How Father Divine and Jim Jones used their alleged miraculous power over death to teach loyalty to their followers as the guarantors of the final victory of The Cause
(E. Black is a regular contributor to this site. Her full collection of articles may be found here.)
“He will swallow up death in victory. And … wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth.”– The promised expectation.
In the 20th century there appeared on the margins of the broad struggle for racial and social justice in the USA a radical vanguard that took the trappings of a new religious movement or phenomenon. Although its targeted members were people of all colors, its origins were among the urban Black population, and its eclectic roots reached into that population’s metaphysical, social and political aspirations and groupings.
This radical vanguard in its most enduring organizational form manifested as two highly controversial religious ministries with profound socio-political implications and impact. One was the ministry of George Baker Jr. (1879 -1965) as Father Divine, who created the International Peace Mission Movement. The other was the ministry of James W. Jones (1931-1978) who founded and led the Peoples Temple Christian Church. While the Peace Mission Movement survived the death of its founder and God in 1965, and remains, albeit in vestigial form, some fifty years later, Peoples Temple imploded in murder and mass suicide in 1978 and no longer exists.
The histories of Father Divine and Jim Jones and of their respective organizations would intersect in profound ways beginning within the first five years of Jones’ 25-year-long ministry. Despite their inauspicious beginnings, their unlikely successes, and some extreme practices within the two organizations – not to mention the tragic end of Peoples Temple – we see in retrospect that much of what the two radical churches proclaimed and attempted, i. e. radical interracial integration, is now the social reality of millions of Americans and others.
The Peace Mission and Peoples Temple were both high intensity and totalistic organizations at their respective primes that demanded – and largely received – absolute loyalty from their followers. Both groups also competed for the same respective demographic at their organizational peaks. While each group employed a battery of similar modes and methods of control, including psychologically and economically coercive ones, to attract and retain followers who would be dedicated and loyal to the cause, the particular focus of this paper is their respective use of the self-saving savior motif and mythos, borrowed from Christianity.
Both Father Divine and Jim Jones were radical atheists and fanatical interracialists, but they led movements as religious leaders, the majority of whose followers were or had been Christians coming to the groups from an American society in which much of Protestant Christianity and its theological assertions and axioms were the immediate cultural reference and default. Thus the Christian mythical ethos was well known and understood by leaders and followers alike.
The objective of both Father Divine and Jim Jones was to move their followers from the predominant American society – especially the white racism that was so much a part of it –to new forms of non racist thinking-and thus practice. Once achieved, this objective would cause the transformed followers to express the utopian vision of reality that both leaders envisioned. In order to achieve this reality, both Father Divine and Jim Jones sought to become the highest authority for their respective followers, thus becoming the one – the only one – whom the followers believed in, had faith in and ultimately obeyed. One of their most effective means of doing so was to replace the mythos of the Christian Jesus with a new mythos based on the manufactured reality of their respective divine lives and special powers.
The Christian motif and mythos of Jesus as an embodied God and self resurrected savior
In Christianity, the human character known as Jesus of Galilee is also God. How it is possible, rational and/or reasonable that this Galilean peasant was God, or became God, or is God is much, if not most, of what the mythos of the Christian faith purports to show.
According to Christian mythos, God as a human being called Jesus came to earth as a radical progressive, questioning socially-accepted injustices, healing the sick and lame, and resurrecting the dead, all while challenging the unjust authority of the rich and powerful. Also according to the Christian account, God in human form was murdered by the Roman state because of his radical opposition to the established Jewish authorities and the Imperial Roman authority that backed them up.
Despite this unjust murder, according to the story, Jesus as God saves himself by resurrection, thus proving to the believer that not only is he God in fact, but the very savior of all from death itself. As the self-saving and resurrected God whose sacrificial murder by crucifixion and victory over death fulfilled his prophecies, Jesus becomes the established authority for all his followers.
The story of Jesus as the embodied God and self-saving savior is determinative in the minds of billions of believing Christians who take it as such on faith. None of the millions of Christians in the intervening centuries witnessed the defining moment of the Christian story of Jesus’ death by crucifixion and his subsequent resurrection. For some believers, this conundrum leaves open the possibility for another manifestation, operating in the name of Jesus, to perform a similar action. While the death and resurrection of Jesus is conclusive for all time for the vast majority of Christians – meaning that any other claim to do a similar work is by definition an anti-Christ or a false Christ – a tiny fraction of Christians have been among those open to receiving another man assuming the mantle of Jesus. These would include the followers of Father Divine and Jim Jones.
