Christianity itself.

Just as Koresh and his followers retreated to their compound for intensive Bible study and prayerful waiting for the apocalyptic realization of God’s plan, so too are evangelicals now retreating to their ideological enclaves, clinging ever more tightly to legalistic statements of faith, rigid rules, idiosyncratic hermeneutics, and isolationist gate-keeping.

Gladwell faults the F.B.I. for failing to understand the religious motivations of the Branch Davidians. Koresh’s followers weren’t bank robbers holding hostages; they were true believers unable to concede their core religious principles.

Because the F.B.I. couldn’t take the faith of the Branch Davidians seriously, because they couldn’t relate to their zeal and devotion, the negotiations quickly reached an impasse, each side incapable of effectively communicating with the other. Several Biblical scholars volunteered to assist the negotiators, and presented Koresh with “a long, technical discussion of an alternative reading of Revelation.” They were able to converse with Koresh on his own terms, and in doing so eventually convinced him to agree to surrender after he completed his manuscript documenting the message he had found in Revelation.

Three days after this concession (and fifty-one days into the ordeal) the F.B.I. decided to stop waiting on Koresh and ended the stand-off. By the time their disastrous assault of the Branch Davidian’s compound had ended, seventy-six men, women and children lay dead, including Koresh.

Gladwell’s piece is subtitled How not to negotiate with believers. In the current negotiations between evangelicals and the rest of American Christianity, what, if anything, might be learned from the Waco tragedy? Can we all exercise the patience and understanding needed to arrive at peaceful unity between the two camps, which hold such radically disparate understandings of the Bible? Or must our differences lead to fiery confrontation, in which “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up”? (2 Peter 3:10, NKJV)


Dan WilkinsonDan Wilkinson
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has three cats.

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  • Tim

    This “separatist thinking” manifests itself in some interesting ways. An example just came up for me yesterday:

    It’s interesting that the church often points fingers outside its walls, when what it really should be doing is standing in front of a mirror. Just yesterday morning, we had a guest pastor speak at church, and he was talking about persecution. Now, I understand that there is real persecution of real Christians going on out there in the wider world today, but to my dismay; this is what this pastor tried to pass off as persecution:

    2 Timothy 3
    New English Translation (NET)

    3 “But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God.”

    The pastor was trying to pass off these behaviors “by the world” as persecution toward Christians. Wait, What?

    “That’s funny” I thought, because the next verse says who this is talking about in terms of behaving this way: “They will maintain the OUTWARD APPEARANCE of RELIGION but will have repudiated (denied) its power. SO AVOID PEOPLE LIKE THESE”.

    So, who is Paul (or whoever wrote 2Tim.) talking about here? Yep, the church. Or to be more accurate, the people in the church who want to look everywhere but in the mirror.

    But this line of thought continues on through the passage, concluding in vs. 8 and 9 saying essentially that it is these people who, like the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses, have warped minds, are disqualified in the faith, and oppose the truth will not go much further, because their foolishness will be obvious to everyone. In other words; they can put on a good show for awhile, but they will eventually be seen for what they are: charlatans.


    • Thanks for sharing that…

    • JenellYB

      Tim, EXCELLENT compliment to what Dan touches on here! I agree what is expressed i this and a good many other passages of biblical text directed at the hazards the religious are at risk of falling into are just as this one, so misunderstood by the very religious they address.
      It is too easy for most to dismiss people such as those in the Branch Davidian tragedy, as well as such as the Jim Jones disaster as just a bunch of mentally deranged nut cases, but a closer look at the psychology involved reveals something much different, that we dismiss taking seriously at our own peril. The emerging theories of “memetics” involved in human cognition and thinking much addresses just how seriously one’s entire world view and thought processes can go askew when we have integrated critically ‘faulty’ bits of invalid “information” into our beliefs systems. Such invalid, false beliefs form then the foundation axioms from which all further reasoning and beliefs are based, as they are accepted as valid premises without question or test, that can lead off into some wildly strange directions, even when from that point of error, reasoning proceeds on basis of formally sound logical form.

      • I’ve already encountered criticisms of this post along the lines of “Oh, but we’re not like the Branch Davidians, they weren’t really Christians!”

        Unless we’re willing to examine the foundations of our own beliefs and irenically interact with the beliefs of others, anyone can end up going in “some wildly strange directions.”

        • James Walker

          I nearly lost a real-life friend over a similar kerfluffle when he and his wife began posting comments against the Islamic Community Center being built a few blocks over from the World Trade Center site. I asked them if they also opposed any Christian community centers or monuments being built near the Oklahoma City federal building…

          our friendship has never really recovered. we’re still connected on Facebook but almost never interact any more.

        • AtalantaBethulia

          I’ve hear the same line about the Crusades and the Inquisition and the Catholic Church at large. “No,” I have to say, “I’m sorry, my friend. Those were Christians who did those things.”

