April 17, 1994: Phil Arnold, Reunion Institute

First draft!!

Ron Engelman: And that brings us to the next gentleman I'd like to introduce you to, as I mentioned before we brought up Jim Tabor, was the fact that Jim and Phil, had worked together, and put together a thirty-minute program, uh, that was aired on my radio station. And, uh,Dr. Phil Arnold, a Ph.D, executive director of the Reunion Institute, and he's also the professor of history and religion at the Houston Graduate School of Theology. Dr. Arnold is vitally concerned, with the encroachment of the government into church affairs. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Phil Arnold. [applause]

There was a standoff, at a religious center, in 1836. When government forces surrounded a group of people, a little place called the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. Ever heard of that place? [M:"Yeah!" M:"Yeah!"] Ever been there? [M:"Yeah!"] Remember what took place there?

At a place in San Antonio at the Alamo, there was a man from my home state, of South Carolina. His name was Colonel Travis. And on that day, the legend goes that he took his sword and he drew a line in the ground. And he looked in the eyes of the people, and he said, "Which side are you on?" "Which side are you on?" Didn't coerce them. Didn't brainwash 'em. Just asked them the question, to choose, which side, they would stand on. And they came across that line. That's a question that everyone faces. You can be slick and sophis-, sophisticated, you can be from New York. You can be from, San Antonio, you can be from, California, but the time is coming in your life when you have to face that question, which side, are you on? Which side do you choose? (looks toward ruins) Think we know which side those people chose.

Throughout American history, there's been a line that's been drawn. In fact, there are two traditions in American history. I'm an American historian, let me just tell ya a quick history lesson, take me about twenty, twenty seconds. The Puritans came to this country for religious freedom. Once they gained control of the colonial governor of Massachusetts, they gave too much power to this government. And what happened? What happened to the Baptists? Some of you are Baptists here in Waco! Do you know your history? Do you know that many, many Baptists were whipped down the Boston, till the blood ran out of their bodies? How many of you are Quakers? The Quakers were hanged in the streets of Boston. Till they were dead! Why? Because they had different religious beliefs. Beliefs that differed, from the prevailing establishment. And they ran into trouble, with the authorities, and they ran into trouble with their good neighbors. Now I'm not here to attack. Believe me, this is not an assault. This is not an assault upon, any one group. But I am here to tell ya, that America does have a history- of two traditions. A history of tolerance and toleration, and a history of persecution. And you know that history. And many of you have felled into one of those camps. Hopefully you have not been part of the tradition, of persecution. There have been many good Americans, in government, in law enforcement, in the media, in religion, who have stood up for minority groups throughout this country's history. And they have protested against, the persecution, of minorities. And they have fought for religious freedom.

But some people ask me: "How could you talk about religious freedom, and the rights of religious groups, when you're talking about the Branch Davidians? Aren't they just a bunch of damn cultists?" Pontius Pilate asked the question years ago, 2,000 years ago: "What is truth?" I ask you the question today: what is the truth? Are the Branch Davidians merely cultists? Should they be denied, the right to worship? Should they be relegated, and reduced, to mere cultists?

The Branch Davidians, as you've already heard today. The students of the Seven Seals. Have a long and rich history going back scores of years. And like many other groups throughout the history of Christianity, and Judaism, they have studied, as Dr. Tabor has explained, the prophecies of the Bible. In an attempt to understand, what the Book of Daniel says, what the prophets say, what the Book of Revelation says! They have reached conclusions, that you, I, may disagree with! But they have reached these by studying the text. By trying to learn the Hebrew and the Greek. By looking and studying and wondering and thinking, night after night and day after day. Praying and fasting to try to understand. Is there anything unusual about that? Let me tell ya, I've got a book at home. That gives Sir Isaac Newton's interpretation of the Book of Revelation! Sir Isaac Newton wrote a, wrote a book on the Book of Daniel and Revelation. I've read it! And believe me, what David Koresh says, is a lot better than what Sir Isaac Newton said! And I don't agree with either one of them! But, I'm just showing you, that people have tried to study that book for many, many centuries.

