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The Branch Davidian flag
|Regions with significant populations|
|Davidian Seventh Day Adventists|
|Mount Carmel||Waco, Texas|
|Isaiah 9:7, Ezekiel 9, Hosea 1-2, Micah 6:9, Micah 7:14, Matthew 20, Revelation 7:6, Revelation 13, Revelation 14|
|The Shepherd's Rod|
The Branch Davidian flag
|Regions with significant populations|
|Davidian Seventh Day Adventists|
|Mount Carmel||Waco, Texas|
|Isaiah 9:7, Ezekiel 9, Hosea 1-2, Micah 6:9, Micah 7:14, Matthew 20, Revelation 7:6, Revelation 13, Revelation 14|
|The Shepherd's Rod|
The Branch Davidians (also known as "The Branch") are a Protestant sect that originated in 1955 from a schism in the Davidian Seventh Day Adventists ("Davidians"), a reform movement that began within the Seventh-day Adventist Church ("Adventists") around 1930. The majority of those who accepted the reform message have been disfellowshipped[clarification needed] due to the Adventist church rejecting it. The Branch Davidians have many theological beliefs in common with Messianic Judaism 
From its inception in 1930, the reform movement inherited Adventism's apocalypticism, in that they believed themselves to be living in a time when Bible prophecies of a final divine judgment were coming to pass as a prelude to Christ's second coming. The name "Branch Davidian" is most widely known for the Waco Siege of 1993 on their property (known as the Mount Carmel Center) near Waco, Texas, by the ATF, FBI, and Texas National Guard, which resulted in the deaths of their leader, David Koresh, as well as 82 other Branch Davidians and four ATF agents.
In 1929 Victor Houteff, a Bulgarian immigrant and a Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath School teacher, claimed that he had a new message for the church. He presented this message in a book, The Shepherd's Rod: The 144,000—A Call for Reformation. The Adventist leadership rejected Houteff's message as contrary to the Adventists' basic teachings and disfellowshipped (banished) Houteff and his followers.
In 1935 Houteff established his headquarters to the west of Waco, Texas. Until 1942, the movement was known as the Shepherd's Rod Seventh Day Adventists. When Houteff found it necessary to formally organize for legal purposes, he named the association the General Association of Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. The term Davidian reflects their belief in the restoration of the Davidic kingdom in Israel before Christ's second coming (advent) in the clouds of heaven. Houteff directed Davidians to work exclusively for the reforming of Seventh-day Adventists, in preparation for a large influx of converts when the church was purified.
The Davidians believe that the president of the church must be endowed with the spirit of prophecy by which to bring increasing Biblical truth to the movement. Thus, in 1955, after Houteff's death, the Davidians split over who had the qualifications to lead the reform movement. This dispute brought about the General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists, headed initially by Benjamin L. Roden. The name Branch reflects their belief that Branch is Jesus' new name. In the late 1960s, the group established its headquarters east of Waco, Texas, on the property previously occupied by the Davidians after they sold their property west of Waco in the early 1960s.
In 1958–59, The Branch became the first group of Christians to be granted landed immigrant status in Israel. They received permission to settle three villages there, though they lost two of them because not enough Davidians came to inhabit the villages. Due to their efforts, along with those of others (mostly Jews), the remaining village, Amirim, became the first vegetarian village in Israel, and remains such today. Being strict vegetarians, they established The Branch Organic Agricultural Association, one of the first organizations to encourage organic gardening in Israel, which produces an abundance of crops for the area and for Europe.
At around the same time, Ben Roden called for the church to keep the Lord's Supper and all of the Biblical feast days. In 1976, he called for the General Conference of SDAs to keep the Lord's Supper daily, at the same times of worship that were designated in ancient Israel (the 3rd and 9th hours of the day). In 1981, Lois Roden, Ben's wife, called for all members of the Branch to keep the Lord's Supper daily at those same times.
Although under the leadership of Victor T. Houteff the reform movement strictly confined its work among SDAs, under Ben Roden the work was extended outside the mother church. Roden was especially vocal in his opposition to Sunday blue laws, which Adventists identify as being an aspect of the "mark of the beast", as they support the concept of Saturday rather than Sunday worship.