  • Matt

    That must have been just a living nightmare for the FBI negotiators. Like one of our hard-headed trolls come to life–but with lives on the line.

    The distrust of “the world” strikes me as simply a human trait. I see it also with fringe groups like transgender people–some of them wear their “otherness” like a badge of honor and have a knee-jerk suspicion of anything remotely mainstream, assuming that anything considered “regular” is automatically hostile or oppressive. True, transgender people have some basis for that mindset, but it’s clear which of us have turned it into something unhealthy.

    What “the world” and “normal” is, of course, all a matter of perception, with ourselves as the yardstick. What a concept.

    • It definitely is a human trait to form in and out groups.

      I think I get what you’re trying to say regarding transgender people…but it’s perhaps an unhelpful comparison, given their current level of acceptance in mainstream society — they have quite a bit more than “some basis” for feeling oppressed and misunderstood.

      As you point out, judgments like these are matters of perception, so in light of that, saying “it’s clear which of us have turned it into something unhealthy” isn’t necessarily true. What’s “clear” to you may not be at all clear to others!

      • Matt

        I am transgender. With all due respect, I think my judgment is fairly solid here, and I don’t make the comparison lightly. Being put under that kind of unrelenting pressure does things to people–not all of them pretty, and not always their fault.

        I was trying to humanize both groups, but it seems that I didn’t quite make it. No problem; that happens.

        • I do appreciate your perspective. I know people who are transgender, and I’ve had dealings with some transgender people who have been less-than-civil (far less!). Thinking it over more…I do see the relevance of your comparison…

          • Matt

            (And I see that evangelicals’ “oppression” is imaginary. But again, perspective–it certainly feels just as real to them. So I couldn’t help but see two different paths to the same endpoint for both groups.)

    • Bill Steffenhagen

      *****The distrust of “the world” strikes me as simply a human trait.******

      There’s more to it than that. The distrust is something taught to them right out of the Bible. They start by believing the Bible literally as every word out of the mouth (well, sure, he does have one, being made in our image) of God. Then when they run into verses like this, Ecclesiastes 9:3
      “This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they
      join the dead.” and this, King James 2000 Bible
      “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
      How can they possibly trust anything from mere humans? The irony, that everything they believe came initially from humans, even the very interpretations that flow from their pulpits, is utterly lost on them.

      They cut themselves off from the movement within their hearts (AND their minds), which is where the Spirit speaks to us, and in so doing, cut themselves off from the very God they think they believe in. It’s fascinatingly tragic.

  • AtalantaBethulia

    I think learning to speak to people using terminology they know and can relate to–to be able to speak their language–is the only way to connect with and reach people. This is why insight into certain groups is so valuable.

  • Bill Steffenhagen

    *****”As today’s evangelicals continue to self-identify in terms of
    opposition to society, they find themselves increasingly isolated not
    only from American culture, but from the mainstream of Christianity
    itself.” ******]

    It is precisely that separation that confirms their righteousness in their own minds. Separation is the proof of their righteousness. That’s what makes reaching an understanding with them so impossible.

    • Impossible? Or just challenging?

      • Challenging for most, impossible for some, I think.

        • That’s where it’s interesting. Conventional wisdom would say that Koresh couldn’t be reasoned with, that he was a crazy cult leader who simply couldn’t be reached. But apparently Bible scholars were able to reason with him and were able to come to an understanding with him. So here we have someone who all of us would probably write-off as a hopeless case, yet even he could be reasoned with. Realizing that is a tough pill to swallow (for me at least) when I think about all the “Christian” groups who are running around doing all their crazy stuff and I basically dismiss them as hopeless. Am I any better than the F.B.I.? Would I be the one driving the tank through the wall and lobbing tear gas?

          • Certainly food for thought. Maybe its the art of finding common ground, that needs to be used more often, especially in volatile, or conflicting situations. To work a bit better at remembering each other as human beings, siblings living on this big ole orb, who essentially seem to desire similar things, autonomy, peace and respect.
            Not an easy approach at all, for all sorts of reasons, but quite possibly a very beneficial one.

      • Bill Steffenhagen

        Well, ok. Challenging….to say the least. But it depends on the strength of the lock on their mind-set which, in turn, depends on the intensity of their fear.

    • Jordan Robert Dirks

      Their’s a difference between righteousness and self-righteousness.

      • Bill Steffenhagen

        I could not agree more. Perhaps I should have made the distinction.

  • Psycho Gecko

    All it takes is a quick trip over to the Evangelical Channel here to see a lot of this. They really ramp up the persecution complex, too.

    Though I’ve always wondered why people tended to put the blame for what happened more on the government than on the armed cult of endtimes people with the hostages.

