Lois Roden

Bill Pitts

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LOIS RODEN TIMELINE

1916 (August 1):  Lois Irene Scott was born in Stone County, Montana.

1937 (February 12):  Lois and Ben Roden married.

1940:  Lois and Ben Roden became members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kilgore, Texas.

1945:  The Rodens visited the Davidians’ Mount Carmel Center, near Waco, Texas, and were disfellowshipped by their local Seventh-day Adventist Church.

1955:  Ben Roden announced Branch Davidian teachings .

1962:  The Rodens moved to Mount Carmel and established the Branch Davidian community there.

1977:  Lois had a vision that the Holy Spirit is feminine. She became co-prophet of the Branch Davidians with her husband until his death.

1978:  Ben Roden died and Lois assumed full leadership of the Branch Davidians.

1980:  Lois published a new journal, SHEkinah, to promote her views.

1983:  Lois lost authority to David Koresh who won majority support among the Branch Davidians.

1986 (November 10):  Lois Roden died; she was buried in Israel.

BIOGRAPHY

Lois Irene Scott [Image at right] was born in Stone County, Montana, August 1, 1916. She married Benjamin L. Roden on February 12, 1937. They  had six children (George, Benjamin, Jr., John, Jane, Sammy and Rebecca) (Newport 2006 :117). The Rodens joined a Seventh-day Adventist church at Kilgore, Texas in 1940. They were fully committed to the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist prophet Ellen Harmon White (1826-1915) concerning the imminent Endtime events and return of Christ as well as the need to observe the seventh-day sabbath (Saturday).

In 1945, Lois and Ben Roden made contact with the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists (Newport 2006 :118), led by their prophet, Victor Houteff (1885-1955). The Davidians were living in community on property named Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas. Disfellowshipped by their Seventh-day Adventist church in Kilgore, Ben and Lois Roden adopted Davidian views. After Victor Houteff died, Ben showed up at Mount Carmel and announced that he was the new Elijah. Citing Isaiah 11:1, he also made the claim that God had revealed to him the new name of Christ: “The Branch” (Zechariah 6:12). This marked the appearance in 1955 of a third distinctive group in this line of millennial Adventists, the “ Branch Davidians.” The Davidians rejected Ben’s leadership at first, initially accepting the leadership of Florence Houteff, Victor’s wife (Pitts 2009).

Ben’s [Image at right] hope was to establish a physical Davidian millennial kingdom in Israel. Both Ben and Lois spent much time in Israel during the next several years trying to achieve this goal. They created a pilot settlement at Amirim, which Lois directed. But the group as a whole never moved there (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:199). Whereas Ben was quiet, Lois was characterized as “exceptionally dynamic and [the leader of] the group for a number of years” (Newport 2006:115, 136).

Victor Houteff’s widow, Florence, announced the great eschatological moment for April 22, 1959 and Davidians gathered at the new Mount Carmel property located east of Waco, which she had purchased after selling the original Mount Carmel property. The prediction failed. Florence Houteff’s failure offered an opening to Ben Roden and Lois Roden to assert leadership of the Davidians; most of the small remnant of Davidians remaining at Mount Carmel accepted the prophetic leadership of Ben Roden in 1962. The Rodens spent time securing control of the Mount Carmel property and the full allegiance of members.

As Ben’s health was declining in 1977, Lois Roden’s most significant personal religious experience occurred. During the night she had a vision of a silver shimmering feminine figure (Lasovich 1981), which she identified as “the Holy Spirit of God” (Bonokoski 1981). Her vision convinced the Branch Davidians that she was the next prophet of the group.

TEACHINGS/DOCTRINES  

Lois Roden’s most enduring legacy among the Branch Davidians was her teaching that the Holy Spirit is feminine. In 1980, she published a mimeographed three-part study entitled By His Spirit (Roden 1980). The group secured an offset press, and in December 1980 she launched SHEkinah, [Image at right] a regularly published journal for disseminating her teaching (Roden and Doyle 1980–1983). She, along with Clive Doyle as co-editor and printer, searched newspapers, popular magazines and academic publications for articles that explored the ideas of the feminine character of God and the ordination of women. Some mainline Protestant denominations had begun ordaining women in the 1950s, and many more denominations began ordaining women as ministers in the 1970s. Meanwhile, feminist scholars studying the early Christian churches found evidence for belief in the feminine character of God and the existence of female clergy among early Christian churches.

Adventists, Davidians and Branch Davidians did not find women’s leadership to be novel, but Lois Roden’s belief in the Holy Spirit as female was revolutionary. She appropriated these proto-feminist emphases during her leadership of the Branch Davidians. She based her understanding of the Trinity on scripture, noting that the text of Genesis 1:26-27 (King James Version) reads, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” She explained her reasoning as follows:

Because Adam and Eve were both made in the images of the Godhead I saw that Eve was not made in the image of the Father or the Son, but in the image of a feminine person of the Godhead. So it had two persons who said, “Let us make man in our image, male and female.” That was the key that I got, to know that the woman was a symbol on earth of the Holy Spirit in heaven (Bryan 1980).