In 1977, Ben Roden's wife, Lois, claimed to have a new message of her own, one element of which was the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is feminine in gender, causing much controversy in the group. That new message entitled her to a place in the leadership of the church, which her husband and others accepted. When Ben Roden died the next year, their son George tried to assume the leadership, claiming that he was the rightful prophet of the group. But Lois overcame his attempt, and a permanent injunction was issued against George, prohibiting him from attempting to act as president of the church.
In 1979, Lois Roden began publishing Shekinah magazine, which was a "sounding board" in which she presented articles from people of many different Christian, Jewish, and other backgrounds exploring the issue of the femininity of the Holy Spirit, and women in the ministry of the church. During the next several years she was written about in national and international newspapers, was on radio talk shows, and appeared on TV discussing her message. She distributed her literature at many different large religious meetings, including those held in various places when Pope John Paul II came to America in 1979.
In late 1982, and early 1983, she won an award from Religion in Media, and from another international Christian group for her work and for her magazine. A couple of months later, the Administrative building at their church headquarters which contained their printing department was destroyed by fire. Vernon Howell (who changed his name to David Koresh in 1990) later admitted starting the fire. He said he did it because God had told him to do so, and that he was instructed to tell Lois that, "the LORD hath given a commandment concerning thee, that no more of thy name be sown." Nahum 1:14.
While the SDAs, the Davidians, and The Branch hold many fundamental beliefs in common with most Christian denominations, there are a few additional doctrines which give each of them their distinct identities and names. The ones which the SDAs, the Davidians, and the Branch groups hold in common are:
The doctrines that distinguish the Davidian and Branch reform movements from the mainline SDAs are:
The doctrines that distinguish the Branch from the mainline SDAs and Davidians are:
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In 1981 Vernon Wayne Howell (later renamed David Koresh) connected himself with the group after being disfellowshipped (excommunicated) from the SDA church in Tyler, Texas, for moral reasons. Shortly after that time he said that he had a new message for the church, but it was not received by anyone then. Rejected in his attempts to gain a following at that time, he came and went over the next year or so, only to return in early 1983, and then again in the fall of 1983 to try again. When there, he would offer Mrs. Roden his services in fixing cars and other mechanical problems, thereby gaining her trust.
Never at any time did he actually accept any of the basic moral teachings and practices of the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. The same type of things that caused him to be disfellowshipped from the SDA church would have disqualified him from membership in the Branch. The fact that he later had multiple "wives," used alcohol and flesh foods (and taught his followers to do so), dealt in firearms, and used various questionable techniques to compel the consciences of his followers and break down their physical and mental powers, further disqualified him from membership in the church and its leadership.
In September 1983 Lois Roden allowed Howell to teach his own message, opening the door for him to build a following before their split in early 1984. It is the church's practice to allow most anyone the freedom to present a study, so as not to stifle the spirit of investigation. There was a general meeting at Mount Carmel Center of many Branch Davidians in 1984 during Passover, and the end result was that the group split into a few factions, one of which was loyal to Howell. At this time George Roden forced Howell and his group, and some others, to leave the property. Shortly before that time Howell named his faction the "Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association." Within about a year after leaving Mt. Carmel Center, Howell and his followers ended up in Palestine, Texas, which was his headquarters for the next couple of years. At Howell's command, his followers stopped distributing any of the Davidian and Branch literature after they joined him.
On March 28, 1985, Lois was in court again, enforcing the injunction against George. At that time she swore that she was the "President of the Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association."[non-primary source needed] About 2½ months later, Vernon Howell was involved in a separate court case in which he swore that he was the "President of the Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association",[non-primary source needed] and named nine of his followers who were members of the Branch before they left it to join his new faction under its new name. That case was initiated by George Roden. He was claiming that Vernon and numerous others were preventing him from being the President of the Branch church. Vernon's defense against George's complaint was that he was actually the President of a different association, i.e., the "Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association."
While Howell and his followers claimed that Lois Roden had passed on, or had lost, her presidency to him, he never challenged her in court, nor did he attempt to exercise his purported right to the presidency and to the church's name and property until after she died in November, 1986. Though George had used his office of Trustee of the association to have Howell banned from the church's headquarters in 1984, Howell never used his alleged right to the leadership of the church to overturn George's action against him until after Lois died. Neither was he a party in the probate of Lois' estate in January 1987. Lois, as president of the church, held much of the church's property in her name in accordance with the church's Constitution and By-laws, yet Howell was not at the probate proceedings to protect the church's property, which he could have, and should have, done if he were her lawful successor. Instead, in the following summer Howell began to file numerous documents[non-primary source needed] in the County Records office, which he and his followers were to later use to exert their claim to the right to use the church's identity and property. In all of those documents he assumed the church's name, rather than using the new name of his distinct faction, which he dropped at around that time.
