Man, this guy stinks! This was my first impression of Vernon Howell. It was Sunday, April 13, 1983, and my first thought was not a judgement about him as a person but that he had out of this world body odor. He was in my space or more precise in my face. With furrowed brow I looked him up and down. 30-weight oily brown hair in need of a change. Ash gray Fruit of the Loom T-shirt semi-tucked into brown corduroy pants frayed into beige strands over cracked black converse sneakers.
He spoke to me, “That book is a good one but I have one better.”
His breath was fecal so I hid my recoil from this extraterrestrial from planet halitosis.
He repeated himself and pointed to the book I was holding. In my right hand was a small burgundy hardbound book called “Ministry of Healing.” He leaned forward and took it in a slow deliberate manner. As he retrieved it I firmed my grip. He placed his left hand under my hand, like a tender act of an old friend. It felt so odd that I let the book go. Grease under fingernails but only on the right hand. Calluses on the tips, not the hands of a working man, but he just worked on something. Greasy Guitar Fingers, I thought.
He grabbed my right hand with a firm grip. I was startled by the strength. He was not a big man. Probably 160 pounds soaking wet and maybe 5-foot-11. I looked down on him. No question whatever he lacked in size he made up in testosterone. There was seductive confidence in his eyes. I stood bookless with outstretched hand. As a 6 foot 2 inch, 250 pound man who built houses for a living I was not accustomed to a male entering my personal space much less touching my hand. It was rare but for the first time in my life I felt like a deer caught in oncoming lights. He walked over to a display but kept smiling eyes synched to mine.
We were standing near the checkout counter of the Adventist Book Center or ABC as the locals called it from Keene, Texas. The bookstore was located on the campus of Southwestern Adventist College. Keene was a college town south of Fort Worth and its nickname was the Adventist Ghetto. As a former Seventh-day Adventist, Vernon Howell was quite at home in this place. He pulled a pamphlet off the shelf called “Word to the Little Flock” and handed it to me.
“Now here is a book that contains real truth.”
He tossed Ministry of Healing off to an adjacent display table. I looked at the discarded book and wondered why it was less significant than a 50-cent pamphlet. I pointed back to the table.
“So that book doesn’t contain ‘real truth?’”
This question sparked in his eyes. His nostrils flared. The stubble on his face moved with a widening smile. It felt like something changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, here was a hunter locked upon sudden prey. I was in his sights. The hairs on the back of my neck raised.
“My name is Vernon Howell, what is your name?”
As soon as he spoke his name I knew it was not my first time hearing it. Vernon’s name did not immediately register in my memory but it did in someone else’s. He said it loud enough to catch the attention of the man behind the counter. The manager was a man named Don. Don started in our direction. Just as I was about to answer, “My name is Tim,” Don jumped in.
“Now, Vernon,” he said, “we have covered this before so please take it outside. I don’t want to call the campus police.”
Vernon laughed out loud. He looked as if I should get whatever joke was supposed to be funny. “The Southwestern Adventist College rent-a-cops are enough to scare any man into submission,” Vernon said.
Don was not smiling. “Look, Vernon, I don’t want any trouble! If you feel the need to preach I need you outside!”
Vernon held up his right hand, “I’ll do whatever you ask, Don.”
Vernon turned to me and pointed back to the “Word to the Little Flock” pamphlet.
“Let me buy that for you,” he said.
This felt weird to me and once again I was a deer in his headlights.
“That won’t be necessary,” I said.
“But I insist,” he said.
He attempted to take the pamphlet out of my hand. I held on tight and pulled it back. I laid the pamphlet on the counter. He started for it and this time I placed my hand over the pamphlet. This must have looked extremely childish from a distance, two grown men in a tug of war over a religious pamphlet.
“I don’t need your money.” My face warmed.
For a split second I saw anger flash in his eyes. He knew that I saw it. He brought his hands together and moved them slowly apart. This gesture was classic black jack. The dealers do this when leaving a table. They show the eye in the sky and players that their hands are clean and they are not stealing any chips. Perhaps this was Vernon’s way of showing me and the eye in the sky who really was in control. I walked back to the display and retrieved the small burgundy Ministry of Healing. Vernon walked out the front door. He caught himself at the entry, paused and grinned, a Casanova cat about to eat a canary.