    • AtalantaBethulia

      Well, among groups that already have an anti-government tendency when combined with folks who more closely-identifying with a “religious group” who was being “oppressed” because of their “lawful firearms”… you get a certain Vene diagram that clearly points to a conclusion of Government = bad, Religious, first amendment lovers = good. The part about the doomsday cult might get lost in the shuffle.

    • There’s plenty of blame to go around on both sides, and the facts of what actually happened are still disputed. They were an ‘armed cult of endtimes people,’ but did they have hostages? It appears that the Branch Davidians willingly stayed in their compound — yet another reason why the F.B.I negotiations failed.

  • I wasn’t in America at the time obviously, and I confess that the Branch Davidian tragedy is one I’ve never fully understood. Everything I read about it goes against something else I’ve read about it, and I fear I’ll never really understand the whole picture.

    • You’re not alone in that regard…many of the facts are murky and disputed…

    • I was a fundamentalist at the time that whole thing went down. I had some RL friends–close ones–who left to join a very similar cult about 1/4 mile away from Koresh’s group. It was harrowing to say the least; this was long before cell phones and our friends’ group was not allowed to call friends anyway (we learned later), so we didn’t know if our friends were alive or dead till they escaped. I still don’t know either what-all was going on; I don’t think most folks know.

      Shockingly, it turns out that my friends’ cult watched the flames from their yard, and their own leader decided that because the gubmint had not targeted their own group, that meant their god was totally on their side. The abuse got worse and worse, emotional and physical, until they withheld medical care from one of my friends (he had the flu or something like it) and his companion, realizing the young man was near death, dragged him out and got him back home to Houston. This was about a week after Koresh’s compound was taken down I think. And oh my gosh the stories they told… My takeaway from it all was that cults tend to view events like this one in terms of “this could have been us, but it wasn’t–yay! We’re blessed!” You’ve got to step really carefully.

      • Thank you for that story.
        I wonder if another takeaway is that we all tend to view events as relating to us and centering around us. I look at the Branch Davidians and at your friends’ cult and think “that could have been me, but it wasn’t–because I’m so open-minded and un-dogmatic and not susceptible to misguided beliefs!” We all have to “step really carefully.”

        • Oh, it was closer than that. The leader of the other cult came to Houston that spring to drum up new blood, and part of his tour was my church. My Evil Ex, that preacher dude, was way way way into the idea of going. I put my foot down about it because I was in school but more importantly had already gotten a taste of the guy’s unbridled sexism and misogyny and had this weird feeling that his cult was probably a lot more of the same and you know, call me lukewarm if you want, but that just didn’t seem really Jesus-y to me. When my then-husband went to our church’s pastor to demand help in strong-arming me into agreeing to go, that went about as well as you’d expect (the pastor was a very sweet, very old man who I think now probably had his head on a lot straighter than most of the parishioners knew). But our friends–young single men, all of them–didn’t have that lead weight around their ankles and they took off in a pack because “the cloud had moved” as the cult leader put it and they wanted to see more. Well, apparently they did. We’re all at risk. I might not have bought into the full monty, but I sure had some really odd beliefs anyway, and it was just a lucky glimpse of the cult leader at a moment he didn’t realize I was listening that kept me from buying in, no virtue on my part. Those cults attract very intelligent people who can be otherwise very discerning. Their message cuts past our rational brains. You are so very right: we all must be very careful in assessing claims like those. Nobody’s immune to their blandishments and emotional manipulation.

  • Rose

    Whoever wrote this story did a lousy job. DO NOT ever mix cults with Christianity because they ARE NOT the same thing.

    • Actually they are. Christianity started out as a Jewish cult. Christianity has 35000 protestant denominations, plus a myriad of other faith structures, that are anything but mainstream. A few are quite dangerous, but still contain elements of our faith.
      I grew up in one, have family still in it, I kinda understand cult life. I know they happen to think they are the true Christians and all the rest of us are off track. I’ve heard the same in some small indipendent Baptist churches as well. I think they are just part of the big ole melting pot that is our faith.

      • Rose

        As I told the author No they are not I happen to be a Christian & they are not recognized as such.

        • Dismissing the validity of another’s faith, because they don’t exactly line up to the version of yours, which happens to be only one of multiple thousands of versions that make up Christianity is rather presumptuous and arrogant.

          Wanna try again?

          • Rose

            I will continue to dismiss them because as I said they have nothing to do with Christianity never have & never will. And for you to assume they do is really presumptuous & arrogant. So do you wanna try again

          • Google, the Catholic Church and Wikipedia all classify Seventh Day Adventists as Christians. So unless you believe that Catholics are not Christian then your statement that Christians do not recognize them as Christians is incorrect. Disagreeing with you does not make someone presumptuous or arrogant when they are stating facts.