Many[who?] of those nine persons named in Howell's statement regarding his being president of an association ("Davidian Branch Davidian...") different from The Branch had been members of the church's Executive Council under Lois. But, it wasn't until after Lois died that they and Vernon used that fact to make it appear that they were still members of the association which Lois was president of in order to gain use of the church's identity and property, and to bring contempt charges against George, causing him to leave the church's property. Their names appeared on the original 1979 court order against George, so although they left the church under Lois to join with Howell, under the guise of still being members of the "Executive Council" they took legal actions against George after Lois died.
In early November, 1987, Vernon and seven of his followers made what the authorities[who?] described as a military style assault upon George in order to gain control of Mt. Carmel Center. It was reported that Vernon and his followers said that they were just trying to get some photographs of a dead body which George had dug up. They claimed that the District Attorney had requested that they get the pictures in order to prosecute George That claim is questionable, because the sheriffs were well aware that George had dug up the body, for they had investigated the matter nearly nine months before that time when it was reported to them by Doug Mitchell (one of Lois' remaining followers) during the time of the probate of Lois' estate.[non-primary source needed]
It was reported[according to whom?] that during their assault Vernon and his followers had more ammunition than "a Vietnam patrol." They had hidden out in the ruins of the Administration building that Vernon burned down in 1983 until the morning when they were discovered and a shootout started between them and George. It reportedly went on for around 45 minutes before the sheriffs arrived. The sheriffs were met by Perry Jones (Vernon's father-in-law) outside of Mt. Carmel who said that they were just trying to take some pictures of the deceased woman. Vernon and those with him were put in jail, awaiting their trial on attempted murder charges. Vernon was bailed out while the others remained in jail. One of the officers who testified at the trial said that it appeared to him that Vernon and his followers were attempting to use the sheriffs in order to gain control of Mt. Carmel Center.
While waiting for the trial, George was put in jail under contempt of court charges on March 21, 1988 because of his use of foul language in some court pleadings. The very next day, Perry Jones and a number of Vernon's other followers moved from their headquarters in Palestine, Texas to Mt. Carmel Center.
At the trial, Vernon's group came with their children and gained much sympathy from the jury. The jury acquitted Vernon's followers. There was a mistrial declared for Vernon, and the charges against him were later dropped. All of their guns were given back to them.
Mitchell, the last church member in Waco to work with Lois before she died, had left there a week or so before that shootout, so there were no members of the church under Lois Roden in Waco who could testify at the trial in 1988 as to what was going on, other than George. Therefore, neither the jury nor the general public knew that Howell's leadership was of a completely different nature than that of Victor Houteff, and that of Ben and Lois Roden, who were well respected in the Waco community, or that he was actually the leader of a different association under a different name.
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Lois also faced discord from Canadian Charles Pace, who joined the church in the early 1970s, and who, in 1981, also said he had a special message for the church. After examining Pace's message, and finding some errors in it, Lois asked him to stop teaching it among them. When he refused to do so, she put him under a "censure," which meant that he could attend meetings of the church, but not teach at them. At the pivotal Passover, 1984 meeting, Pace presented his special message at a meeting held by George Roden. While Lois and others accepted the key point of Pace's teachings, the significant errors in it precluded Lois from publishing anything of his as he had presented it.
At the meeting, Pace announced that he believed that George was to be the next president of the church, and gave him around $14,000 so that he (Pace) could open a health center there. However, Lois had asked people to not give financial support to George, who was still under the court order that enjoined him from acting as the church's president; therefore, George had no authority to authorize Pace to open a health center. Shortly thereafter, Pace had a falling out with George, and he threw Pace off of the property.
After Lois' death in late 1986, Pace moved from Canada to Gadsen, Alabama, and set up his own faction which he at first named "The Living Waters Branch of Righteousness," then later changed the name to "The Branch, The Lord (YHVH) Our Righteousness." Though he claimed to be Lois' successor, he did not take part in the probate of Lois' estate, and thus allowed the church's property and identity to fall into the hands of George Roden, and then, eventually, Howell's.