I turned away and back into the store. I searched for my friend Tommy. He was walking up the aisle with an armload of books. I had known Tommy since high school. We played football together in the ninth grade. He could bench press 350 pounds compared to my 175.
In the ninth grade I invited him to visit the Seventh-day Adventist church. I had become an Adventist at the age of 13. This was more of an intellectual decision than spiritual conversion. After my father’s death in 1972, high school football was my religion. Daddy was a gentle alcoholic and prostate cancer did what the alcohol couldn’t do. Sad, but he never came to a single game.
I was home sick with the flu the week after Daddy died. A Seventh-day Adventist pastor named Dale Hoover knocked on my door. He offered me a free Bible and gave me a choice of white or black. I chose white and he invited me to study it. He received my name from the “It Is Written” television series. Even to a 13-year-old kid, there was something about that television show. George Vandeman was the host and he was not only gentle and kind, but seemed to make good sense.
Brother Hoover and I studied the Bible every Tuesday and Mama would sit in with us. Mama was raised a typical secular Southern Baptist. We went to church one time every year, Easter Sunday, rain or shine. That was about it. Our family was not anti-Jesus, we were more absent Jesus. Mama was not thrilled but did not object when I was baptized a Seventh-day Adventist. Winstons and pork chops made Mama less inclined to the Adventist health message but she liked the Sabbath and not burning in an eternal hell fire. She was determined to die a Southern Baptist and relied on Jesus to get her out of the flames, whether temporary or eternal.
I was a member of the Mesquite church but baptized at the Dallas Seventh-day Adventist Church. Since Mesquite did not have a church building I was “dunked” (as Tommy called it) at the big downtown church on Highway 75. Soon as I was baptized it seemed natural to invite my football buddy to church. I have to be honest, we went more for the girls than we did for Jesus. Before the end of my freshman year a motorcycle wreck and broken hip ended my athletic aspirations. Tommy had his own motorcycle wreck a few weeks later and this knocked him out of football. Tommy said God was jealous of our football worship and this was why we had wrecks. I did not know much but I knew that was a sack of bullshit.
After our wrecks and newfound time, Tommy would come over and Mama would make us watch Billy Graham. We didn’t mind much. There was something about Billy Graham that was simple and direct. Like George Vandeman, he focused solely on Jesus so it was hard to take issue. It was probably Mama’s way of trying to bring me back into the fold. One night they asked the two traditional Billy Graham questions.
The first question, “If you died right now would you go to heaven?” If you answered no they would take you through the good news of the gospel. If you answered yes then you got question two.
“When you get to the gates of heaven and St. Peter asks you, ‘Why should I let you in?’ How would you answer?”
If you answered anything but the cross and that Jesus Christ died for you, then you were guided through the gospel presentation. Most people would say, “Well, I guess I’ve been good enough.” The gospel would debunk that notion and reveal all of our goodness as “filthy rags.” Here was the interesting thing to me. When it came to salvation, Billy Graham taught exactly the same as Seventh-day Adventists. The only way to make it to heaven was based on what Jesus had already done. I was not religious by any means and I did not know theology at any level, but somehow I got this point. This simple understanding would prove to be very important with Vernon Howell.
At checkout Don warned Tommy and I that Vernon could be aggressive. Don told us he would preach all day if we let him. He smiled at me when he placed Ministry of Healing in the bag.
“Good choice,” Don said. He held up the pamphlet, “Do you want this?”
I said yes and we thanked Don for the warning. He continued about Vernon, “He gets out of control sometimes and I’ve asked him to leave more than once. He’s looking for recruits and sometimes he won’t take no for an answer.”
“Recruits for what?” I asked. “Is he starting an army?”
Don stared at me and I could tell this was not taken as the light hearted question it was intended to be. Either way he was not going to answer it.