          • Rose

            I don’t care what the catholic church & wiki calls them. I as a Christian are telling you they are not. 1) catholics confess their sins to a priest which is totally wrong no priest is going to get you into heaven. & no priest has any right giving anyone penitence. When you confess your sins you are to confess them to Jesus. 2) they pray to Mother Mary also wrong, Mother Mary is not going to inter seed for you to God only Jesus can do that. 3) They pray using repetitive prayers like a chants also wrong. When you pray you are not to use repetitive prayers.As for the seventh day adventist they are unscriptural.

          • I appreciate the steadfastness of your beliefs, even if I disagree with them. Just because you consider yourself a Christian doesn’t automatically give the prerogative to decide who else is or isn’t a Christian. That you may disagree with numerous points of theology of any given group doesn’t mean that they are not Christian.

          • Rose

            Oh yes it does. We as Christians we are to point out when people are not following the Bible & Gods word. (John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge a righteous judgment.) (Proverbs 31:9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy) (1 Corinthians 2:15-16 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.)

          • I’m not saying that you can’t (or shouldn’t) critically assess someone’s theological beliefs. But finding points of theological disagreement doesn’t necessarily make the other person or group non-Christian. The requirement for being a Christian (or calling oneself a Christian) isn’t doctrinal perfection and agreement. If that were the case, we’d all fall terribly short.

          • Rose

            If they are not following Gods word then they are not a Christian.

          • That’s certainly an idiosyncratic definition of Christian.

          • Rose

            It’s the truth

          • Based on what? And “the bible” is not clear enough.

          • Rose

            1) catholics confess their sins to a priest which is totally wrong no priest is going to get you into heaven. & no priest has any right giving anyone penitence. When you confess your sins you are to confess them to Jesus. 2) they pray to Mother Mary also wrong, Mother Mary is not going to inter seed for you to God only Jesus can do that. 3) They pray using repetitive prayers like a chants also wrong. When you pray you are not to use repetitive prayers.As for the seventh day adventist they are unscriptural.

          • copy/pasting what you’ve already stated is not good enough. Who told you that stuff?

          • Guest

            [being disrespectful to mods, has one’s comments altered]

          • So…Jimmy Swaggart isn’t a Christian because he doesn’t follow God’s word and instead solicits prostitutes?

          • His is not the largest Evangelical church in the world either. Joel Osteen’s church gets that “honor” for the US with a membership of 43,000. The largest in the world is in South Korea with a membership of 460,000. Those numbers are the people attending on site services.

          • Rose

            joel osteen is not even a preacher he is a sheep in wolfs clothing. He does not even know the Bible.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            Setting our theological differences aside with Joel Osteen, facts are facts.

          • Rose

            Just goes to show you, you do not know what your taking about. Jimmy confessed to God & he was forgiven. This is why he is so widely followed to this day, because he preaches the cross.

          • Err… he tearfully confessed about prostitute #1. But to my knowledge he never publicly confessed about prostitute #2.

          • Rose

            Because there was no prostitute #2. Again don’t speak of things you know nothing about

          • Rose

            Thats just a bunch of bullcrap & I don’t buy it.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            Well, it certainly makes it a lot easier to follow a leader when you refuse to believe anything that is uncomfortable or inconvenient about him.

          • Rose

            People will make up any bullcrap to try to discredit Jimmy & God. If it had been true he would have confessed. I just love how people such as yourself think they know what they are talking about when they don’t

          • AtalantaBethulia

            I too used to think my religious leaders could do no wrong and that they would never lie.

            I was wrong.

          • Rose

            I know Jimmy never did this & it’s just bullcrap. I am all to familiar how these things can get made up just to make others look bad, Its all part of being a Christian

          • AtalantaBethulia

            Part of being a Christian is also recognizing that religious leaders are fallible and imperfect and are not holier than the congregation and some fall pray to their egos and will exploit their power for personal gain.

          • Wait a second. Saying something negative about a pastor is discrediting God? Does that mean your pastor is on the same divine plane? Is he infallible?

          • Rose

            You are discrediting God because you are trying to discredit His faithful servant by spreading lies about someone you know nothing about. You have no idea how they live.

          • James Walker


            you’re trying to discredit David Koresh and claim that he was not a faithful servant of God and his followers not Christian. yet, you’re right on that one while we’re wrong about the pastor you’ve chosen to follow?

            you don’t understand parallelism very well, do you?

            **ETA – I would never argue that David Koresh was a good minister or that his followers had the best ideal of Christianity, but I would also never deny them the right to call themselves Christian.

          • Rose

            I am not trying to discredit him, I am discrediting him. He & his followers are not Christians they are a cult big difference, because they do not know God. And yes I do deny them the right to call themselves Christians.

          • do you deny me the right to call myself a Christian?

          • Rose

            Depends on if you follow Gods word.

          • what do you mean by “follow Gods [sic] word”?

