David Koresh and Joseph Smith: False Prophets
How could anyone believe that this man is a prophet of God? How could an intelligent person follow a man like that? These are some of the most common questions the media have asked the staff of Watchman Fellowship since the bloody ATF raid on David Koresh's Mount Carmel compound outside Waco, Texas.
While these questions are valid, they raise deeper issues:
1. Are Koresh's claims and his followers' loyalty that different than those of other cults or extremist religious groups in America?
2. At what point did Koresh and his followers become a cult 3/4 when the first ATF agent was shot, when they purchased their first illegal weapon, or even earlier?
3. What dynamics are at work when a people confuse their loyalty to God with their loyalty to a man?
This month's Expositor recounts the recent events at Mt. Carmel and attempts to address the issue of cultic mind control that is raised by David Koresh and echoed in countless other groups.
In their March 15th cover story, Newsweek magazine compared David Koresh with other cults and extremist religious movements in America including Elizabeth Clare Prophet (Guru Ma) of the Church Universal and Triumphant, Charles Manson, Rev. Jim Jones, and the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The article, entitled "Cultic America: A Tower of Babel," chronicled parallels and similarities between the followers of these religious leaders and David Koresh's Branch Davidian disciples.
What may not be so apparent at first glance is some parallels between Koresh and other more respectable non-traditional religious movements such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the Mormons have done a surprising job of gaining public acceptance or mainstreaming in the last hundred years, there are some interesting parallels between the David Koresh of the 1980's and 90's and Joseph Smith of the 1830's and 40's.
Parallels between Joseph Smith and David Koresh
1. Both Claimed to be prophets of God.
2. Both Joseph Smith and David Koresh lacked a formal education.
Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt explained that Joseph Smith, "was not a learned man, and in fact was scarcely in possession of an ordinary common school education. He could write a little" (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 12, p. 357). David Koresh dropped out of school after the 9th grade (Dallas Morning News, 1 March 1993, p. 13 A).
3. Both Joseph Smith and David Koresh claimed to have found passages referring to themselves in the Bible.
In Joseph Smith's Inspired Version of the Bible he added nearly a chapter's worth of material to Genesis 50 including a prophecy of the coming forth of "a seer" in the last days who would, "be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father" [The Mormon founder's full name is Joseph Smith, Jr., his father also being named Joseph] (Inspired Version Holy Scriptures Genesis 50:30-33).
David Koresh called himself the biblical "Lamb of God" and claimed that the lamb mentioned in Revelation 5:1 as "worthy to take the book, and to open the [seven] seals was referring to himself" (Dallas Morning News, 1 March 1993, p. 1 A).
4. Both Joseph Smith and David Koresh established religious communes in which followers were asked to give all possessions to the church and share all things in common.
Joseph Smith's communal experiment was located in Kirtland, Ohio and was established as part of the "law of consecration," also called the "United Order" or "Order of Enoch." According to revelation, to avoid the risk of being "cut off" followers had to "consecrate" their possessions to the Bishop who redistributed the property according to the needs of the people (Doctrine and Covenants, section 51 and History of the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 364- 65).
David Koresh began by requiring 10% of his followers' income then in the late 1980's required 30%. Finally Koresh demanded 100% of his followers' income and possessions. Former member Michell Tom explained that after giving all, "Vernon would just give them back an allowance." In Tom's case that was between $2 and $5 a week (Waco Tribune-Herald 6 March 1993, p. 5A).
5. Both Joseph Smith and David Koresh were practicing polygamists.
Joseph Smith received a revelation of a "new and everlasting covenant" which his followers must obey or they "shall be damned" (Doctrine and Covenants 132:6). The revelation promoted what has been called the "plural wives" or "spiritual wife" doctrine.