In 1990, one of the first things Pace published under his new name was called It Is Finished. Shortly before Lois died in November, 1986, he declared that the church no longer needed to keep the daily hours of worship which Ben and Lois had labored hard to restore to the church. In that 1990 study he taught that it was an "abomination" to keep wine (grape juice) as an emblem of the Lord's Supper daily (as the Rodens had taught) because Jesus was no longer interceding for us, but only the Holy Ghost was.
In Lois' unattested will she named "Irmine Sampson, Teresa Moore, and the New York group" to lead out in republishing her and Ben's literature. Teresa took that to mean that she was anointed to be the next president of the church, though the others didn't assume the same about their being mentioned. Teresa attended the hearing on the probate of Lois' estate in early 1987, but not as a party to it. After the hearing she told Doug Mitchell (who was a party to the proceedings for the purpose of preserving the church's assets from abuse until the members could meet together) that it was her opinion that the church members should just let George Roden have control of Mt. Carmel Center and the other church assets. Therefore, she went back home and established her own faction, naming it The Lords of Sabbaoth, Our Righteous Branches, and abandoned the church's identity and property.
Amo Bishop became associated with George Roden in 1987, and later was married to him for a few months by "contract." George's mental condition was greatly deteriorating during that time, and not long afterwards he ended up in a mental institution until his death in 1998. Amo claims to represent the church, though she rejects many of the church's fundamental teachings. Even though she managed to get permission from George to represent his interests, he, not long afterwards, formally withdrew that permission. In spite of that, Amo continues to put herself forward as a member of the church with a right to speak and act for the church, even using George's last name (Roden). She then began publishing her own studies, which, according to Mitchell and others, greatly misrepresent the church's teachings. Some say that she is part of a group whose purpose is to disrupt and manipulate the church's image for nefarious reasons. They say that she has been taking advantage of the church's turmoil by repeatedly moving on to the church's property and passing out her literature under the supposed auspices of the church.
Doug Mitchell joined the movement in 1978, and worked closely with Lois until her death. He became a party in the probate proceedings of Lois' estate for the purpose of preserving the church's assets from abuse until the members could meet together, but to no avail as the judge wouldn't recognize that much of Lois' estate was things held in trust by her for the church, and appointed two of her other sons who were not active in the church as executors of her estate.
About six months before she died, Mitchell presented her with some "new light" he said he was receiving on the true nature of the Lord's Supper. That being, that in the early church that which is known as the Agape or Love Feast (the communal meal ) was the only Lord's Supper they practiced. Lois accepted that belief and practiced it with Mitchell when they met together, and even with Pace when they visited him shortly before she died.
By the time of the siege, Koresh had encouraged his followers to think of themselves as "students of the Seven Seals" rather than as "Branch Davidians." During the standoff one of his followers publicly announced that he wanted them to thereafter be identified by the name "Koreshians".
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Due to the secrecy under which Koresh operated, and because some of his original followers were using their former membership on the church's Executive Council to portray themselves as still a part of the Branch, those who never left the church under Lois Roden's leadership were not able to easily challenge Koresh's group until after their deeds and teachings were known publicly after the 1993 incident. The revelation of those things gave others the opportunity to dispute their hold on the Mount Carmel property and the church's identity. Within months Amo Bishop moved onto the land to begin a one-woman occupation.
After Koresh's death, most of his survivors and supporters recognized Clive Doyle as the spokesman of their organization. But, according to the church's Constitution and By-Laws, the Trustees of the church's property must be appointed to said positions by the president thereof, and Koresh had made no such appointments, nor did they even have a president since he died in 1993, and they announce publicly that they weren't expecting another one to come after him. This situation has existed until today. Therefore, in 1996, they filed a document in the County Records Office stating that they were reorganizing themselves outside of the parameters of the church's laws, and named 11 individuals as co-Trustees.
After the 1993 incident, some of Koresh's survivors filed a lawsuit in order to obtain their personal property that had been confiscated after the end of the standoff. In that suit they, almost incidentally, attempted to gain title to the church's property, Mt. Carmel Center. In 1996 the court ruled that the land belongs to the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Church, but refused to rule on who exactly constitutes "the church."
