THE PEOPLE'S TEMPLE
History of Jim Jones
History of The People's Temple
The Theology of Jim Jones
Influence of the Massive Suicide
In North America, the cults of today are considered harmful physically, psychologically, socially
to society. Why? Why is the population of North America rejecting cults with such vigor when they
are known to "worship" religious pluralism?
Waco Texas. Why were people afraid for the children and of a threat like a massive
suicide by its
members? And when the disaster of death by fire finally arrived, why was the charismatic leader
blamed for the death of his followers? Where did this notion come from?
Jonestown Guyana, November 18, 1978. Grape Flavor-Aid mixed with potassium cyanide, liquid
valium and other drugs were given to just over 910 members of The People's Temple. The
charismatic leader took this decision and his name was James Warren Jones, also known as Jim
Jones to the world and "Dad" to his followers. This is what the people, not only in North America but all over the world, are afraid of and with good reasons!
In this web page, you will be given a chance to look at the history of Reverend Jim Jones, the history
of The People's Temple, the theology of Jim Jones and finally, a small chapter on the influence of the
massive suicide of The People's Temple on the rest of the world.
Who would've thought that a gift from Heaven on May 13, 1931 would later on turn out to be a gift
from Hell on November 18, 1978...............
HISTORY OF JIM JONES
If we want to understand The People's Temple, we must understand it's charismatic leader.
So let's take a trip back in memory and see what shaped this man who would become famous for all
the wrong reasons. James Warren Jones was born on May 13, 1931 in Lynn, Indiana, the only child
of James Thurmond Jones and Lynetta Jones. When he started going to grammar school, he was
like all other little children, getting an average of B. During the 3rd and 4th grade, he became a
"book worm", reading materials for 6th and 7th graders. At school, he learned how to attract
playmates and control them by entertaining while maintaining a hold on them. He learned to structure
the environment around him to suit himself.
When Jim Jones got to high school, there was no doubt he was college material. With his high IQ,
his grades were among the best in a class of about 40 and he always the top student when it came to
public speaking. After World War II, Jim became interested in the major wars and in men who
influenced history like Mahatma Gandhi, Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx and especially Adolf Hitler. What
intrigued him the most were the personalities of Stalin and Hitler; he respected the new order Stalin
wanted to implement and the Machiavellian and oral abilities of Hitler, although he did not endorse
his goals. Jim was at the same time preaching on the streets of Lynn but no one would listen to him,
so he brought his preaching to Richmond, an industrial town to the south. There was a good place
for his message of racial equality since Richmond was 1/5 black. He would do his preaching on the
north side of Richmond in a black residential area, at an intersection of 2 streets where a tavern
could be found on either side.
It was Sunday, June 12, 1949 when Jim Jones and Marceline Baldwin got married at the Baldwin
family home. Out of love and trust, Marceline would always be the one to submit during heated
discussions with her husband, especially when religion was the subject.
During the month of June in 1952, Jim accepted a position as a student pastor at the Somerset
Methodist Church in Indianapolis where he would become a reverend. Reverend Jim Jones wanted
to start his own congregation but it did not fare too well. So he started studying the best evangelical
preachers in the country and on that first night in Columbus, Indiana, after all the preparation, he
almost fell flat on his face but regained control of himself and he was a smaching success! His first
true public appearance was in 1953 in Detroit at a interdenominational missionary seminar and from
then on, his reputation grew and continued growing. But tu buy an establishment, he needed money
and he tried almost anything, much as, for example, selling monkeys for 29$ each. In 1954, he
started renting a small building in Indianapolis at the corner of Hoyt and Randolph in a racially mixed
neighborhood. He called it Community Unity. He finally had his first congregation.........
HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE'S TEMPLE
On April 4, 1955, Jones and the members of his new congregation, which numbered at around
20, founded the Wings of Deliverance. This group was looking for an early expansion and the door
was left opened for other congregations as affiliates. The Wings of Deliverance had just gotten
started when it changed its name. With its interracial followers, his "healing powers" and the wide
spread Pentecostal use of the world temple, they called the group The People's Temple. With a
choir, a youth group, room for 700 people and Jone's reputation for his healing ministry, it did not
take long for large crowds to come and fill the place up.
