Watchman Fellowship reposits unique cult resources with Southwestern
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Watchman Fellowship of Arlington, Texas, recently agreed to reposit its unique collection of materials with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The library will be dedicated during the seminary’s chapel service, Oct. 25.
Watchman Fellowship is an independent, nondenominational Christian research and apologetics ministry that focuses on providing information and Christian resources for understanding new religious movements, cults, the occult and the New Age movement.
Founded in 1978 by David Henke, Watchman Fellowship has built an extensive library consisting of books, files, periodicals and other media that are, for the most part, primary documentation produced by groups such as the Church of Scientology, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others. Upon completion of the placement, the seminary will house more than 45,000 of such items in the special collections department of its A. Webb Roberts Library.
“Our goal is what we call the three E’s,” said James Walker, president of Watchman Fellowship, who was a fourth-generation Mormon before his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. “We educate the community about the differences between biblical Christianity and alternative faiths, equip the church to be able to understand and reach out in love, and evangelize, which we do ourselves and also teach Christians to do through different faith groups.”
The collection has been accumulated over the past 20 years. Walker said they obtained the items through a variety of legitimate means such as estate sales, used bookstores, donations or transactions with new Christians who saw the benefit of making these documents or errant teachings available for ministry purposes.
“Word has gotten out about Watchman through the years. When people come across materials, they donate to us or allow us to buy from them,” Walker said. “Occasionally, we have paid top dollar for some of the harder-to-find books.”
Walker said the collection contains items such as a replica of an original 1830s-era Book of Mormon produced by the Mormon Church that has been out of print for more than a decade. Compared to more recent versions, it gives evidence of the significant and even radical changes Mormons have made to the Book of Mormon over the years as they have tried to make it more palatable to a broader audience.
There is also pre-1975 material produced by the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) which contains earnest prophecies that Armageddon will happen in 1975 and significantly impacts their credibility.
“This material is invaluable to somebody who is not allowed to read Christian literature, which is common in most cults,” Walker said.
As the fellowship’s collection grew, it became more difficult to house and maintain, he said. It became necessary to find an alternate location that would provide, among other things, top-notch security.
“Southwestern Seminary has a track record of maintaining, securing and continuing important collections like the one we have,” Walker said. “We want to make it available to the public and help the next generation of ministers, preachers, evangelists and apologists. Jesus told us to beware of false prophets, but how can you beware unless you are aware? It is our hope that our collection is able to give Southwesterners the tools to do those things and to know what the false teachers are about.”
“We really see this as an evangelical partnership for the cause of Christ,” said Berry Driver, Southwestern Seminary’s dean of libraries. “What really attracted us to Watchman Fellowship is their emphasis on Christian discernment. That is a very important New Testament concept. Spiritual discernment is a spiritual gift and a key factor in their ministry. This collection will be of enormous benefit.”
Additionally, Watchman Fellowship has become a go-to group for news media seeking information when a cult hits the headlines. “When an obscure group commits mass suicide or something like that, the media will often come to us and ask if we know about this group, such as in the case of the Heaven’s Gate cult or the Branch Davidians,” Walker said. “We’ve been on ‘Nightline,’ ‘The News Hour with Jim Lehrer’ and ‘ABC World News Tonight.’ Whenever anything bad happens religion-wise, they usually come to us for answers.”
There are materials in the Watchman Fellowship collection that many of the leaders of certain cults and false religions would prefer to censor. Driver said theft or damage is a real threat because these organizations do not want “non-believers” to see some of the materials. Therefore, Driver said special precautions will be put into effect to keep the collection safe. For example, library personnel will limit access to the collection, it will not be shelved with the general collection and it will be access-restricted within the special collections section of the library.
“There will be many levels of protection for these materials,” Driver said. Scholars will have access to the materials, but they will have to receive library clearance beforehand.
“We at Southwestern Seminary are grateful to become the repository of the amazing collection of monographs and other significant data relating to most of the cults,” said Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson. “As far as I know, this collection is the most unique of its kind in the world.”