“Just be careful. Vernon is looking for followers,” Don said.
Tommy responded, “Don’t worry I’ll kick his ass if he tries anything.” Tommy’s Christian experience, like my own could be a bit authentic at times. We were so new in the faith they called us “baby Christians.” We took our authenticity and our books and walked out the front door.
The parking lot was full but there was no sign of Vernon. I opened the door to my red Honda Accord and was about to hit the auto door lock for Tommy. That’s when I heard a loud “Hey” from across the parking lot. Vernon stood in a pose, one foot resting in the doorway of a windowless white panel van. He slid the passenger side door shut with a loud “thunk” and headed straight for us.
“Can we talk a minute, brothers?”
Vernon spoke this as Tommy bent over to place his bag of books on the front floor board. I looked at my watch. By the time I looked up he reached into my car and grabbed the pamphlet out of the bag.
He held up the pamphlet like a commercial pitch man, “I’d like to share a point or two from this book if you don’t mind.”
Before I could answer he turned to the middle of the pamphlet and began reading. His voice was loud, way too loud. I looked around to see who was in proximity. It was awkward standing there being read to in a parking lot. By the look in his eyes this was a first for Tommy too. Vernon had a roller coaster cadence that went up and down. This was annoying at first. But the more you listened the more you fell into the rhythm of his intonations. It was like being hypnotized in a weird sort of way. That voice was familiar. Then it hit me. Vernon had been a member of the Dallas Seventh-day Adventist Church, the same church where I was baptized. I remembered ten years earlier he was so disruptive his family was asked to leave. I heard the same thing happened at the Tyler Seventh-day Adventist Church.
I interrupted him, “We are right here so there is no need to raise your voice.”
“Brother, I get excited about the word of God. I’m his messenger so I may get a little loud if you don’t mind.” He added, “Unless you got something against the Word of God?”
“I don’t have anything against the Word of God but that is a pamphlet and this ain’t church!”
He laughed out loud and slapped me on the back. “Ah, but we are in God’s realm and this realm is his sanctuary. Are you familiar with the sanctuary truth?”
Before I could answer he read more excerpts from the pamphlet. He read about the little flock being the remnant of God called forth in the end time. He was now glassy eyed and began quoting long Bible passages from Isaiah and 2nd Kings. He got high with each quoted passage. I tried to ask questions but he would shift gears, give a brief answer and then go back to the rant. He went in depth into Elijah and the prophecies of his return. He got worked up then flat out shouted.
“I am the fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy in Malachi; I am the fulfillment of the Cyrus prophecy in Isaiah. God has anointed me as David Koresh to prepare the way of the Lord.”
“Who?” I asked. “I thought you said your name was Vernon Howell?”
He ranted on five more minutes on the meaning of David Koresh and how God “sent me to prepare the way.” I looked over at Tommy and he appeared mesmerized. He stood in awe before the great prophet.
This bothered me more than anything. I tried to interrupt by saying, “Excuse me, Vernon or David. You entered into this study without prayer and haven’t stopped talking since. I’m not buying.”
What else was I going to do? My best friend was swallowing hook, line and sinker. I confess it was hard not to get pulled in by Koresh. Why? He knew his Bible front and back. More important he was extremely confident about what he believed. There was just no questioning him. I told myself I didn’t know squat about the Bible, heck I barely knew John 3:16. I tossed up a panic-laced prayer. The next thought that crossed my mind was a question. “Vernon, or is it David, I’m confused?”
He interrupted, “My Mama made me Vernon Howell but God made me David Koresh.”
“OK, David, I have two simple but direct questions for you. I don’t want a sermon for answers but I want you to answer each question straight from your heart. Will you give me your word you will do that?”
“Yes, sir, I will, but before you ask me these questions I want to ask you one very important question.”
I objected, “No, David, please let me ask these two questions.”
“Of course,” he said. “I will answer but mine is short and sweet.”
“David, I don’t think you do anything short and sweet.”