The People's Temple then founded social services all over the city which gave the new church a
chance to promote its liberal idea of a social gospel and to help reopen the eyes of the city and
possibly even more to the problem of poverty. In 1959, Jones set up an orphanage adoption fund to
closely mimic his own "rainbow family". Jim and his Marceline adopted children of different races
and culture as their own children. Another social service provided by The People's Temple was a
free restaurant and social service center in the Temple's basement. The restaurant opened its doors
on February 24, 1960 and it became a fats success, known to give out thousands of meals per
month to the homeless.
The week before Easter in 1959 was the time The People's Temple joined the Christian Church and
was now called People's Temple Christian Chruch Full Gospel and by 1960, the PTCCFG was
officially part of the Disciples of Christ. Now not only was Jone's temple part of a denomination but,
because of its restaurant, his congregation became a viable organization and could work with other
civic groups to help the condition of the poor.
But over the years of its existence, the members of the church experienced harassment and violent
threats. On more than one occasion, a swastika was painted on the wall of the Temple or a shot was
fired towards the building. With all this pressure from the community around him, Jones took it upon
himself to find a new place for his family and his congregation. In 1962, jones went on vacation and
checked out British Guyana on the northeast coast of South America as a site for a possible
pilgrimage. Jim and his wife then spent 2 years in Brazil helping to serve the local orphanages and
also spending time looking for possible land to acquire for a colony.
In 1964, the Reverend Jim Jones became officially ordained as a minister of the Disciples of Christ.
The connection would prove helpful in the long run but it provided little help to the Temple members
in their immediate situation. In that same year, Jones was out in California to see about possible
migration sites and found one in a region called Ukiah. When Jones brought the good news to his
followers, they started to sell everything they had so they could move to Ukiah. By July 15, 1965,
Jones and his followers had reached their destination and hoped that this was their promised land.
But by 1966, the group wasn't even established and it took another 2 years before the group had a
church building of their own. Ukiah was not a good "hunting ground" for new recruits since there was
almost no growth in numbers and the people who did join were family members and people from
California (by the year 1968, there were around 136 followers). In the end, the group moved to
Redwood Valley (about 8 miles north of Ukiah) where Jones and his family were living. Finally, the
church opened its doors on February 2, 1969 and over the years the church established a firm base
and also succeeded in attracting important people from the region of Ukiah to join the group.
In 1970, the Temple opened in San Francisco the San Francisco Temple on Geary Street and the
group grew like weeds in your lawn in the 1970's, reaching a maximum of 3000 members at one
time. In 1973, Jones and his staff started planning a second migration, in 1974, a crew went to
Guyana preparing land for the migration in 1977, amidst bad publicity and hostile media, reverend
Jim Jones and his followers migrated to Guyana in hope that this time, Guyana would be the
Guyana may have been their last migration but it was not the promised land.........
THE THEOLOGY OF JIM JONES
As I have written in The History of Jim Jones, Jones became a student pastor at a Methodist
church in 1952. He started preaching racial equality and soon Blacks were coming into the church.
Jones was convinced that the Pentecostal church would be more open to his message because for
some reason of their interracial heritage. So he went to meet some Pentecostalist officials from
Kentucky and Tennessee, but the idea of racial equality was not officially accepted by these officials
and this created a confrontation that the Methodist church did not like and so, Jones and his church
were kicked out. Searching for some denomination to accept him and his group, he went to a
Seventh Day Baptist Church and it was there he started honing his "healing powers".
But with Jone's tenacious attitude, the Pentecostal church accepted his congregation. With this,
Jones transformed the Pentecostal theology in 2 ways so he could use it to his advantage. The first
was to use the millenial expectations of the second coming of Christ to proclaim some divinity in
himself and possibly in his members also. He would say that a person filled with the spirit would
answer to the law of God and was not subject to the laws of morality. His second use of the
Pentecostal theology was to use it to explain, prove and promote his famous communalist
conclusions. Jones saw himself as an outcast just like the poor and the Blacks in the United States
and therefore he would bring the subject of class struggle into his evangelical religion.