In a booklet printed by the Mormon owned Deseret News Press, Joseph Fielding Smith (who later became an LDS prophet) reproduces sworn affidavits naming ten or more wives of the Mormon founder, Joseph Smith. In one deposition, Lucy Walker Smith claims that she became the plural wife of Joseph Smith in May of 1843. She claimed knowledge of "at least four" other women that Joseph Smith married and "associated and cohabited with" as wives with Emma's (his first wife) consent (Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage, pp. 67- 88).
David Koresh, "eventually `married' as many as 19 cult women and fathered at least 10 of their children" although he has denied claims that he has had sex with girls as young as 12 (People, 15 March 1993, p. 41). Former members reported Koresh prophesying for himself 60 wives and 80 concubines and "virgins without number" (Dallas Morning News, 1 March 1993, p. 13-A, Ft. Worth Star Telegram, 3 March 1993 p. A-19).
6. Both Joseph Smith and David Koresh have been accused of forming paramilitary organizations.
Through a legal charter granted by the State of Illinois, Joseph Smith formed the Nauvoo Legion a "body of independent military men" that he later commanded as Lieutenant General. The Nauvoo Legion was a sizable force even having artillery in its arsenal. This military unit was to be in harmony with the principles of the constitution and government (History of the Church, Vol. 4, pp. 244, 326).
Koresh's alleged para-military arms sparked the ATF raid.
7. Both Joseph Smith and David Koresh prophesied of their own martyrdom.
Joseph Smith said, "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer's morning" shortly before his death in June, 1844. This was recorded under the heading "A Pathetic Prophecy" (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 555).
David Koresh prophesied that he would move to Israel and be martyred by crucifixion at the hands of the U.S. Army. Former members claim that one reason for the martyrdom was to be jealousy over Koresh's wives and concubines (Fort Worth Star Telegram, 3 March 1993, p. 19 A).
8. Both Joseph Smith and David Koresh were accused of possessing illegal weapons.
When in jail on charges of treason, Joseph Smith had two guns smuggled into the jail - a "six shooter" which Joseph used and a "single barrel" pistol which his brother Hyrum took. As an angry mob approached the jail, Joseph Smith, "discharged his six shooter in the stairway" reportedly killing two men (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 561, 617-618; Vol. 7, p.103). [Note: it is assumed here that it would be illegal for a prisoner to be in possession of firearms.]
David Koresh is said to also carry a hand gun, a 9mm Glock, and the warrant that ATF agents were attempting to serve concerned alleged possession of explosives and illegal automatic weapons including high-caliber machine guns and .50 caliber "anti-vehicle" weapons (Dallas Morning News, 1 March 1993, p.11-A).
9. Both Joseph Smith and David Koresh were shot in gun battles.
For Joseph Smith see History of the Church Vol. 7 pp. 101-03. It should be noted that in the cases of both Koresh and Smith, followers could argue that the actions of the government were illegal or inappropriate. Mormons often explain that Smith was returning fire at a mob in self-defense. This view, however, seems to rule out the Mormon claim that Smith died as a "martyr" (History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 618; Vol. 7, pp. 55, 129). (Neither Koresh or Smith seemed willing to "turn the other cheek").
10. Both Joseph Smith and David Koresh favorably compared their ministries with that of Christ and claimed to hold the priesthood or office of Christ.
Joseph Smith said, "I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I" (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 408-09). Smith elsewhere claimed to hold the Melchizedek priesthood - the same priesthood held by Christ (Ibid, Vol.1, p. 40).
David Koresh has claimed the same titles directly applicable to Jesus Christ including "Lamb of God," and "the anointed one," adding that "the last apostle I spake with was John" referring to the Revelation of Christ to John the author of the book of Revelation (Dallas Morning News, 1 March 1993, p. 13-A).
What Is The Difference?
It would not be fair to say that the only difference between David Koresh and Joseph Smith is a multi-million dollar daily income, ten million followers, and a good PR campaign. There are important distinctions between the two prophets. While there are vast differences between David Koresh and Joseph Smith, however, there are some striking similarities. Sufficient similarities may exist to make many Mormons uncomfortable with the claims of Joseph Smith in light of the principles of mind-control.