          • Rose

            To be a Christian you can not accept sin that goes for homosexuality, murder, abortion ect.

          • I’m waiting on that answer myself, have been, in fact.

          • James Walker

            Well, fortunately for those of us who are Christians but who don’t agree with you (or with the minister you’ve chosen to defend so vocally) on every point of theology, you don’t have the authority to tell anyone whether or not they are Christian (and neither does Jimmy Swaggert). Claiming that you DO have that authority is distinctly un-biblical and presumptuous.

          • Too bad you cannot deny the right for anyone to call anyone a Christian. You can deny yourself that right…only yourself, no one else. You simply lack the power to do anything more.

          • That’s an important point. Saying that Koresh & Co have a right to call themselves Christians is a far cry from endorsing their beliefs or actions.

          • How can I discredit God, when I recognize a pastor as a human being who has made some really bad decisions, yet who seems to be veiwed at as a demi-god by his followers and has said nothing to discourage it, and who brushes his teeth, has gas, needs to clip his toenails, and gets grumpy, just like anyone else?
            A pastor is not God. They are not even on the same plane of existence? One is a human being…the other is not.

          • Rose

            You are so wrong Jimmy has never ever said anyone should follow him. How would you know what he says. I watch him almost 24/7 so I know exactly what he says. Do not spread lies about him.

          • Isn’t watching a preacher almost 23/7 a bit restrictive and obsessive? Why that much? Are you unable to get out of your house?

          • Rose

            Of course we get out some but we are mostly home bodies my husband suffers from panic attacks, the reason we watch Jimmy so much is because our son loves it, he was the one who choose Jimmy not us & watching Jimmy has also helped my husband.

          • TIME magazine, Monday, Oct. 28, 1991

            The maxim “Once burned, twice shy” apparently doesn’t mean much to televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Disgraced in 1988 after a liaison with a Louisiana call girl, Swaggart, 56, was stopped by police in Indio, Calif., two weeks ago for a traffic violation and found to be in the company of Rosemary Garcia, an admitted streetwalker. That latest foray prompted Swaggart to resign from his Baton Rouge-based ministry last Tuesday to seek “professional counseling and medical care.” But the next day the preacher reversed the decision, explaining to his congregation that God told him to return to the pulpit. Swaggart announced to supporters that “the Lord told me it’s flat none of your business” and that he didn’t have to apologize for his conduct.

            Swaggart’s organization has been in decline since rival preacher Marvin Gorman circulated photos of Swaggart visiting a prostitute in a New Orleans motel three years ago. The scandal forced Swaggart to resign from the Assemblies of God, the nation’s largest Pentecostal denomination, and nearly 200 television stations dropped his weekly program. The ministry took another hit last month when a jury in New Orleans found that Swaggart and others had defamed Gorman with allegations of adulterous behavior and ordered the group to pay $10 million in damages.

          • Rose

            And if you really think Jimmy’s organization has declined then you are only fooling yourself. He is now in over 130 countries including China. Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, France, Italy & Greece. He now has his own tv, radio stations & Internet site.

          • That’s nice. But “Jimmy” isn’t my pastor or my god. Where he’s doing good in the world, I applaud him. Where he’s not, I pray that he changes. I wish him and his followers, including you, the very best: that you will see and experience God’s love and grace and, where that’s already happening, that you will continue to.

          • Rose

            FYI Jimmy never ever advocates that anyone follow him, but to follow God. He does teach to love they neighbor but not thy neighbors sin. We love the alcoholic, but hate the sin of alcohol, same for drug addicts, murders & yes even homosexuals.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            Visiting prostitutes is a sin.
            Sexual addiction is a treatable problem within a medical paradigm.
            As is any addiction.

          • Rose

            I never said it wasn’t but once you confess & repent & never do it again God forgives & forgets. Jimmy did confess & never cheated again. Case closed.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            You seem to want so much for this to be true that you are blind to evidence to the contrary.

          • so one strike and you’re good, but two strikes and you’re out?

          • Rose

            It has nothing to do with strikes, Everyone sins but you can’t confess & repent & keep doing the same sin over & over again. So Jimmy got caught once he confessed repented but never cheated again. I know both Jimmy & Francis well enough to know had he cheated again she would have divorced him.

          • You know them? Personally? You know, the face to face sort of relationship where eye contact, and even a hug or handshake is involved? OR do you only know the television persona they portray for viewers, having never come close enough to the man to tell if he needs a breath mint or not?

          • Rose

            Do not put words in my mouth i said i know them well enough to know not that i knew them personally. I have seen Donnie buy Bibles for people who could not afford it. He even paid out of pocket to buy an autistic child 1 of their ipad phones. I have seen both Jimmy & Francis give to the church & no the money does not go into their pocket as some people seem to think. I have also Had others who have met them tell the truth about them & it’s not a bunch of lies that people such as yourself like to try to bring up.