In the Pentecostal religion, there's a list of nine signs to prove you have the gift of the spirit: the word
of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning
spirits, diverse tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Jones claimed all nine but he never wanted
to prove his power of speaking in tongues; he concentrated on discerning, healing and prophesying.
When it came to his healing powers, Jones admitted deception was a big part of the scene. A part of
his staff would search out information on people who would be attending his church and with this
information he would deceive people with his so called "powers". Eventually he followed a legal
disclaimer and he would frequently say to a "healed" person that he or she had a spirit blessing but to
go and consult his or her doctor for confirmation. Another power of Jones was the power of
prophecy. Now whether or not his prophecies came true, his followers (or himslef) would explain an
intervention for the cause of their struggle or that the person in question did not live up to the
possibilities Jones had foreseen.
Later on, Jones separated from the Pentecostals because he would proclaim the Second Coming
himself saying that he was the perfect example of a human possessed with the spirit. He would say:
"I say I am your Savior but don't make me your creator." What Jones succeeded in doing was to
create a religious group with a zeal prevalent during the times of the primitive Christian era, and
incorporating the concerns of today's era: race, class and nuclear holocaust. He would focus his
follower's attention not on the future and on Heaven but on the present; he would convince them that
the situation they were experiencing would not always be like this but would change.
Jones had two trademarks when it came ti his messianic practices: the end justifies the means and a
"revivalistic embellishment of radical social critiques" (Gone from the Promised Land , p.27). He
would intertwine facts, half-truths and lies about race, class and the nuclear holocaust into a religious
cry for redemption.
INFLUENCE OF THE MASSIVE SUICIDE
The period following the suicide of the community at Jonestown, Guyana saw the foundations of
social associations dedicated to see that cults conform to existing laws and this was just the tip of the
iceberg. At the same time official governement bodies began reports and organized public hearings
on the danger of cults. The "revolutionary suicide" was not only used by social and government
bodies but also by other religious movements like the Children of God. The suicide was interpreted
by Berg as a major source of the growing repression towards all religious minorities: "It's all part of
the Devil's own conspiracyagaisnt the Lord and his people! They hounded those poor people
literally to death!... They've beaten, kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured and even killed us!" (MO
Letter 742, 1978. Emphasis Original).
Not only did the suicide have repercussions in North America but also all over the world! In France,
a crisis almost started but the government was quick on its feet and quickly stated to the public that
no organization comparable to The People's Temple existed in France. They added that "the
activities of sects are under constant surveillance by the relevant services...so that warnings can be
made of any attack on basic liberties and, if proven, crimes committed by their members or
leaders..." (Journal de Debats, Assemblee Nationale, Item 9389, Novemebr 30, 1978, Trans.
With the coming of the year 2000, religious groups seem to be popping up all over the place
just like a bag of popcorn and with this new surge of religious ideas, one must be carefull where he
or she will swim on this sea of thoughts. Although we must be careful of such groups, we must not
label them without getting more information on them because some of them could be "innocent" of
such chrages. In this web page, we have looked at the history of both a contemporary religious
group and it's leader in hope of finding something that we could use to help prevent such "accidents".
But can we use the criteria of The People's Temple on every other religious groups? And if we do,
can we do it without destroying the religious choice of the human population? Should we become a
"Bog Brother" when it comes to religious choices?
- Appel, Willa, Cults in America, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983, 204 pages.
- Beckford, James A., Cult Controversies, London and New York, Tavistock Publications, 1985, 327 pages.
- Bromley, David G. & Shupe jr., Anson D., Stange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare, Boston, Beacon Press, 1981, 249 pages.
- Hall, John R., Gone from the Promised Land, New Brunswick (USA) and Oxford (UK), Transaction Books, 1987, 381 pages.
- Melton, J. Gordon & Moore, Robert L., The Cult Experience, New York, The Pilgrim Press, 1982, 180 pages.
- Reiterman, Tim, Raven, New York, E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1982, 622 pages.
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