Based in Salem, South Carolina, the organization is an offshoot of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, a group which itself broke away from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the early 1940s. Like other Seventh-day Adventists, the South Carolina–based cluster of congregations believes that followers should worship on the seventh day, or Saturday, rather than Sunday, and that the return of Christ to earth is imminent.
The original Davidian group, which today counts only around fifty congregations headquartered in Missouri, came from the followers of Victor T. Houteff, an immigrant from Bulgaria who was active in Seventh-day Adventist circles in Los Angeles until he was expelled from the church in 1934. He ran afoul of church leaders in his insistence that biblical revelation required the faithful to work more aggressively to reestablish the Davidic monarchy in Israel to anticipate Christ’s return. Davidians insist that true believers must be completely separate from the world, which they equate with the evil Babylon of the book of Revelation. Thus, during World War II, Davidians became conscientious objectors. By remaining separate, they hope to keep pure and seal for eternity the 144,000 who will enter heaven after Christ’s return.
Houteff ’s followers splintered into smaller groups after his death in 1955. Houteff’s widow, who tried to become their leader, prophesied direct divine intervention in Middle Eastern affairs would occur in 1959. When that prophecy failed, several congregations, including those in South Carolina around Salem, split off.
Well known because of its tragic end is another splinter group, the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, who gathered around Waco, Texas, and, following David Koresh (who had earlier spent time with the Salem group), confronted federal authorities in 1993. By 2000 the General Association in Salem probably numbered not more than two hundred members.
Adair, Don. A Davidian Testimony. Salem, S.C.: Mt. Carmel Center, 1997.