Branch Davidians are a small religious denomination that is classified as part of the Seventh Day Adventist branch of Christianity. The Branch Davidians trace their heritage through the Davidian Seventh Day Adventists back to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. However, it is important to note that the doctrines and practices of the Branch Davidians are very different from the tenets of the Seventh-day Adventists, the Advent Christian Church, and other Adventist bodies.
The Branch Davidian movement first appeared as a separate religious entity in 1955. Owing to a schism within the Davidian Seventh Day Adventists after the death of founder Victor Houteff, the members who chose to support Benjamin L. Roden as the appointed leader chose to separate and took on the name of Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist. “Branch” was added to the official name of the group with the understanding that the name was another reference to Jesus Christ. The newly formed Branch Davidians established a settlement outside the town of Waco, Texas. There the faith functioned under the guidance of Roden and his wife Lois until his death in 1978.
After the death of Benjamin Roden, several persons claimed the right to lead the faith. George Roden attempted to assume control of the settlement over the objections of his mother. Charles Pace, an influential figure within the denomination, also sought spiritual leadership. By 1981, Lois Roden had secured the loyalty of the majority of Branch Davidian members.
It was into this environment that Vernon Wayne Howell joined the Branch Davidians. Slowly, Howell began to gain prominence within the movement. Within a few years, he had assumed the name of David Koresh, basing the name on Biblical figures.
Tensions continued to mount among the Branch Davidians. During a Passover celebration at Mount Carmel in 1984, the movement splintered into several factions, with Howell leading one faction. All leaders and their followers were banished from the property, which remained in the control of George Roden.
While many of the factions continued to operate under the name of Branch Davidians, Howell renamed his splinter group the Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. Howell actively taught that the group was the spiritual successor to the group that had been expelled from the mainline Seventh-day Adventist Church during the 1930’s.
After Lois Roden’s death in 1986 and the collapse of George Roden’s group in 1988, Howell and his group of Branch Davidians assumed control of the property near Waco. By 1990, Howell had become David Koresh and was actively teaching a belief system that focused on the Seven Seals mentioned in the New Testament book of Revelations. Koresh taught his followers that he had been given the proper interpretation of the Seven Seals and therefore was capable of interpreting scripture properly.
Rumors about various activities among the Branch Davidians led to raids on church property in early 1993. Led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the result was a siege that began with the deaths of six Branch Davidians and four ATF agents, and ended with the deaths of seventy-six other Branch Davidians on 19 April 1993. David Koresh was among those who died in the destruction of the compound at Mount Carmel.
Today, scattered remnant groups of the Branch Davidians continue to exist. A few are still loyal to the claims of David Koresh, while others reject Koresh and his teachings. Attempts to gather the remnants of the faith into a unified body have thus far not been successful.