20 Years After Waco Adventists Wary of Extreme Groups, Individuals
by Adventist Today News Team
Seven in ten Seventh-day Adventists say that looking back on the tragic events of 1993 at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, their primary view now is "concern about extreme groups at the margins of the Adventist movement" and/or "a sense that one must be aware of the unbalanced people who may be in the church." Another third still have questions about how Federal agents handled the confrontation and one in four worry about emphasis on the apocalyptic.
In a survey conducted for Adventist Today in April and May among a random sample of church members only 14 percent expressed fear that the event may still be the source of negative attitudes toward the Adventist Church. Few respondents indicated that they have no memory of the tragic story that unfolded on national television in April 1993 when a small religious group called the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists got into an exchange of gunfire with agents of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempting to serve a search warrant. Federal officers and members of the group were wounded and killed in the gun fight and after a standoff that stretched for nearly a month, Federal officers from several agencies attempted to force the group to leave by using gas and a conflagration ensued killing women and children as well as gunmen.
The majority of Adventists who responded to the survey (57 percent) remember their horror at the deaths involved in a confrontation in which interpretations of the Book of Revelation played a public role. Another 31 percent remember that they were concerned that the general public might think the group was a part of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination; 29 percent remember that they were perplexed about how the tragedy could have happened and 18 percent were shocked that Adventist could be involved in such violence.
How should Adventist relate to the 20th anniversary of the event? Nearly half (48 percent) said that it is good to think about what can be learned from the tragedy. Almost as many (44 percent) felt that it is appropriate to remember the families who suffered from the tragedy. A third felt that the anniversary is cause for spiritual reflection and prayer and 14 percent said it should be a reason to redouble efforts against extremists in the Adventist faith.
Nine percent of the survey respondents indicated that they had a personal relationship with someone who was caught up the events in Waco in 1993. A number of Adventist families lost loved ones in the event because the group included both individuals who had left the denomination or been dropped from membership and people who were still members.
A total of 233 individuals responded to the online survey out of a random sample of 400 email addresses of church members. The response rate is 58 percent and the standard allowance for sampling error is eight percentage points, plus or minus.
The first issue of Adventist Today was published soon after the event and the cover article in that issue was about the Waco tragedy. Adventist Today continues to be the only Adventist news publication that regularly covers independent ministries and a variety of groups that consider themselves "Adventist" but are not officially affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Current subscribers can access a PDF copy of that first issue in the archives on this Web site.
"There are still some small groups around the edges of the Adventist movement that have very extreme views about fulfillment of prophecy and related issues," an Adventist historian told Adventist Today. "There is also about a quarter to a third of Adventists in North America who are very conservative in their approach to the faith, almost sectarian in some ways. It may be a somewhat larger percentage in some developing nations, although no one has published really definitive research on this subject."
"More remarkable," said a retired pastor, "is the growth of a strong evangelical stream among Adventists in North America. In 1980 the North American Division included a question in a survey asking about assurance of salvation and 67 percent indicated a strong sense of assurance. Since that time the percentage expressing a firm assurance of eternal life has grown to more than 90 percent. You can see the same trend in the Valuegenesis 1 and 2 surveys among young people. There is much more emphasis on Christ-centered preaching and faith today."