A couple of significant events in American history happened on April 19th.
First was in 1993. That was when US marshals -- at the order of newly-minted attorney general Janet Reno -- set fire to the community of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, killing 77 people. 25 children were among the dead. There was never even an apology from Reno or her boss, then President Bill Clinton.
Notice that I don't use the word "compound" to describe the place where they lived. Because "compound" came to be a buzz word used by evil government officials meaning "a place where people live that I disagree with." (Ponder the difference in meaning if I said, for example, that Vatican City was a "compound.")
Words are always important. Words were used in this case to demonize the Branch Davidians, and ultimately to excuse their murders.
I would disagree -- theologically -- with the Branch Davidians. But in the end, they were little more than a community within the Seventh Day Adventist tradition. And just between you and me, I'd prefer that US presidents and attorneys general not make my theological judgments.
This is also the anniversary of the explosions at the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. The public mythology surrounding those events quickly came to be that Timothy McVeigh had carried them off to avenge the deaths at Waco. As with all federal explanations of events, I would encourage anyone to listen pointedly to alternative discussions of what actually happened in Oklahoma City. The Clinton explanation just doesn't fit the events.
But this week, we're treated to another spectacle: Texas Rangers invading another community and seizing children from their parents. As is traditional in such situations, the community (the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) is called a compound, the better to demonize those living there.
As with the Branch Davidians, I would strongly disagree with the theological errors of the FLDS. But the spectacle we've seen this week is wrong. As with Waco, the kidnapping of the FLDS children was justified on grounds of "child abuse." The judge overseeing the custody hearings seems to be doing a good job, asking hard questions of Texas officials, and evidence is now coming to light that the initial phone call that alleged the abuse was a hoax.
Dealing with error is a theological fight. One that uses proper teaching, true doctrine, and the word of God properly divided as tools. A government big and powerful enough to kidnap children from a "cult" ("sect," "compound" -- whatever term they are currently using) is big and powerful enough to do very monstrous things to the rest of us. It used to be that those who called themselves conservatives opposed big government. No more. But those who have shilled for the enormous growth of government in the last seven years will likely regret it. Government power always comes back to bite. Always.