AUSTIN — Both groups say what happens next is up to God.
Both groups say the events of the past few days are a means to focus the world’s attention to their specially selected lands in Central Texas.
But while Vernon Howell and his Branch Davidian followers hunker down in a fortress called Mount Carmel in a meadow east of Waco, another group of Davidians has reclaimed the Mount Carmel hilltop in one of Waco’s residential neighborhoods.
“I don’t think God is talking to him,” said Norman Archer, chairman of the General Association of Davidians Seventh-day Adventists. Howell “is not working for God but for the devil.”
Both groups trace their beginnings to the Seventh-day Adventists and the 1930s schism that evolved from the teachings of Victor Houteff, a Bulgarian immigrant.
The Branch Davidians, now led by Howell, evolved from a power struggle after Houteff’s death in 1955. In 1959, the group sold its Waco property and moved to Elk, 10 miles east of town.
Meanwhile, the mainstream Davidians believed the Branch Davidians had strayed from Houteff’s teachings. The General Association met as separate groups from the 1960s through the early 1980s in various countries. In the late 1980s, some of those General Association groups merged and re-established headquarters in Waco on the land Houteff chose.
In 1991, the General Association repurchased the Waco hilltop that Houteff had established as the group’s headquarters in 1935. What once had been more than 300 acres, with a peach orchard and an apiary, now has dwindled to 7 ½ acres. Where 100 followers once lived, one family now lives, serving as the caretaker.
The former chapel and offices of a Presbyterian Church now house the publication enterprises of the General Association.
The chapel is used for occasional meetings, but the six Waco families that belong to the group attend services at a nearby Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“We’re more an association than a congregation,” said Archer, who is from Jamaica. “We here are basically a publishing house and corporate office.”
Archer said his group, unlike Howell’s followers, believes in monogamy, a moral code, groomed hair and dress, and a governing council with chairman elected annually.
Unlike Howell, he said, no on in the group claims to be Christ.
But like Howell’s group, the association has had little contact with the public until now.
Archer said the attention Howell brought to the Davidians could be a blessing.
“What’s happening how is a sign,” he said. “The Lord has brought this situation to get our information known. What is happening now is not for Vernon, but for us.
“The world didn’t know we existed,” Archer said. “We think the incident in Waco is a divine providence of God.”