Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the disastrous fire (pictured here) at the Branch Davidian home, Mount Carmel, outside Waco, Texas, in which nearly 80 people died.
It marked the end of a 51-day standoff that began with a gun battle in which four government agents and six Branch Davidians perished.
And it was all so unnecessary.
Because I went to Waco the year after the fire to write a series of articles for The Kansas City Star about what went wrong, it's hard for me to land on an April 19 without this disaster coming to mind.
The longish pieces I wrote about all of this concluded that had government agents spent as little as 15 minutes talking to religion scholars at Baylor University about the Branch Davidians, they never would have done what they did. Government actions played right into the hands of David Koresh, the sect's leader, who had convinced his followers that the government would seek to destroy them. He saw it as a sign that the world was ending and he thought he was an apocalyptic prophet spreading word of that end.
You can find those articles in my first book, A Gift of Meaning, published in late 2001 by the University of Missouri Press, but still available from such sources as Amazon.com.
After Waco, government officials have paid more attention to how to deal with small religious sects that seem pretty far outside the mainstream of faith. And mostly, therefore, they have avoided the kinds of bone-headed decisions they made at Waco. But I worry that as the memory of the Branch Davidian catastrophe fades, so, too, will the commitment to educate government agencies about how to handle faith-based groups that can be seen as a threat to the peace and security of society. Religious literacy is vital even for government officials.
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SAVING OLD SACRED STRUCTURES
Lots of Catholic churches in Chicago could be closed over the next several years, but architectural preservationists and others are working to save them. It's an interesting story of changing times that also affects other cities. Kansas City is blessed to have an active preservationist group available to help any faith community with such issues -- Friends of Sacred Structures. If you're not familiar with the organization, take a look at its website and see if there's a way for you to get involved.