He laughed and launched his query. “You know Elijah had a friend named Elisha, right? And when Elijah became exhausted Elisha was anointed to carry his mantle, right? Elisha even followed Elijah as the messenger of God, right?” He didn’t wait for me to answer any question. Finishing each statement with a “right” at the end of each sentence was a consistent communication method. It was like he was willing me to agree with him. Don’s words about wanting followers came to mind. Vernon leaned forward and placed his hand on my shoulder.
“We have a place in Waco called Mount Carmel. Do you know the significance of the name Mount Carmel?”
“Isn’t that about Elijah?” I asked. At least I knew that much.
“Yes, it’s the place where Elijah called down fire from heaven and destroyed the false prophets. Elijah said, ‘Choose you this day who you will serve!’ I am preparing the way just like Elijah. But just like Elijah needed help, I need a second in command to help me. I need help to spread the message of the shepherd’s rod, to prepare the way of the Lord. I believe you could be just the man I need. It was no accident we met today. You have a presence about you. Let me teach you about the seven seals. Let me teach you about the book of Revelation. We will do some great things for God. Look at Tommy, he believes me and both of you can do a great work.”
“Thanks, David, but will you please just answer the two questions?”
“Fire away. But before you ask them I feel the need to pray. Can we do that?”
Before I could respond he lifted his hands over his head.
He asked, “You do pray biblically don’t you?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The Psalms teach us to lift holy hands when we pray. Are you willing to pray with me now to allow God’s will to be done in your life?”
Before I could answer, he launched into a long loud prayer that lasted several minutes. Before I closed my eyes I noticed Tommy’s hands were palms up in the air just like David’s. Both of them were holding up invisible beach balls. Several Bible passages were quoted and the prayer finally ended. David said, “Whew, man, I needed that! I feel the anointing, brother! Do you feel it?”
I asked, “Are you ready for the questions? And you promise to answer them honestly and from your heart?”
“Yes, of course. May God strike me down if I don’t.”
First question. “David, if you died right now do you believe you would go to heaven?”
The answer was delayed as he searched my eyes. Either no one had ever asked this before and it hung him up or he was scanning for some biblical reference from which he could use as a new launching pad. When he finally answered it was with that same confident persona that he always presented.
“Well, yes, brother, I do believe it with all my heart.” His fist clenched and he held it up to my face. “I believe!”
“OK, that leads us to the second question. When you get to the gates of heaven and St. Peter asks you, ‘Why should I let you in?’”
This time there was less pause. He glared into my eyes. He leaned forward and whispered and it was a sneer, “Because I know the system. God has revealed it to me and this knowledge entitles me to enter.”
I was stunned at his response. To profess to be God’s right hand man and be so knowledgeable of scripture. How could he get this wrong?
I went for him with both barrels. “You missed it, Vernon! You weren’t even close. There is no system. There is no secret knowledge that entitles you to anything. With all due respect and please don’t take offense, you are full of shit.” He was such a pushy bastard I thought someone should kick his theological ass. It turned out to be Mama and good old Billy Graham.
At that exact moment the side door to Vernon’s windowless white van slid wide open. Out of the van stepped a blonde girl no more than 12 or 13. She leaned over as she stepped out. A thin peach shirt hung down loose revealing small underdeveloped breasts. She buttoned the top of her jeans. She was oblivious to our presence. She rubbed her eyes with her knuckles. She yawned and stretched and ran her hands through her hair. Her eyes closed, she raised her head to the sun.
We all stood transfixed. She was a beautiful little girl. Behind her inside the van contained a crib sized mattress and crumpled dirty white sheets. One of the sheets spilled out of the door.
Vernon spoke to her. “Come on, Baby, get back in the van. I’ll be right there.”
Her physical reaction to his words was as if she had been hit in the forehead with a rock. She stepped back. Crimson cheeks above peach, her face went expressionless, mouth slightly ajar.
She started to say, “But I need…” and he cut her off.
“You heard me! Get back in the van!” This time he pointed to the side door. The tone was firm.
She did not appear upset. She was lost in a trance for several seconds. Obedience had long since evicted her from her own mind.