While born 52 years apart – George Baker Jr. in 1879 and Jim Jones in 1931 – both lived during the period of racial injustice, characterized by both anti-Black discrimination, White terrorism and White supremacy, known as the Jim Crow Era. The difference was in the race of the two men: Baker was part of the oppressed Black minority and experienced the daily indignities of white prejudice; Jim Jones was not subject to racial prejudice, although it could be argued that the oppressive realities of class differences within the larger white majority were almost as insidious.
As a result, despite their generational difference, both men approached the issues of racial and class injustice in startlingly similar ways. Those similarities formed the basis of their nine-year relationship, from their meeting in 1956 to Father Divine’s death in 1965. And one thing the two men shared was their respective use of the Christian self-saving savior motif to demonstrate their own mastery over life and death in ways to bind the followers closer to them and their respective causes.
Father Divine’s Proof that He Was God
As the creator of the Peace Mission Movement, Father Divine posited himself and was accepted by his followers as a human being who was also God. How it was possible, rational or reasonable that this son of former slaves with the humble past of a seasonal dock worker and gardener became God was what the mythos of the Peace Mission, as recorded in its periodicals, The Spoken Word and New Day magazines, purported to show and prove.
According to this mythos, God appeared as a human being named Father Divine who operated on earth much as Jesus had: a radical progressive who challenged accepted class, racial and gender injustices, who healed illnesses and physical maladies, who resurrected the dead, and who stood up to unjust authority of the rich and powerful.
Father Divine‘s challenge had particular poignancy because he was a Black man whose story was the 20th-century equivalent of that of a lowly Jewish carpenter from the rural hinterlands challenging the rich and powerful in the early first century C.E.
Confronting the rich and powerful in any society runs the risk of serious consequences – including death – for the challenger. Two thousand years ago, a common punishment for criminals, insurrectionists, and revolutionary subversives was death by crucifixion.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the era of chattel slavery of Africans in the USA, and even well into the 20th century the extra-judicial lynchings of Black people at the hands of white mobs, acting spontaneously or as organized racist vigilante groups was similarly common for Black troublemakers.
Thus the Peace Mission account has it that God as Father Divine was lynched by white racists no fewer than 32 times while traveling and preaching throughout the Jim Crow era South due to his message of opposition to status quo, even though the alleged lynchings took place at the dawn of his ministry when he preached itinerantly and had a very few followers.
For Father’s followers – many of them Black and from the rural south – the account of these lynchings, and his ability to save himself each time by self-resurrection, proved that not only was he God in fact, but also the savior of everyone who believed in him from both white racism and from death itself. These accounts, verified by the testimony of his core and earliest followers was a very powerful incentive for absolute loyalty to Divine .
Jim Jones’ Proof that He Was God and Father Divine’s Rightful Successor in The Cause
The Reverend Jim Jones, leader of Peoples Temple, posited himself to be and was accepted by his followers as a paranormal human being, with extraordinary insights and the powers to heal sickness, to forecast future events, and to raise the dead. In the tradition of the Peace Mission, he also proclaimed himself an embodied God and the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Although it is now defunct in wake of its tragic demise, Peoples Temple was once a living institution with an ongoing narrative based around the life, impact and purpose of its leader Jim Jones. According to that narrative, Rev. Jones was the reincarnation of the spirit or principle that had been in many others, including Father Divine, and as such he was Father Divine’s successor as God in a human body, operating on earth as a radical progressive, questioning accepted social injustices, healing diseases and resurrecting the dead, all while challenging the unjust authority of the rich and powerful.
In the 1960s, the cause of social justice was embraced by millions, not only through the Civil Rights Movement for integration and against American racial apartheid, but also through the anti-Vietnam War and women’s liberation movements. Each of these movements for social progress and change had supporters and detractors across the country’s social, racial and class divides. For much of the tumultuous 1960s, it seemed to many that everyone was being forced to take a side.
The decade also saw a number of assassinations of the country’s political leaders and social activists, among them a president in 1963 and his brother in 1968, as well as the country’s best known Black civil rights campaigner, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., also in 1968.