She cited word studies to support her argument: the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, is feminine, and one word for God, elohim, is plural. Moreover, she drew a logical analogy from a human family (father, mother, son) to support her view of the feminine presence in the Trinity. Roden’s views were criticized, but she held to her interpretation. She convinced the Branch Davidians that the Holy Spirit is feminine, a view that surviving faithful Branch Davidians still hold. For outsiders, this was Lois Roden’s most well-known claim. She said that her teaching was not motivated by feminism, but rather by her vision of the Holy Spirit and her understanding of scripture (Lasovich 1981).

Lois Roden’s other major idea was her defense of the authority of women in positions of religious leadership in the Christian tradition. The movement for women’s rights during the 1960s and 1970s (the Second Wave feminist movement) was a fundamental revolution in American life. Recognizing leadership by women in churches was controversial: conservative denominations resisted the change while mainline churches began to embrace it. Roden took a mediating position on the issue, arguing, “The male shouldn’t dominate, and the female shouldn’t dominate.… The Church should play a more active role in bringing about the equality of the sexes” (Halliburton 1980). This argument was not just theoretical. Lois Roden’s son, George Roden (1938–1998), contested her leadership of the Branch Davidians throughout his mother’s tenure. She needed the argument to justify her leadership of the group.

For Lois Roden these two ideas, the feminine nature of the Holy Spirit and women’s religious authority, were closely related. Her vision in 1977 opened her thought to embrace the feminine side of God. She saw women’s leadership roles in religious organizations as a corollary to understanding the Holy Spirit as female (Halliburton 1980).

RITUALS/PRACTICES 

Ben Roden implemented observance of the annual Jewish festivals of Pentecost and Tabernacles as well as Passover, giving them eschatological interpretations (Newport 2006:148-50). The Branch Davidians regarded these as especially holy seasons of the year that reminded them of their beliefs about the coming Judgment, which would witness the destruction of many and the salvation of others. Under Lois Roden’s leadership Passover continued to serve an important theological function among the Branch Davidians (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:88–91). Passover was also the occasion for many Branch Davidians living elsewhere to travel to Texas to join the Mount Carmel group for worship and Bible studies (Haldeman 2007:29, 93-94).

The central ritual was what the Branch Davidians called “the Daily.” According to Newport (2006), the Daily was the name given to their gatherings at 9:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. for Bible study and teaching by the Branch Davidian prophet. Lois added to the Daily the taking of unleavened crackers and grape juice as “Emblems” representing the body and blood of Christ (Wessinger 2013).

Whereas most churches center on a weekly gathering for worship, the Branch Davidians were devoted to searching for truth from the Bible; therefore regular gatherings for teaching remained the center of their religious life. Since the deaths of eighty-two Branch Davidians in the conflict with federal agents at Mount Carmel in 1993, a scattered remnant of Branch Davidians who have taken regular jobs in society have had to modify their practice. They are not able to gather as a community for daily study. The Branch Davidians remaining in Waco gather on Saturday for Bible study.

LEADERSHIP

Seventh-day Adventists had a well established tradition of accepting biblical interpretation by modern prophets. Beginning with Martin Luther (1483–1546), Adventists accepted a succession of Christian leaders, including John Knox (1513-1572), John Wesley (1703–1791), Alexander Campbell (1788–1866), William Miller (1782-1849) and Ellen White , who were recognized as prophets because they shed new light on understanding the faith. The Branch Davidians also included more recent prophets, Victor Houteff, Ben Roden, and now Lois Roden.

Prophets in the Davidian-Branch Davidian lineage typically did not reject teachings of their predecessors, but rather built on them and added “new truths” to understanding scriptural prophecies. Houteff likened their task to unrolling a scroll, revealing new insights about the faith (Houteff 1930:114). Hence their key role was to serve as teachers who illuminated the meaning of scriptural texts. The prophets were regarded as possessing “the Spirit of Prophecy,” and Branch Davidians were eager to hear new teachings (Pitts 2014).

Also significant was the precedent of a woman prophet set by Ellen White, who was recognized as the most influential voice in Seventh-day Adventism. Lois Roden (1979a) often referred to “Sister White,” and the Branch Davidians had no problem following the leadership of “Sister Roden.” While accepting the practices of previous leaders, Lois Roden was also deeply influenced by changing gender roles in American culture, and she added two new progressive teachings of her own, making strong arguments for the feminine character of God and for women’s religious leadership.