          • Then you don’t know them. Sound bites, repeated or portrayed stories of someone doing an act, which may or may not be authentic…or may be a acted portrayal of an actual event, do not portray accurately a person. Second hand anecdotal stories of people who have claimed to met someone, maybe once, maybe twice, is still you not knowing a person, on a personal level.

            I ask these, because saying you know someone without ever speaking to them, much less being in the same room with them…ever, and actually knowing a person, where they recognize you, have had a conversation with, is two different things.

            If you’ve not gotten to know the man on a personal level, relying only what you see on your television, or read in church literature, or the stories of people who may have shook his hand at a rally, then how do you really know how authentic, how trustworthy, how honest, how true to what he says, he is?

          • Rose

            I would take the word of someone who has been to their church than someone who just wants to post incorrect info. Francis & Friends always live as are all their shows so I have no doubt what so ever they are Christians & do preach gods word.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            The point is that you don’t know them at all. They are personalities like any other in media and television who craft their persona. You know about them what they want you to know about them. And, by all evidence here, you are a true believer.

          • I just looked at his church. Average attendance about three to five thousand. At one time people not nearby could purchase monthly memberships where they could get weekly sermons on DVD…at about 100 a month.

            I’ve not heard of the television station, nor the radio one, but I am pretty sure that the tv channel is only available by subscription through cable or satellite. Its no on my local Dish network list. Christian radio around here tends to be almost exclusively some form of Southern Baptist.

          • Rose

            I happen to be a Media Church member & I don’t have to pay 1 dime to belong & I don’t have to pay any thing more to get his tv station.So I don’t know where you are getting your info from. The reason you haven’t goten it where you live at yet is because they have not gotten to your part of the country.

          • So you’ve never actually attended his church, or met the man in person? You’ve never been able to ask him any questions personally, or meet the other members of the congregation for lunch after church? If that is the case, how can you know a person you’ve only seen on your television?

            As for the information about the “media church membership” formally being a for pay service, it is part of the public record, something they don’t mention on church approved websites, or literature.

            Most Christian/religious networks are part of a subscription package, like cable, satellite, and a few focused ones like Angel one. All are paid for by the consumer as part of the package and the consumer gets a collection of channels, most of which are never watched. Swaggart’s network is one of several and apparently its a smaller fish.

            As for the claims of being in all these nations. That too is a familiar ploy of the cult I grew up in. Anyone can buy radio or video time in another country, and they’ll be glad for the funding, especially if its in a country that would be delighted for the extra cash, who ever watches, or don’t, simply doesn’t matter, the station got paid and the ministry can claim global coverage. My old church excelled at that,

          • I have no problem saying that Jimmy Swaggart is a Christian, despite the terrible example he has set in his personal life and the enormous harm I think he has caused the body of Christ. But we all fall short of perfection. Swaggart’s just a man, a fallible man who thinks he’s doing God’s work. What is his true relationship with God? I don’t know, that’s between him and God. But just because I disagree with him on certain theological points and just because I’ve seen evidence of enormous sin in his life, I don’t withhold the name “Christian” from him.

          • Neither do I. I don’t happen to appreciate his arrogance, or the rabid fervor displayed by some of his followers…Its too close to what I remember seeing growing up. And I have issues with his theology. But then I have issues with a lot of Christian theologies. That doesn’t make me dismiss anyone as a Christian. If they claim to be, I believe it.

          • Rose

            Once 1 ask for forgiveness from the heart God forgives & forgets this is why Jimmy has such a large following. He preaches against false doctrine & homosexuality among other things. Yes he is doing Gods work he has not once preached that sin is acceptable.

          • What makes Jimmy Swaggart a Christian but not Joel Osteen or David Koresh or Seventh-Day Adventists or all Catholics, or, for that matter, any given person who you might have a theological disagreement with?

          • Rose

            And altering my comments makes you look twice as foolish.

          • What does not answering simple questions do?

          • AtalantaBethulia

            So, you don’t like Catholics and everyone who disagrees with you is wrong and not a Christian. Sounds like a mighty big plank in your eye.

          • James Walker

            you not only have some misunderstandings about Catholic teaching and belief, you have some mis-perceptions about what the Bible teaches on these points.

            1) nowhere in the Bible are we told “when you confess your sins you are to confess them to Jesus.” in fact, we are told in James 5:16 to confess our sins to our fellow Christians (and a priest would certainly fit this requirement)

            2) nowhere in the Bible are we told it’s wrong to ask saints to intercede on our behalf with God. the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus would seem to indicate that the dead can pray and intercede on behalf of others (and, in fact, the dead Rich Man is praying to Abraham in Jesus’ parable!).

