Who joined Peoples Temple?

According to Mary Maaga, a sociologist of religion, Peoples Temple attracted three different groups of individuals. Using Ernst Troeltsch’s division of church-sect-cult, she identified the “church” within Peoples Temple as the majority of its members, who were African American, urban, and generally Christian in background and up-bringing. The “sect” was the group of 70 members who followed Jones from Indianapolis to California. This group also accompanied Jones to Guyana, and it was only on 18 November 1978 that one of the original families decided to leave. The “cult” within Peoples Temple comprised idealistic young whites who sought to change the world within a deeply committed, utopianist group. The leadership of the organization tended to come from this group, belying Jim Jones’ commitment to break down racial barriers. All three groups, however, shared a belief in racial justice, the need for radical sharing and re-distribution of wealth, and the imperative to work to make the world better for all. In short, they were idealists trying to create a perfect society. In one respect they succeeded: the community at Jonestown was inter-racial, inter-generational, and more or less class-less, although a few people may have had privileges that others did not share. About a third of those living there were children under the age of 18; a third were senior citizens; and the rest were able-bodied adults, many of them relatively young. See Mary Maaga’s article “Three Groups in One.”

Last modified on October 21st, 2013.
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