Lois Roden inherited both the leadership style as well as the teachings and practices of the Branch Davidians, which she modified to meet the needs of her day. Victor Houteff [Image at right] established the style of leadership practiced among the Davidians/Branch Davidians. He set forth the organization of the General Association of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists in a constitution he called The Leviticus (Houteff 1943). In it he was named the president; the other executive officers ( vice president, treasurer and secretary ) were family members and one close associate who held office only as long as they were approved by the president. Following Houteff’s lead, Ben Roden also composed a Leviticus for the General Association of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.

During the years of Ben’s leadership of the Branch Davidians, Lois was a very active leader in her own right. Women such as Bonnie Haldeman (David Koresh’s mother) wrote with respect and affection for the work of “Sister Roden” (Haldeman 2007). Many other Branch Davidians attest to her initiative and spiritual leadership in religious matters during Ben’s leadership. Lois exercised the leadership in establishing a Branch Davidian community in Israel. Her loyalty to her husband’s teachings is notable. He was of Jewish extraction and sought not only to establish the new kingdom in Israel, but also to be buried there. She honored that wish, having his body exhumed and reburied in Israel.

Lois Roden developed her vision of the feminine character of the Holy Spirit as her most important teaching. Immediately after her vision she began to offer studies and publish them in “Christ and the Holy Spirit” (Roden 1978). Significantly the Branch Davidians accepted this view as a teaching from God and therefore recognized Lois Roden as a legitimate prophet who could teach along with her husband Ben as co-prophet. She also took practical legal steps to consolidate her leadership by having members sign a circular letter written in legal language, granting her full legal and financial control of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Association assets (Roden 1979b). Ben Roden died October 22, 1978, and Lois led the group from 1978 to 1983.

In accepting Lois Roden’s prophetic leadership, the Branch Davidians recognized a position of authority far beyond the level exercised by ministers in most denominations. They accepted her opinions as the voice of God. She worked tirelessly to promote her own “present truth” or new teachings. She travelled across the United States, to Canada, Israel and elsewhere delivering her message. She demonstrated leadership by serious devotion to her tasks, and she spent her time and resources imparting her teachings. Her deep commitment to Branch Davidian teaching was apparent.

Lois Roden had labored with her husband Ben Roden among the Branch Davidians for more than twenty years and then displayed enormous energy during her short-lived period of prophetic leadership. She published a new journal, SHEkinah, co-edited and printed by Clive Doyle (Roden and Doyle 1980–1983), and produced numerous audiotapes to disseminate her views. She traveled constantly, teaching her view of the Branch Davidian message and giving numerous interviews to newspaper reporters who were interested in presenting her unique views to the public.

Lois Roden inherited structures created by the previous generation of believers, including a base at Mount Carmel, a following of about forty Branch Davidians, and financial resources to travel and publish (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:40). She had the assistance of devoted followers, including her secretary Catherine Matteson, and Clive Doyle. She struggled with her son George Roden and eventually with newcomer Vernon Howell (later known as David Koresh, 1959-1993 ), who arrived at Mount Carmel in 1981, to maintain her leadership. She fended off her son’s attempt to replace her (Roden and Roden 1985–1986). But according to Catherine Matteson (2004), by 1983 most of the Branch Davidians believed that Lois Roden had lost the “Spirit of Prophecy” and consequently that authority was transferred to David Koresh. Lois Roden died in 1986. Her remains were transported to Israel where she was buried beside her husband.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

Through her will and courage Lois Roden prevailed as Branch Davidian leader for a while, but she had to confront serious challenges to her leadership from male competitors. First, her son George [Image at right] was a rival throughout her years of prophetic leadership. He offered both gender and theological arguments to support his claim to succeed his father as prophet; failing that, he resorted to force. He was mentally unstable and violent, carrying a gun on the Mount Carmel grounds and into the church and threatening people (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:53–54). Because of fear of George Roden’s violence, the majority of the Branch Davidians, along with their new leader Vernon Howell/David Koresh, left to live in a camp they constructed in the woods near Palestine, Texas (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:60–61). In 1988, they were able to return to Mount Carmel under Koresh’s leadership.

The other person vying for prophetic leadership of the Branch Davidians was Vernon Howell/David Koresh. He came to Mount Carmel in 1981 and, by accounts, worked hard to be accepted by the community. Lois Roden befriended him, and his stature in the community rose rapidly. She cultivated him, served as an example of leadership, and communicated her eschatological message (Newport 2006:166–67). In the end, however, Koresh challenged her leadership, and the majority of Branch Davidians sided with him. Lois Roden lost power to Koresh in 1983. According to the Branch Davidians, “the Spirit of Prophecy” abandoned her and she thereby lost the spiritual basis for her authority (Pitts 2014).