            3) nowhere in the Bible are we told that chants are wrong. we’re told to avoid “vain repetitions” or lots of “empty” words in our prayers. to claim (with such little knowledge) that reciting the rosary is “vain repetition” is presumption.

            finally, to claim that Seventh Day Adventists are “unscriptural” ignores the fact that their adherents most certainly use scripture to back up their doctrines just as every other Christian denomination does! the differences in those doctrines may be small or large and we may not all agree that those doctrines result from “correct” interpretation of scripture, but it is foolish to claim that an entire sect of the Church, the Body of Christ, is “unscriptural” without first having studied and understood what they teach and why.

          • John 18:38.

          • Rose

            John 18:38 Pilate saidth onto him, What is truth? (meaning-Pilate shows himself by his question to be a cynic) And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, (meaning-is done so in the midst of tumult) I find in him no fault at all. (meaning-Pilate knew that Jesus was not guilty of treason against Rome, or any other type if infraction) So what is your point?

          • yes

          • Ok, I’ll bite. Just what is it that they are missing?

          • Rose

            I just told you they are not following Gods word.

          • Based on what? What is the criteria that has you make that determination?

          • I’m not going to argue with you other than to say you do not get to speak ex cathedra on who is or isn’t a Christian.

          • Sigh. I’ve heard these accusations against the Catholic church before, yet upon seeking clarification for those accusations, I discovered that they did not hold as much as validity as some would like for us to assume.

            I grew up hearing that stuff. I grew up in off-off-off shoot of the SDA. Since then I’ve attended worship in Catholic churches, a funeral, a wedding and two gorgeous masses. In each I felt at peace, the presence of God, and left with good memories of the experience. I’ve attended services in Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbytarians, Methodist, Independent Baptist, Charismatic and even a big mega church.

            I have looked at them as just as Christian as the crazy cult I grew up in. All that really differs between us all, is our views on scripture, our traditions, and practices. The rest has us all the same, attempting to worship and honor God to the best of our very limited abilities.

          • Rose

            I stand by what I said. It’s the truth catholics who do not follow the Bible are not Christians.

    • As the byline makes clear, I wrote this story. As the first paragraph makes clear, it’s based on a New Yorker piece written by Malcolm Gladwell. Neither of us ever said that Christianity and cults are “the same thing.” But the fact of the matter is that the Branch Davidians were an offshoot of Seventh-Day Adventism, which is itself a Christian denomination.

      • Rose

        Sorry but you are incorrect the seventh day adventist are not Christians they are just another false religion. I know because I am a Christian & Christians do not recognize them as Christians. I kind of got the impression you were mixing the 2.

        • I grew up in a cult that made the SDA look more mainstream than Anglicans. You don’t have to recognize the denomination as a Christian one, but I assure you, they are. Your opinion is noted…not shared.

  • Dee Armstrong

    Compound? I am sick of the term being used when, in reality, it was a dormitory. Stop perpetuating the government lie. I am not defending the religion of the Davidians, as I am a Lutheran, but let’s leave the propaganda behind. Time has shown the truth of the Davidians’ claims against an out-of-control Clinton Administration e.g. CS gas was used; those fleeing out the back of the dormitory were sniped by government sharp shooters, and none other than the infamous, Lon Horiuchi (Ruby Ridge), was indeed on site, along with the then ultra-secret Delta Force in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

    • compound: noun ˈkäm-ˌpau̇nd
      a fenced or walled-in area containing a group of buildings and especially residences

      Not sure how that is a “government lie.”

  • Ben Tanner

    How Mormons be put in the same category as the Branch Dividians is beyond me.

    • The category is: religious groups that have sought to establish “an identity for themselves by accentuating their otherness.”

      • Ben Tanner

        I’ve been a Latter-Day Saint my whole life and all I’ve seen in the church is our hope that people will see that we are indeed Christian… accentuating our sameness more than anything.

        • Gladwell draws the comparison in the last two paragraphs of this page. I don’t think the comparison is unfair, but perhaps you would differ.
          To me, the point isn’t to try and disparage Mormons by lumping them in with the Branch Davidians, but rather to better understand the Davidians by comparing that group to other religious groups that have faced persecution for being “different.”

          I wouldn’t deny you the right to call yourself Christian if that’s the term you feel best describes you, but, for me, there are enough significant differences between mainstream orthodox Christianity and the theology of the LDS church that I’m somewhat hesitant to apply the label Christian to Mormons. “Somewhat hesitant”… but not entirely unwilling!

          • Ben Tanner

            I appreciate your sincere reply. How do you define mainstream orthodox Christianity?

          • I take historic orthodox Christianity to be generally represented by the first seven ecumenical councils and the ecumenical creeds. Mormons don’t/can’t fully affirm these, primarily in terms of an understanding of God and the Trinity.