Just as important for Jim Jones, though, was the 1965 death of his mentor, Father Divine, in his suburban Philadelphia palatial mansion, which in turn led to Jones’ efforts to claim the Divine ministry and followers as his own.  As part of his ongoing – even accelerated – quest for formal control of the Peace Mission Movement, God himself in the body of Rev. Jim Jones was assassinated at the Temple’s rural California headquarters by unknown and presumably white racist vigilantes opposed to his message of interracialism, civil rights and peace. Then, right before the very eyes of his startled family and devout followers, Jim Jones saved himself by resurrection, thus proving to everyone present – some of them recent converts and or seekers from the Peace Mission – that not only was he God in fact but the savior of all from death itself, as Father Divine had claimed to be. The assassination and miraculous resurrection in front of many witnesses should therefore be seen in the context of not only solidifying his authority over his own followers but as an additional argument to solidify his argument to the new Peace Mission recruits that, like Jesus Christ in Christianity and like Jesus returned as Father Divine in the first body, Jesus returned in the second body, Jim Jones, continued to have the power to be killed and self-resurrect. Anyone – whether a Temple member, a former follower of Father Divine, or potential recruit – who failed to elevate and recognize this truth was now turning their backs on Father and the cause.
Billions of people over the last 2,000 years have believed and been inspired by the Christian story of a lowly Jewish carpenter who proved by miracles that he was the son of God and God in human flesh. Christians also believe that this embodied human God was crucified on a cross, yet resurrected the third day and now reigns in heaven from whence, one day, he shall return with an army of Angels to make everything that is wrong with the world right and to reward his faithful and punish the wicked fulfilling the utopian promises of the Bible.
In the racially–unjust 20th century, two lowly men – one Black, the other White – both with utopian mindsets, built radical, marginal followings of people, most from Christian backgrounds, who came to believe in their utopian cause. For those followers and believers, these men had proven their claims to be God in a body, each of them a human whose ministry reflected the causes, miracles and prophecies of the first God in a body, Jesus. For the true believers, these two men – self-saving saviors both – had power over life and death, and thus had the authority that their followers were compelled to believe in, have faith in, and to ultimately obey in the cause social justice.
More than 50 years after the death of Father Divine, the Peace Mission is just barely holding on, even as its rapidly dwindling and aging members die out, patiently waiting for the resurrection and return of their leader in a new body, if he should want to do so. Almost 40 years after the deaths in Jonestown, Jim Jones’ self-resurrection – as well as the promise of a future collective resurrection for his followers in some other time and place – has yet to be realized.
Father Divine’s Movement slowly fades, Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2003.
Fisher, Max, Our Christian Earth. The Outstanding Reach of The World’s Largest Religion, Washington Post, December 18, 2012.
Pehanick, Maggie, Revolutionary Suicide: A Rhetorical Examination of Jim Jones’ “Death Tape” (2010)
Zakaria, Yamin, Racism, Lynching, Slavery – Pillars of the American Dream.
Zangrabndo, Robert L., About Lynching.
Burnham, Kenneth E. God Comes To America. Boston: Lambeth Press, 1979.
Chidester, David. Salvation and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown. Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1988. Revised ed. titled Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple and Jonestown, 2003.
Divine, Mother. The Peace Mission Movement. New York: Anno Domini Father Divine Publications, 1982.
Hall, John R. Gone From the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1987; reprint 2004.
Holy Bible (Darby version).
Mabee, Carleton. Promised Land: Father Divine’s Interracial Communities in Ulster County, New York. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2008.
Mills, Jeannie. Six Years with God: Life Inside Reverend Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple. New York: A & W Publishers, 1979.
Moore, Rebecca. Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009.
____ and Anthony B. Pinn, Mary R. Sawyer, eds. Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.
Reiterman, Tim, with John Jacobs. Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1982.
Watts, Jill. God, Harlem, U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
Weisbrot, Robert. Father Divine. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.
 Isaiah 25:8.
 Although the Peace Mission is in steady contraction and now, more than 100 years after the beginning of George Baker’s Jr. independent ministry in 1912, is merely a shadow of its 1930s dynamic heyday, the websites http://www.libertynet.org/fdipmm/ and http://peacemission.info/ provide much historical information on the Peace Mission movement of Father Divine, as do the articles by this researcher at http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=16538.
 Jim Jones’ independent Christian ministry began in 1953/1954 (See Rebecca Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009), 12). The young Rev. Jones went to see the elderly Father Divine in 1957 (Carleton Mabee, Promised Land: Father Divine’s Interracial Communities in Ulster County, New York (Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2008), 213), beginning an association between the two radical integrationist and interracialist leaders and activists that would last to the end of Father Divine’s life in 1965 and even beyond, through Jones’ attempt to assume control of the Peace Mission Movement. See E. Black, Jonestown and Woodmont: Jim Jones, Mother Divine and the Fulfillment of Father Divine’s intention of a Vanishing Divine City, 2012.