After David Koresh [Image at right] led the majority of the Branch Davidians away from Mount Carmel in 1984, Lois Roden was left to live there while her son George took control of the property. She died on November 10, 1986 at age seventy, and her body was transported to Israel for burial. George Roden lost control of the Mount Carmel property to Koresh’s Branch Davidians in 1988 while George was imprisoned for threatening a judge. He subsequently killed a man and spent the rest of his years in a state mental hospital.

Ten years after Lois Roden lost her leadership to David Koresh, the Branch Davidian movement faced its ultimate crisis. In conflicts with federal law enforcement agents in 1993, the Branch Davidians’ home ultimately burned to the ground in a fire that killed seventy-six members, including children, almost destroying the Branch Davidians as a religious movement. However, a small remnant remains.

Lois Roden exercised a powerful influence in shaping the work of Ben Roden, the prophet who preceded her, and also David Koresh, the prophet who succeeded her. Moreover, she led the Branch Davidians to embrace new views during her own tenure as their prophet. She was both a product of her own time and a creative and resourceful American religious leader who made important contributions to the Branch Davidian tradition.

IMAGES

Image #1: Photograph of Lois Roden.

Image #2: Photograph of Benjamin Roden, husband of Lois Roden.

Image #3: Photograph of the front page of SHEkinah, the periodical through which Lois Roden published her spiritual discoveries.

Image #4: Photograph of Victor Houteff.

Image #5: Photograph of George Roden, Lois Roden’s son.

Image #6: Photograph of Vernon Howell/David Koresh, who succeeded Lois Roden as leader of the Branch Davidians.

REFERENCES

Bonokoski, Mark. 1981. “Our Mother Who Art in Heaven.” SHEkinah, December.

Bryan, Paul. 1980. “An Interview with Lois Roden.” The Paul Bryan Talk Show. WFAA, Dallas, Texas. November 4. Reprinted in SHEkinah, December 1980.

Bull, Malcolm, and Keith Lockhart. 2007. Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-Day Adventism and the American Dream. Second Edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Doyle, Clive, with Catherine Wessinger and Matthew D. Witmer. 2012. A Journey to Waco: Autobiography of a Branch Davidian . Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Haldeman, Bonnie. 2007. Memories of the Branch Davidians: The Autobiography of David Koresh’s Mother, edited by Catherine Wessinger. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press.

Halliburton, Rita. 1980. “Centexan: Holy Spirit Female.” Waco Tribune Herald, April 26, B-5. Reprinted in SHEkinah, December 1980.

Houteff, Victor T. 1943. The Leviticus of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. Mt. Carmel Center: V. T. Houteff.

Houteff, Victor T. 1930, 1932. The Shepherd’s Rod. Mt. Carmel Center: V. T. Houteff.

Lasovich, Mary. 1981. “Her Crusade to Tell the World the Holy Spirit Is Feminine.” Kingston Ontario Whig Standard, February 28. Reprinted in SHEkinah , April 1981.

Matteson, Catherine. 2004. “Interview #2 by Catherine Wessinger.” Texas Collection. Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

McGee, Dan. n.d. “Davidians and Branch Davidians” (typescript). Texas Collection. Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Newport, Kenneth G. C. 2006. The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Numbers, Ronald L. and Jonathan M. Butler, eds. 1987. The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century . Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Pitts, William L., Jr . 2014. “ SHEkinah : Lois Roden’s Quest for Gender Equality.” Nova Religio 17:37–60.

Pitts, William L., Jr . 2009. “Women Leaders in the Davidian and Branch Davidian Traditions.” Nova Religio 12:50–71.

Pitts, William L., Jr. 1995. “Davidians and Branch Davidians.” Pp. 20-42 in Armageddon in Waco, edited by Stuart A. Wright. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Roden, George, and Lois Roden. 1985-1986. “Legal Documents.” Texas Collection. Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Roden, Lois. 1980. By His Spirit. Bellmead, TX: Living Waters Branch.

Roden, Lois. 1979a. “Eden to Eden.” Taped teaching. Texas Collection. Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Roden, Lois. 1979b. “Numbering the People.” Texas Collection. Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Roden, Lois. 1978. “Christ and the Holy Spirit: Two Turtle Doves.” Bellmead, TX: Living Waters Branch.

Roden, Lois, and Clive Doyle, editors. 1980-1983. SHEkinah. Copies of all issues are housed in the Texas Collection. Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Saether, George William. 1977. “Oral Memoirs.” Institute for Oral History. Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines. 1988. Washington, D.C.: Ministerial Association General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Wessinger, Catherine. 2013. “Branch Davidians (1981-2006).” World Religions and Spirituality Project. Accessed from https://wrldrels.org/profiles/BranchDavidians.htm on 10 July 2016.

White, Ellen. 1888. The Great Controversy. Battle Creek, Michigan: James White.

Post Date:
11 July 2016

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