She hopped up into the van. She reached down and gently pulled the sheets back into the door. The van door slammed shut but with less velocity than when Vernon slammed it earlier. I thought of the Proverb, “A soft answer turns away wrath.”
“Who was that, Vernon?” I asked and looked over at Tommy. Tommy stared at the van. Both of us had young daughters. This did not set well.
Vernon immediately excused himself. “Brothers, I have enjoyed this and wish we had more time to rightly divide the Word of God.” He wagged his finger in my face. “If you take the time to study what I have shared, I promise you it will change your life. May the Lord bless you!”
Tommy asked, “Who was that, Vernon?” The spell was indeed broken.
Vernon did not wait for a response and was already walking away. He was back in the van in seconds. The van yonk yonked, hesitated but finally cranked. Here was the source of the fingernail grease. We watched the van drive away with an unseen girl sitting somewhere in the back.
Tommy and I drove home and talked about what we experienced. We did not have enough evidence to call the police. Don had already called them and nothing was done. We knew the girl in the van was too old to be Vernon’s daughter. We could tell by his red faced reaction and calling her Baby, she was not his sister. I told Tommy about what happened ten years earlier when Vernon was a member of the Dallas church where I was baptized. The Accord was quiet as we rode along. Both of our daughters were four years old.
Years later I discovered the girl in the van was Rachel Jones. She had been 13 at the time but the relationship was allowed by the girl’s father. Rachel’s father, Perry Jones, was a leader at the compound. Perry Jones would agree to allow Rachel to marry Vernon a year later at the age of 14. In the state of Texas this was permitted by law. Vernon Howell was already calling himself David Koresh at 24 when they married. Like many others, Mr. Perry fell under the spell of the new charismatic persona called David Koresh.
Fast forward 10 years and I am a Seventh-day Adventist pastor serving in Oklahoma. It was Friday, April 16, 1993, and I was driving to Dallas to visit my older brother John. I had just completed a doctoral intensive at Southwestern Adventist College. I had already finished a masters of theology in Michigan, but working on my doctorate ironically returned me to the place where I first met Koresh. On the way I listened to KRLD news radio. The DJ described the deteriorated negotiations between Koresh and the FBI. The siege in Waco had been going on since February 28. Approaching 50 days and the reporting was all over the place. They seemed to get a lot of the facts wrong.
For six weeks, Dallas-based KRLD radio commentators had characterized Koresh as having a Messiah complex. They referred to him as an impersonator of Jesus Christ. I knew this was incorrect because of my encounter with Koresh. He made grandiose statements but he really saw himself as the new Elijah. Koresh was obsessed with the prophecy in Malachi 3:2: “But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire… .” The distortion of what Koresh preached became swallowed up in his reprehensible behavior.
I tried to keep up with David and knew things had not gone well for him. He was formally accused of sexually assaulting young children at the compound. The Waco Tribune Herald had published a seven-part series of articles called “The Sinful Messiah.” Koresh was accused of being a polygamist and having sex with underage girls, some of whom were 12 and 13 years old. The reporting was not wrong. All in all David had 19 wives and fathered 10 children. The authenticity of the allegations and the ATF confirmation about an arsenal of illegal weapons made it necessary to intervene.
I felt at the time that I might be able to get David to leave the compound if I could get in to see him. I called the Waco police. I could tell they had a lot of helpful kooks that needed to be avoided. I left a message for the person in charge of the investigation. I finally connected with a police officer who was sympathetic but he assured me they had numerous experts who were handling the situation. He confirmed there was no shortage of people who wanted to give their two cents.
Another day went by and I had an idea. I began writing a letter to Koresh. The letter was a reminder of our meeting 10 years before. I would convey to him that I had studied his message and now saw the light. I would tell him that I recognized him as the recipient of the Elijah message to prepare the way. If only he would allow me to be his Elisha we could get his message out to the masses. I found out from the media that a form of that strategy was already in place. If David would release more children then he would receive more air time for his messages. I knew that would not work. Quid pro quo logic would never fit into his thinking. It would take a biblical scenario from one claiming to be called of God to get into his narcissistic mind.