            That said, I don’t think heterodoxy necessarily disqualifies you from being Christian. But, for me, Mormon theology differs from orthodoxy in enough significant ways that it pushes the boundaries of the term “Christian.”

          • Ben Tanner

            It’s true we don’t accept the creeds that came after New Testament times. We don’t see them as inspired. We do however as you probably know, accept the New Testament and Jesus as God and our Savior.

          • Christians generally don’t view the creeds as inspired. Rather, they understand them as concise and useful theological explanations of Christian belief. And in their expression of the nature and God and the Trinity, they differ with Mormonism on a few significant points.

            I know you accept the New Testament and Jesus as God and Savior. What’s tricky though is what you might mean by “accept the New Testament”? How do you understand the person of Jesus? How do you understand the nature of God? Of course, we have many points of agreement on these things, but also some points of disagreement. Christian orthodoxy has understood these things in certain ways, and Mormonism understands them in different ways. This doesn’t make one wrong or right, but there are some important theological differences that separate Mormonism from much of the rest of Christianity.

          • Ben Tanner

            I would be careful using the the phrase “the rest of Christianity”. If you do a quick search for “Non Creedal Christians” you’ll quickly find quite a few Christian Churches that are not LDS but also don’t accept those councils and creeds as true Christianity. If you think about it, the reason for those councils was to try and come to some agreement because of the widespread ideas about the nature of God etc in Christianity of that time. Instead of getting true doctrine from God Himself, they voted on it. Since Mormons believe in revelation, we don’t accept doctrine as voted upon by people. Rather we believe these things have to come directly from God.

          • Directly from God … as mediated by a prophet 😉

            It’s tough to speak in general terms, but I stand by my statement about much of the rest of Christianity. There simply are some fundamental theological differences between Mormonism and other Christians. I don’t think sheer numbers make something correct, but Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglicans and most Protestants accept the ecumenical creeds and at least the first few councils. I don’t say this by way of declaring their truth, but by way of establishing historic orthodox Christian belief. The vast majority of Christians now and throughout history either explicitly endorse these beliefs or implicitly build their traditions upon them. I don’t think truth is established by majority vote, but neither do I think that individual revelation is unproblematic.

          • Ben Tanner

            You might be interested to know how doctrine is actually established in the LDS church:

            1. A revelation is sought after or received by the prophet
            2. The Quorum of 12 Apostles is also involved and have to sign off on the revelation (all members of the first presidency, and the 12 are considered Prophets, Seers, and Revelators)
            3. The revelation is presented to the church, and individual members are encouraged to pray about it themselves and receive their own direct revelation from God on weather it came from God or not.

            We are encouraged not to just take the Prophets word for it but to also seek our own revelation directly through the Holy Ghost.

            I would agree with you that most Christians accept the Nicene creed. But they do differ and many other topics such as Faith and Works, the role of the Priesthood, and even the cannon of scripture. I’m certainly not trying to say that Mormons are exactly like other Christians, our message is that the LDS church is Christianity restored in it’s purity. A very bold claim. Of course others make this claim as well. That’s why our missionaries simply ask people to ask God for themselves if our message is true.

            I’m sure you can appreciate how it might feel if you believe your church is the same church Jesus himself setup in the beginning. The same church originally called Christians at Antioch, only restored in these days, but others don’t want to call you Christians. :))

            On the other hand it actually makes sense since we believe that original Christianity was mostly apostatized from. When the real thing came back it was largely not recognized because of how much the meaning of the word Christian had changed.

            I can also appreciate how someone like you who believes not much has changed would think we don’t fit the mold.

            In the end, I believe the only way to know who has the correct view is to ask God Himself. That’s how I got my answer.

            Good talking to you… I better get back to work! :))

          • Thanks for the discussion. I agree that you have every right to call yourself a Christian and I agree that from your perspective you very definitely ARE a Christian — perhaps more truly so than “other” Christians, given your belief in that direct connection to the “original” Christianity.

            From my perspective, however, that belief in a restored, “true” church creates a tension between Mormonism and the rest of the Christian tradition. It’s like you want to have it both ways: you want to be recognized as Christians along with all the other sects/denominations/groups that lay claim to that title, but you also want to essentially dismiss the historic foundations of those traditions as being apostasies.

            I don’t think the only way to discern truth is to ask God and await some sort of direct revelation from him. God has given us a variety of resources to engage with him and learn about him. Scripture, tradition, experience and reason all play crucial roles in our understand of God and truth.

            I have some profound disagreements with some of the theological tenets of Mormonism, but I also recognize that Mormons, as with other Christians, and indeed with those of completely different religions, are not reducible to just a set of doctrines. We’re all people and we all have something to contribute to the world and a path we’re trying to follow. I think that Christianity, as I understand it, makes the best sense of the world and of my life. But we all come at these things from different perspectives and must learn to negotiate our differences in peaceful and product ways.