Summary: How to identify a cult, why they’re so dangerous, how we should respond to our neighbors and friends who are involved in Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science.
*ILL>Fourteen years ago, the sight was "burned into our memories" (pun-intended). David Koresh’s Branch Davidians’ compound, named "Camp Apocalypse", caught on fire as the FBI came to arrest Koresh (actual name Vernon Law) for attempted murder of his son and a number of violations concerning illegal firearms stashed inside the compound. But how did it come to all that?
--Well, David Koresh was a former Southern Baptist who became a Seventh Day Adventist, then joined the "Shephrerd’s Rod" group just before they were kicked out by the Seventh Day Adventists. Koresh became the new leader of the group after having an affair with the former, lady leader. Together, they had a son whom they declared to be the "Chosen One," after Koresh went on a trip to Israel, where he had a special "vision" from God.
In the vision, Koresh believed he was being told that he was the reincarnation of the former Persian king, Cyrus, who allowed the children of Israel to return to their homes after having been taken away in bondage by Nebuchadnezzar. (The hebrew word for Cyrus is Koresh.) He believed and taught that God was putting together a new Davidic kingdom in Israel, and his "Chosen One" son was to be the new Messiah.
--However, years later David Koresh changed the vision to declare that it was he, Koresh himself, that was to be the new Messiah, that he was the "ideal sire" of a new kingdom, and that every woman in tune with God should have his children. So, he added numerous "spirit wives" to his household and compound, and many of the children in the compound were his own children.
--So, the FBI surrounded the complex and gave everyone inside two full days to come out without harm (Koresh was the only person they were after). Most refused, so on February 28 of 1993, when the FBI used battering rams to break through the outside walls of the compound, someone on the inside ignited a series of fires until the entire compound was caught up in flames, and everyone inside, including the children, perished in the fire.
*ILL>Two years later, Marshall Applewhite, a former mental patient who suffered from delusions and various psychoses, gathered a group of about thirty followers and formed the "Heaven’s Gate" cult. The members were convinced by Applewhite that the earth was about to be "re-cycled," wiped out, and their only hope of survival was to kill themselves and allow their souls to be transported to the Halle-Bopp comet traveling overhead, where they would then be carried away to a new planet and be given a new life there.
They believed him, and, as a group, although in individual beds, resting as though they were just taking a nap, committed suicide by way of cyanide on March 27, 1995.
*ILL>But the best known and most notorious cult of them all was Jim Jones’ "People’s Temple." Jones and the group moved first from Indianapolis to San Francisco, and eventually moved out of the country, to Ghana (each time to avoid tax fraud indictments of Jones and the church). In Ghana they cleared out an area in the jungle and built their community, called "Paradise" by the members, but Jonestown to outsiders, where Jones was clearly the head poobah.
Jones convinced followers that he was the new Messiah (sound familiar), that "Paradise" was heaven on earth, and that every woman should have a child with him (familiar ring again), even requiring the women in his group to spend her wedding night (and sometimes more nights than that) with him rather than their new husbands. However, there were some on the inside who weren’t entirely pleased with what was happening, and reports of the wedding night fiascos and other cases of phsyical and psychological abuse reached the ears of the FBI and federal enforcement officers in California.
--In response, a Congressional delegation, accompanied by FBI officers, and a network news reporter flew to Jonestown in the summer of 1978, and discovered the accounts to be true. However, before they could get back to their private jet and return to California to "make a federal case" of it, hey were killed by People’s Temple members. One of them, however, managed to get a message through to the authorities back in the states before he was killed. As a result, a second delegation was quickly assembled, this time armed and prepared for battle, arrived only a few days later.
However, when that group arrived, they discovered a horrible sight: every person in "Paradise" was dead. Letters left by some of the dead and written instructions that were found amid the scene told the horrifying story of how Jones and church leaders had persuaded every person to drink cyanide-laced kool-aid. The mothers were instructed to first give it to their children and then drink it themselves. Their dead bodies were now bloated and sun-bleached. Jones was found dead by a gunshot to the head, and no one knows whether someone else shot him or he killed himself, but the followers of Jim Jones were led straight to their deaths by this persuasive and demonic man.