THE BRANCH DAVIDIAN WARS, PART 1

Disclaimer: In hosting Amo Roden's version of events, I am not vouching for its accuracy.

Before I get into the part of the wars that I actually witnessed, I want to reconstruct what happened before I arrived. William Miller founded the Advent church in the 1830's with the announcement that Christ would return to earth in the 1840s. He based this on the prophecy of Dan. 8:12-14. The actual day was supposed to be Oct. 22, 1844. When that day arrived without Christ's return, most of the Advent movement faded away. God then brought another prophet to continue the work. This was Ellen White who founded the Seventh-day Adventists. She explained that Christ had entered the sanctuary in heaven to purify it in the judgment of the dead; the names of the wicked would be removed from the book of life and the bad deeds of those judged worthy of eternal life would be removed from the sanctuary records. Soon she promised the judgment of the living would take place. All was part of the preparation of a holy congregation without spot or blemish who would meet Christ on his return. Ellen White also preached the restoration of the immutable and unchanging law of God (Deut. 11:1). She restored the seventh day as the day for worshiping God (Deut. 5:14). In 1930, V.T. Houteff founded the Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. He purchased several hundred acres south west of Waco in the mid-30s and moved his church from California. He called the property the Mt. Carmel Center. He supported White's message by his interpretations of the scriptures. He preached the Kingdom of God (Ez. 34). He preached the judgment of the living and the harvest of righteous. (Jeremiah 30; note that God's people are referred to as Jacob here.) He preached the gathering of the 144,000 of Jacob's descendants and the great multitude of others (Rev. 7 and 14). Inherent in his message was the overthrow of the nations by a tiny church which founds the Kingdom of God. He preached that this was to be started by his church and finished by a successor church.

The first traces of persecution surface in the court records after his death. Old time Branch Davidians say that Houteff died with a greenish and swollen liver. He was a non-smoker, and non-drinker and a vegetarian. The reports about his liver are rumor. I researched the legal files over a period of several years. Here's what they say. When Houteff knew he would die in 1955, he did not renew his yearly executive council appointments. He seems to have left the matter of his successor up to God. His wife Florence claimed a deathbed appointment to the vice-presidency; she reappointed his executive council and they affirmed her appointment. Together they planned to run the church. Meanwhile Ben Roden got a call from God to take over the church and announce the beginning of the judgment of the living. The two factions struggled for 7 years. Florence Houteff and her group sold off what had become suburban property in the late 50s and purchased 941 acres near Elk, Texas, about 12 miles from downtown Waco in accordance with Houteff's plan. They called it the New Mt Carmel Center. In 1962 Florence and her executive council announced that Houteff's message was wrong and dissolved the church. They sold off 864 acres of the church property and put the remaining 77 acres in receivership with Florence's lawyer, Tom Street. They split up the money with their part of the flock and moved to California. Tom Street tried to evict the remaining Branch Davidians (who refused to give up the church) from the church property so that it could be sold. They refused to be evicted saying they had paid their first tithe (to support the church) and their second tithe (to provide retirement benefits in the homes on the property) and had a right to stay.

The matter entered the courts in 1966. Those Davidians not part of the lawsuit were represented by an ad litem attorney Roland Kourey. The jury was given questions to answer. No one asked them if the people continuing the church had any right to the last 8% of the property. Instead they were asked if there were successor churches and they found that the evidence suggested there were two. They were asked if Florence and her council were rightfully in charge of the church and they found that, despite the lack of signed appointments, they were. They were asked if there was a retirement fund and they found that the second tithe was a retirement fund. They were asked if all the people who should have been notified of the meeting to dissolve the church were notified and they found that they were not. They were asked if a majority of the church was present and found they were not. They were asked if the proxies voted at the dissolution meeting were actually received and they found that they were not.

The judge was Bill Logue. He ignored the irregularities in the dissolution of the church, and the dispersal of the proceeds of the sale of 92% of the church property to those who voted to dissolve it. He ordered Tom Street to sell the last 77 acres and disperse the proceeds to all members of the church as a return of the monies they paid in for retirement benefits. Ben Roden immediately produced a tract proclaiming that the separation of church and state had been breached by this first ever court ordered return of the tithe. Hitherto he had not been a party to the lawsuit. Now, he hired an attorney. He never won one legal battle in the next 7 years. But slowly he won the war. One by one he convinced the Davidians not to give up their interest in the church property. Slowly he reduced the $70,000.00 price set on the property to $30,000.00. On Feb. 27, 1973 Ben and his wife Lois and their son, George purchased the property as trustees of the General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. In Jan. of 1973, Ben had given the 941 acres the church had historically owned to the Branch Davidian Seventh Adventists for $1. In Jan. of 1973 Ben Roden might have had a moral right to the 941 acres, he had no legal right. I mention the invalid deed only because 20 years later it preserved the church property in the third attempt by the Waco courts to steal it.

