Just about 21 years ago, on April 19, 1992, 76 men, women, and children died at the Mt. Carmel compound near Waco, Texas. I took it very personally. First, because every one of those people had been in some way associated with the Adventist church. Second, because I lived in Waco several years as a child. I remember driving past the hand-terraced hill where the then Shepherd’s Rods anticipated the second coming.
How had devout people come to believe that they should give their wives and sometimes very young daughters to be Koresh’s consorts? How did they come to arm themselves with heavy weapons and try to hold off the forces of the federal government?
Yes, it was extreme behavior. But it wasn’t coincidence.
The Branch Davidians believed they had a special knowledge of end-time prophecy which was given them by their very own prophet. The prophecy predicted that these chosen few who were in the know would become the target of persecution because of their beliefs. Every headline, every event, was examined for signs of the end. And what they sought, they found.
Is it just me, or does some of this sound familiar? Yes, it was taken to extreme. But it resembled an approach often espoused by evangelists.
The End is Coming! Only those who know and understand the true interpretation of the prophecies will survive.
Only we know the truth.
If your life is not in perfect alignment with the teachings of the Bible (as we present them), you will fall.
You must therefore purge every sinful thought and desire (as we define them) or you will be deceived when the persecution comes.
We are God’s peculiar people. If ‘the world’ does not find you odd, you are not bearing a true witness.
I could go on, but I won’t.
I once protested to a pastor that we shouldn’t be using fear as a motivator. “But it works! And we’re doing them a favor, helping them find salvation.” I’m not saying every evangelist uses such methods. But I have seen many who do, and many others who are more subtle, but still quite manipulative.
But we shouldn’t be surprised at situations like Waco. If we use manipulation to recruit members, and further manipulation to encourage them to donate, or support certain ministries, we shouldn’t be surprised when a more skilled, more charismatic manipulator comes along and entices these susceptible people into extreme beliefs and behaviors.
There is much, much more to say. I have a whole week’s worth of workshops and seminars on the full implications of, and the remedies for these problems. But a blog is for short pieces, so I will stop here for this installment.
To conclude, the mixture of pride (we are in the know) and fear (the end is coming, you must be perfect) is a powerful motivator, but it is like a drug. A little stimulates, but the psyche develops a tolerance, so increasing doses are needed. It can become addictive, and the side effects of all that fear are deadly. We have congregations made up almost entirely of fearful believers.
Naturally occurring fear may drive us to find consolation in God. This is good. But we should not be administering small doses of fear for our own purposes. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Tim. 1:7.
More on 2 Tim 1:7 later. In the meantime, we must never forget, It is not fear but “the kindness of God [that] leads you to repentance.” Rom 2:4