In April 1993, the FBI assault on a compound near Waco, Texas, led to a conflagration in which 80 members of the Branch Davidian sect perished, including 20 children. The horrific incident forced religious believers to explore the consequences of apocalyptic thought and fundamentalist faith, but it also contributed to popular debate over many other issues. Waco came to signify bitter divisions over matters as diverse as violence and gun ownership, trust in government and popular sovereignty, religious persecution, and issues of gender and masculinity. The disaster generated a flood of books, articles, news stories and television segments. It became an unavoidable part of public discourse. Waco became a vital topic in the nation’s newly declared culture wars, and we still live with its consequences.
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.