Ben Roden preached that the beginning of the judgment of the living was Oct. 1956. He preached that the restoration of the worship outlined in the law of the Bible began in the Protestant Reformation was to proceed under his message with the restoration of the observance of the feast days as explained in Leviticus 23. He taught that the new name of Christ was "BRANCH" (This is the message of Zech. 3). He taught that the Branch Davidians were the successor church that would found the Kingdom of God. He arranged settlers rights on a property in Amirim Israel for the prophesied return of the scattered tribes to the Holy Land (Ez. 20:33-44). His was also a persecuted church, but with the purchase of the property in 1973 the courts were no longer involved. Infiltrators arrived to disrupt the church but had very little success. The church was unified until Ben Roden's death Oct. 22, 1978. A young Vernon Howell (later called David Koresh) first visited the church near the end of Ben Roden's life. And in 1977, God called Lois Roden to the office of prophet with a new message revealing the femininity of the Holy Spirit.

There are Branch Davidians who believe that Ben Roden died of poison. I am one of them. That's rumor. I can tell you what happened when the church went back into the courts in 1979.

George Roden had been anointed by his father to lead the church. His mother however had the spiritual message. When George tried to force the flock to move to the property in Amirim, Israel they turned to his mother for shelter from George's bullying. And they began to pay their tithes to her. George responded with the sale of some of the property of the church. Lois went to the courts to stop George and take over the church in conjunction with the wish of the flock. The case #79-1124-1 was heard by a jury in Judge Bill Logue's 19th District Court. The court issued a permanent injunction that prevented George from selling the assets of the church or holding himself out as the president of the church. It confirmed that Lois Roden was the leader of the church. George packed up his family and moved to California. Vernon Howell joined the church. He is said by Branch Davidians not of his flock to have beguiled Lois Roden. He was a serious Bible student and an earnest follower. He was a man who would undertake and finish any chore, a rapidly indispensable man. He became Lois Roden's devoted pupil and then her driver.

Lois Roden's message was poorly received at first, it split the church. She based her Holy Spirit message on many scriptures. She particularly relied on Genesis 1:26 "Let US (The Holy Father and Mother) make man(kind) in OUR image, after OUR likeness: and let THEM (Adam and Eve) have dominion..." and also Romans 1:20 "For the invisible things of him (God) from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made (Adam and Eve), even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." The Holy Family as opposed to the Holy Trinity was an emotional issue for most men. The next thing their wives would start claiming to be their equal for heavens sake. Lois persevered only to be rejected by as many as accepted her message. Vernon Howell, whose understanding of her message and ministry made her believe that he would follow her as a prophet, began to show a romantic interest in her. He pressed his suit at every opportunity. In the end, although 40 years his senior, she agreed to marry him. She may have regretted it at once. On the very night that she placed a $700.00 gold chain around his neck and swore her marriage vows with him; he took that gold chain and hung it on the neck of 14 year old Rachel Jones and proclaimed that she was his polygamous second wife. Lois snatched the chain off young Rachel's neck the next day. That Koresh survived to continue as her husband is evidence of her beguilement. He began to preach that the restoration of the Biblical law of polygamy was his message (Ex. 21:10).

The Roden family rose up against Lois' marriage to Vernon. The church at a distance (and only a small fraction of it lived on the property) was horrified as well. The church administration building burned in 1983 destroying the printing press that allowed the church to cheaply send its continuous flow of new religious literature all over the world. Vernon Howell was accused by eye-witnesses of burning it down. Such was his hold on his adherents that they refused to believe his accusers.

George Roden came back from California and wrote letters to the church proclaiming a church election. As the results came in during 1984 it was obvious that he had won. He sued in the Federal Courts claiming that Howell had raped his mother. This may have relieved his feelings but it was hardly a viable lawsuit. George called Judge Walter Smith a "Goddamn tyrant" in the course of this lawsuit, a comment that would eventually jail him. With prompting from Vernon and his adherents, Lois sought to enforce the injunction granted in 1979 forbidding George to call himself president. Judge Logue obliged them. As the results of the election came in Lois realized that George had been chosen to preserve the property by the majority of the church. She lost interest in the legal action. She would continue to preach her message in her world travels. The stage was set in 1984 for a split in the church. As other Branch Davidians came to the Passover meeting, Howell shielded his flock from hearing them by taking them into Waco. There were threats to horsewhip George Roden made by Howell's group. George took to wearing a holstered .357 on his hip. As his control of the property was validated by letters from more and more church members, he evicted Howell's supporters. They moved to the church property in Palestine, Texas, only to be labeled Palestinian terrorists by George for their threats. Lois Roden continued to preach her message of the female Holy Spirit until her death in Nov. 1986. Their are Branch Davidians who saw her at the end of her life and say that her medicine was poisoned. So much prosecution of the church is provable that it doesn't matter enough to disturb Lois and Ben. They are buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Life was hard at the church property in Palestine, Texas. In Waco, the members of the church had been subsidized as required by the tithe from the whole church. That support was gone. They moved into school buses and shacks. They coveted the church property in Waco, and Howell searched for a way to take the property from George Roden. George's acceptance of polygamy and his plan to marry me was the last straw. Howell sent two of his top aides to meet with Judge Bill Logue. He sent a lawyer who had recently joined his group to research deed records and find the deed. He would make his move at once. On Oct. 30, 1987, he filed a claim on the presidency of the Branch Davidian church and appointed himself as trustee of the Branch Davidian property as George Roden's replacement. He mailed a copy to George. George showed it to me casually. "He can't do that," he said, "its against the law of the church." He threw it on his desk and forgot about it. I was about to learn that the letter of the law couldn't keep a judge from doing anything. So was George.

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