After encountering several “right wingers” as we called them, I knew Koresh was dangerous. Confront or corner a narcissist and he will tear you apart. I had a bad feeling this would not end well.
I focused on the letter. My brother John used a new Dell laptop for his work. He allowed me to use it to write the letter. This was such a strange event I did not tell my brother what I was writing. He left the laptop with me while he went to work. After completing a good draft copy of the letter, the laptop battery ran down. I searched for a charger. The search produced nothing but I realized I had a Sony charger that seemed to have the same plug. I plugged it in. The Dell hissed at me. Smoke puffed up through the key board. A Mission Impossible moment occurred before I was even warned about choosing to accept the mission.
I scrambled to find a computer repair place nearby. They told me they could retrieve the hard drive data for my brother. His work consisted of elaborate detailed proposals. At this point the letter was forgotten. I was upset about possibly hurting my brother, especially if he lost essential work-related data. It was late afternoon. I turned on the news. Time was running out. The news reports were growing tense. I realized the letter was lost. But what else could I do?
I tried calling the Waco police and they would not connect me to the supervisor at the scene. The police were clear they already had enough on their hands with cranks and fanatics calling. My third call connected to a sympathetic officer. He confessed this was “new territory” and “complicated.” They were just trying to understand a religious fanatic holding 75 persons, but all of them staying of their own free will. The police I spoke with were straight up professionals but the news media on radio and TV were calling the situation dire. Tension was rising. Who was this 33-year-old self-proclaimed prophet, ambitious evangelist, and charismatic rock musician? Who was this man with a photographic memory who could recite entire chapter and verse from the Bible?
I tried calling the KRLD radio station. I connected with a DJ who immediately wanted me to go on the air. I told him that I would need to get permission and call him back. I called the Oklahoma Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and spoke directly with the person in charge. He was quite clear. “You do NOT say anything to anyone about this guy and by all means you will NOT go on the air.” I tried to explain what happened 10 years before. I tried to explain my desire to help. The line was quiet. The conference president was not pleased. He responded with silence. After several seconds, “You heard what I said.” Then he added, “If you value your employment then I suggest you take this advice.”
We hung up the phone and I felt a surge of resentment. We had disagreed before. I had changed the order of worship service six months earlier and a “well-intentioned dragon” (my term for a difficult church member) had tried to have me removed. I was called down to the Oklahoma Conference to face an inquisition. I survived that but I knew I could not take his advice on this even if it cost me my job. I called the radio station back and told them I would not be on the air but was insistent that I speak to someone with authority. They said they would call back. To my surprise the phone rang. I told the KRLD program director that I had good information that may be able to help the situation. He told me to summarize.
I gave a brief summary of my encounter with Koresh and his preoccupation with the Elijah story. He tried to follow, he even took notes and asked questions to clarify. He promised to share the information. His last words were, “Somebody better do something and they better do it soon.”
My brother came home a couple of hours later and I told him about the laptop. To my surprise my tears began to flow and I was overwhelmed with emotion. I told him that I would rather die than hurt him. He told me not to worry about the laptop and he would recover proposal copies from old emails. I did not tell him about the lost letter.
A short time later it was Monday morning, April 19. My brother and I had the day off and were about to leave for the golf course. I had not slept well. I kept telling myself I had done all that I could do or should do in light of my desire to remain employed. The television was playing in the background. A special news report interrupted the broadcast. The compound in Waco was under siege by the ATF and the Branch Davidians had set it on fire. Fight or flight took over within me and the amygdala in my brain hijacked the executive function. I felt clammy and needing to vomit.
I ran through the “if onlys.” If only I had been more forceful on the phone. If only I had told the conference president to go fuck himself and went straight to Waco. If only I had not been so aggressive with Vernon way back when, if I had been gentle, more Christ-like. Maybe just maybe, things might have turned out different. “A soft answer turns away wrath.” We watched the compound burn and 76 persons die; 25 were children. I remembered Rachel and once again thought of my own daughter, now the same age as the girl who slammed the door shut on that windowless white van.