Therefore, in 1996, a number of Koresh's remaining followers filed an action to quiet title to the church's property under a claim of adverse possession. Adverse possession requires that the claimant file it against a party that holds title to the property. They filed that suit claiming to be the "Trustees" of the church, while contradictorily claiming that they possessed the property in adversity to the trustees of the church. The only defendants they named in the suit were George Roden, who was confined in a mental institution, and Amo Bishop. They also tried to conceal the fact that they were making a claim for the property by attempting to meet the public notification requirements by publishing their claim in the Waco Farm and Labor Journal that had only 1200 subscribers, and no general circulation at all.
Charles Pace and one of his followers joined the suit, alleging that they had rights to the property along with Koresh's followers because they had contributed to the church's "2nd tithe fund," which had been used to acquire and maintain the property. He was petitioning the court to have it recognize all of the different factions and set up a board with representatives of the various groups to work together to determine how the property would be used.
In 1998, Doug Mitchell, joined the case in opposition to all of the parties. He says that he told Pace that since he was not a follower of Koresh's, that he would not file against him if he would withdraw from the case. Pace then withdrew from the case, but then signed a document in which he stated that he was fully recognizing Koresh's follower's claim to the property, and joined with them in their opposition to Mitchell. Mitchell contends that when Koresh left Mount Carmel in 1984 and adopted the new name "Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist" for his group, they formally left the church, forfeiting their claim as true Branch Davidians. And even more so, considering that during the property trial Koresh's surviving followers formally reorganized themselves outside of, and with specific disregard for the church's governing laws. He says the same is true of Pace when he formed his own group under its new name(s) and began to teach doctrines that are in direct opposition to the fundamental Branch teachings. Teresa Moore chose not to be a party to the suit, but during the proceedings she linked up with Amo Bishop in opposition to Mitchell.
During the pre-trial proceedings, Mitchell's attempts to obtain an injunction against Koresh's remaining followers that would have prohibited them from using the church's name and property was dismissed for "lack of jurisdiction." Judge Alan Mayfield felt that the matter involved church issues which the court could not rightly consider. Mitchell asserts that none of the Judge's conclusions of law in his order were applicable to the case before him. He says that he was unable to appeal the judge's ruling at that time due to personal hardships and to harassment and violence he was subjected to by some of Koresh's followers and from Pace.
Koresh's survivors dropped their claim for adverse possession the day before the trial began, proceeding only on their claims of being the Trustees of the Church. Mitchell's claim to be the rightful Trustee of the church's property was not allowed to be heard by the jury when Koresh's followers' and Amo Roden's claims were considered, but he was allowed to defend himself against the others' claims. Even though Koresh's followers presented the numerous documents that they and Howell had filed in the County Records office in 1987 and later, in 2000 a jury ruled against them and Amo Roden. However, they continued to use the property, along with Charles Pace.
Approximately fifty to seventy people attended the yearly memorial service on April 19, 2005. At that time, survivor Clive Doyle was living at the Mount Carmel Center with supporter Ron Goins, operating a small visitor museum as well as holding weekly Bible studies on the Sabbath. Charles Pace and his family also lived on the property and held worship services.
However, relations began to break down. In August, Pace held a baptism for his members at Mount Carmel, joined by Goins. This left Doyle as the only Koresh follower on the property, and he says he came under increasing pressure to convert or leave. In February, 2006, he decided to move into town, emptying the visitor museum as well.
This has left Pace's group in questionable control of Mount Carmel Center. Pace had opposed the planting of the grove of memorial trees calling it paganism, and his group has chopped down David Koresh's tree and smashed his plaque, to prevent it from being used for idolatry. They have also removed the plaques from the other trees, with plans to incorporate the stones into their own memorial to the dead. Pace, a naturopathic doctor, also plans to make a wellness center out of Doyle's repossessed house and a health food/herb shop out of the visitors' center. Meanwhile, Koresh's survivors nurse hopes of reclaiming the property.
In 2003, Mitchell set up a web site on which he posted most all of the publications of Victor T. Houteff, Ben and Lois Roden, and his own new studies, including a detailed presentation of what he calls The Warfare of Vernon Howell (a.k.a. David Koresh) and others against the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists, in which he gives a detailed and documented overview of the controversy regarding the church and its adversaries. Mitchell says that numerous people who have examined his teachings and those of Koresh's and his followers, Charles Pace, and Teresa Moore, and have found their teachings to be divergent from the fundamental doctrines of the church, and have sided with him. He says that the matter is far from resolved, and that certain facts may soon come to light which will clear up the matter.