The Davidians were doing that. They were Torah observers. That is, like the very early church, and like Jews for many centuries, and thousands of years, they believed in obeying Biblical law. The seventh-day Sabbath; the festivals of the Bible; some of the laws of the Bible; they believed that they should observe those. They also believed, that God could speak, through a living prophet. And give him visions, and revelations, and insights, into what the community should do. You may not believe that, I may not believe that, but this is their faith. They are a church. And to use the word "cult," is an insult. Not just to the Davidians. It's an insult to your intelligence. Don't use it anymore! Stop using it! There's no need to call a group that. We've grown out of that kind of use of, slang words to refer to minorities. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago! It's time that, the media, and the government, and we as individuals, no longer use such rhetoric, to refer to, people, who have a religious faith, who are a church! Whether you're a member of that church or not doesn't make any difference.

I could take hours to tell you about the Branch Davidians' beliefs, I'm not going to do that. It's just the fact that they did believe that the Seven Seals contained prophecies, the Book of Revelation, that were being fulfilled here in the United States, in Texas! Here in Waco! Some things right here. This is what they believed! And they believed that David Koresh, understood these things better than people who'd come before him.

Why did they not come out? What's the truth about that? As Dr. Tabor has explained, they believed, the Bible, commanded them to stay inside Mt. Carmel. Until, certain events took place. Then they were gonna come out. But they had to stay in there for a while. Now you say, well why didn't they just come out anyway? I mean, after all they, they were law enforcement out here. Well the reason is, the same reason that you who are Catholic, would not take the Eucharist, and throw it on the floor and stomp on it. Why would you not do that? Because you believe it's sacred! It has religious value! Those of you who are Jews- you would not take the Torah- and tear it to pieces and burn it! Why? Because it's sacred literature! It's the word of God! If you're a Baptist- there are some things you don't do because you don't think it's right. Is that so hard to understand? Does anybody not understand that? Well let me tell ya- it seems when I talk with the government, and the media- many, many members of the media, not all of you, but many of you- did not understand that. You kept saying, well why didn't they just come out? It's because their religious faith had them convinced, that they had a duty to God to stay in there. Is that so hard to understand? Jesus understood it. Moses understood it. Gandhi understood it. Joan of Arc understood it. I think I understand that. And I think most of you do too. The Branch Davidians had a commitment to God to stay in. Now we don't believe, perhaps, that they were right in interpreting that commitment, but it is what they believed. And that's why they couldn't come out, at the time. Eventually, they were coming out.

I recognized these things after a couple of days. Because I, like Jim and others, had studied these things, and I could see, from David's work, that they were really convinced about these things. So I realized the government, had a job to do. The government, believed, it had a certain law to enforce. The Davidians believed they had a certain law to obey. What do you have? Two! Two freight trains, coming down, the same track! Something had to be done, I said! And like a man who knows, that an earthquake is going to hit San Francisco in a couple of days- or like a Jew on the streets of Berlin, and you know, there's going to be a massacre of your people in a few years- like someone who knows, that, that the jet fighters, are going to shoot down those helicopters over Iraq- you know this in advance- what do you do? Well, you speak out, don't you? Don't you grab somebody by the lapel and say, "Listen, please listen! You've got to listen to me! There are reasons these people are doing what they're doing. You've got to learn to communicate with them, in language, they understand." And no one, would listen! Lip service was rendered, but no one, could hear what I was saying. And I don't mean to attack. This is not an assault! This is not an assault! I'm just tell you, that no one could understand, what I was telling them, why? Because they're secularized; this age doesn't understand religion very well. It's just a fact. You people understand it. Some of us understand it. Many of the Founders of the country understood it! But there's a growing secularization. People don't understand the religious language. They don't understand faith commitment.