It was reported David Koresh was discovered with a fatal gunshot wound to the center of the forehead. It is believed that Koresh’s right hand man Steve Schneider was the one who pulled the trigger. Schneider died that same morning of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the upper palate. Perhaps Elisha had helped Elijah after all.
I left Oklahoma shortly after the events in Waco. In spite of being awarded Oklahoma Pastor of the Year for the most baptisms in the conference and becoming ordained, I knew things would never be the same. The conference was obsessed with making money and turning people into Adventists. All I wanted to do was introduce people to Jesus. I didn’t fit in with the right wing but did fit into the statistical departing of most Adventist ministers. Most left after five years and I was right on schedule. Overseeing four churches and making 22-thousand a year probably contributed to the change. In less than a year I left the ministry.
Did the demise of David Koresh have anything to do with my departure? Yes, but not how one might think. I always knew that I was different than most Christians. Religious people really annoy me. I found David Koresh to be one of the most narcissistic religious nuts I have ever met. Here was a man so totally consumed with how others perceived him that he created a symbolic persona to hide behind, a religious identity to cover his selfish acts. There are narcissistic leaders who create symbolic personas that border on sociopathic. Some of them even run for president.
Do I feel guilty or hold myself responsible for not doing more so many years ago? Sometimes. But that is ultimately dysfunctional thinking. In reality nothing I could have done would have made any difference. This begs a new consideration for those who confront evil. The heroes of Waco deserve better than being swallowed up by the distorted views and hidden agendas of those who rewrite history.
Two years later to the day on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. His stated reason for doing this was revenge for the federal attack on “the innocent people of Waco.”
Do I connect the events of Waco and the lack of intervention as a cause and effect reason for Oklahoma’s bombing? Tommy thought God gave us motorcycle wrecks so we wouldn’t be football worshipers. If that is the God we serve then fuck him and the horse he rode in on! Yes, I do get angry about all of this. Especially when people glamorize Koresh or try to defend someone like McVeigh. Character assassinations on the ATF, FBI, or police really piss me off. Accusing them of causing the fire was a false allegation. Remember what Koresh said? “I am preparing the way just like Elijah.” That was why he started the fire. If his God wouldn’t do it like he did for Elijah on Mount Carmel, David would do it for him on his own Mount Carmel. He would fulfill the prophecy in Malachi 3:2: “For he is like a refiner’s fire…”
And the media perpetuates the lie of a “government conspiracy” because it sells, sells, sells. That is a shame and a dishonor to those who gave their lives doing the right thing.
There has to be more common sense than this. We live in a world of fanatics and it seems every week there is a new mass shooting somewhere. For some first responders, just going to work every day must feel like playing Russian roulette and facing more bullets than empty chambers.
Twenty years after the bombing, I ran the Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon. Did seeing the names and photos of the victims placed at mile markers along the race somehow help me get closure? No, not really. Don’t get me wrong, this was intense and it did provide emotional fuel to finish the race. I wish I could tell you that I felt better after running. I just felt relieved that I finished.
Can we get closure for pain that we didn’t experience firsthand? Yes, but I learned it’s not the same. I learned that all of us sail on an ocean of pain over giant waves between torrential rains. Our oceans are typically filled with more subtle losses and disappointments than burnings and beheadings. Hopefully, we navigate the waters well enough to remain above the waves. If we are fortunate, we have a partner who can buoy us for the journey. If we are not fortunate then we have the proverbial millstone. But either way, no matter how we deny, none of us get out of this alive.
I look back. What happened did not destroy my faith but brought me to a deeper understanding and a more authentic place. We are hard wired for social connections and God knows how much we need to belong. Flamboyant leaders with self-proclaimed visions of manifest destiny will try to pull us into their web, and make us part of something bigger than themselves. But at the end of the day the most profound and simple truth will cut through delusion. The questions may shout louder than the answers, but truth will resonate in direct proportion to our listening to the whispers of its authenticity.
And the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper, a still small voice.” 1 Kings 19:12