A few tried to listen. There were a couple of FBI agents, who talked to me on the phone. And they seemed to understand just a little of what I was saying. But as they tried to convey the message up the line, it got lost. And without, scholars sitting down with these FBI agents, and going over it carefully, they were doomed to misunderstand. And never really listen, to what David was saying, so that there could be a way figured to come out. That was the problem. It was a serious problem. And I could find no way around the impasse, that was built into the bureaucratic system, so that word could get to the right people. It was very difficult. Again I ask you, what is the truth? What is the truth? As Pilate asked that question 2,000 years ago, what is truth? And which side do you choose to be on, the side of tolerance, or the tride- the side of intolerance? The government simply needs to learn the language, of the religious group in the future. And we hope to be of service to these religious group- to the government, and the media, in the future. To be able to communicate, if ever another crisis arises.

We have questions too about the truth. What really happened? What really happened on the 19th? We really don't know yet, do we? Why did they go in at the time they did? We don't understand. Why, that time? Why not wait a little longer? Who called the shot? We don't know. What is the truth? I don't know! What is the truth? I want to know!

Now- [applause] And you want to know! Now when we turn our attention to the media- We have looked at the Davidians. We've looked at the, government. When we turn our attention to the media- and this is not an attack! This is not an assault! But let me ask you something, media people. Some of you are indeed, honorable men and women. (pause) But some of you, had you been in my class, in Historical Research, I would have kicked your ass out a long time ago. Why? Because, you do not know how to research! You don't know how to ask questions! You don't know how to search. You're not good investigative reporters. I'm not asking you to be Jesus Christ. I'm asking you to be a Sam Donaldson. Or maybe a Ted Koppel. Ask 'em hard questions next time. Go back and look at yourselves on videotape of the press conferences. You did not ask tough questions. Those few of you who did, then I applaud you. And I salute you. But I'm sorry to say, that some of you did not do a very good job, of searching out, the truth about the Davidians. You never cornered any religious scholars, and sat down and talked to them for a couple of hours, about what the Seven Seals were. And why these people were in there!

And it's sad to me. I suggest to you, my friends, that you re-evaluate, your lack of pursuit of excellence! That you re-evaluate, your professionalism, and your love of truth. Do you love truth? Do you want to know what is true? Can you ask, what is true? Or, are you trying to, write a story, or to, maybe to meet a deadline? Well, we have a deadline. We have a whole line of dead people.

Don't create strawmen! Don't create a strawman! You know why? When you create a strawman, and you, demonize someone, or you make someone seem a fanatic, when you exaggerate these qualities, when you take video, and freeze-frame a face, and you put it on television night after night, freeze-framed- in laughter, in innocent laughter- that face will look demonic! And that's what you did, didn't you? You bet you did! You freeze-framed, David's face. And you showed it on the airwaves, night after night. You created a strawman. And strawmen burn!

And I don't mean to assault! This is not an assault, is it David? It is an assault! Is it the truth? You be the judge. These were people. Not celluloid images, to be sped forward and sped backwards, to be spliced into a certain sequence. What about the religion scholars? Why were we not prepared to be, ready for an emergency like this? We failed too! We didn't do our job! Did the church leaders of this country? Did the rabbis? Did we do our job? Were we ready? To step in and help people who loved the Bible? We were not ready. I could have done more! You could have done more! Maybe we have the biggest guilt of all.

What is the truth? God only knows what the full truth is! But we do have a problem in America. A line has been drawn throughout our history. Some have been on the side of oppression! Some have been on the side of persecution! And a few, have been on the side of tolerance. A few have been peacemakers. But if the peacemakers and those who love tolerance, don't speak up, and don't take a stand, if we don't go across the line, as Travis drew, a hundred and some odd, odd years ago- then I fear for the future. I fear for the present! We are in mortal danger. Are we to go on more witch hunts? Or are we to adopt a spirit of, tolerance? You media will have a, part in that decision. The government will have something to say about it too! The citizens will! And so will, religious scholars.

I close by reminding you once again, that Travis drew a line. You draw a line! In your heart, today. And choose: will you come across that line? Will you take a step, and stand up for, freedom? For liberty, for understanding of people with differences. The judgment is now before us. Let us say, never again. Never, never again! [applause]

Transcript of Arnold/Tabor Broadcast


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