A review of the social, cultural and political impact of the ministry of Father Divine has been going on since his death in 1965, building upon the serious and substantive concerns raised about the Movement during its prime in the 1930s. The books God Comes to America (Kenneth Burnham, Boston: Lambeth Press, 1979); Father Divine (Robert Weisbrot, Boston: Beacon Press, 1984); God, Harlem U.S.A. The Father Divine Story (Jill Watts, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995); and Promised Land (Mabee) are reflective of this ongoing revisionist, objective assessment of Father Divine’s positive contributions to the issues of social justice in the USA.
Despite the passage of time since its tragic implosion in 1978 and a few scholarly attempts at a broader and more substantive review of the Peoples Temple phenomenon – including John R. Hall, Gone From the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1987; reprint 2004); David Chidester, Salvation and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1988. Revised ed. 2003); Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, eds., Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); and Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple – much of the ongoing and contemporary popular consensus on the Temple is still seen through the narrow prism of the horror and tragedy of the mass deaths in Jonestown. Thus any core or objective reassessment of the suggestion or assertion of possible positive contributions by Jim Jones or/and Peoples Temple to the issues concerning social progress in the USA are often met with question, extreme skepticism and/ or denial.
 The methods of control and of influence employed by both Father Divine and Jim Jones on their followers have been intensely studied. Some have concluded that many of the coercive methodologies employed by Jim Jones were ones he learned through his nine-year association with Father Divine early in his career as founder of Peoples Temple. See Jonestown, Guyana Mass Suicide, Massacre, and Jim Jones Cult: Jonestown Modeled after Sayville Heaven! for a brief overview of this point.
Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, a made-for-TV movie version of the Jonestown story, depicts a suicide drill, during which Jim Jones is assassinated in front of his startled followers, who quickly rush to their fallen leader. Seeing the general breakdown of his loyalty test, Jones immediately recovers and lets his follower know of his disappointment. The assassination was a part of the White Night drill. It was through such methods that Jones and his leadership team tested the general membership, but it was the evidence of the assassination itself that was used to engender absolute loyalty and thus compliance to him.
 The self-saving Savior motif taken from Christianity and used in both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple had a further application as Jim Jones was involved in a 22-year (1956-1978) quest to become the leader of the Peace Mission.
 An extensive and layered interrogation of the theological construction of and the debate about the nature of Jesus of Galilee as both God and Man the Divine incarnation is beyond the scope of this paper. On Jesus as both God and man see http://carm.org/jesus-two-natures.
Understanding the Christian concept of the man, Jesus, as God in a body, and the New Thought/Metaphysical interpretations of that concept as taught by normative Christianity, is crucial to appreciating and understanding the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple constructs and understanding of their respective founders and leaders as atheistic divine incarnations of universal mind or principle. See E. Black, Atheistic Gods and Divine Gurus of the Religion of Social Justice: The Theology of Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones.
 The biblical usages of the term anti-Christ come from – among other places – I and II John – which say that an Antichrist is anyone who denies that Jesus Christ (as Son of God) came in the flesh. Another biblical anti-Christ scenario is found at 2 Thessalonians in the New Testament. For more on the term Anti-Christ see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Christ.
From the perspective of normative Christianity, both Father Divine and Jim Jones are and were quintessential false Christ or anti-Christ cult leaders and figures. At the same time, it should be noted that, from the perspective of the followers and true believers in both Father Divine and Jim Jones, those who either didn’t recognize or who denied the power in their leaders were themselves seen as anti-Christ.
 For more on the connections, similarities, and contrasts between Father Divine and Jim Jones, see C. Eric Lincoln, “Daddy Jones and Father Divine,” in Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America; and E. Black, “The Reincarnations Of God: George Baker Jr. and Jim Jones as Fathers’ Divine” (2009).
 The defunct Peace Mission periodicals The Spoken Word and The New Day are now out of circulation and out of print, but back issues and articles from them are cataloged and assessable through the websites http://www.libertynet.org/fdipmm/ and http://peacemission.info/.
 Like the Christian New Testament accounts on the birth, life and works of Jesus of Galilee, the Peace Mission’s written accounts on the career of George Baker Jr. as Father Divine are a study in hagiography, not historicity.
Alternatively ignored, denied, and reinterpreted as insignificant when unavoidable by the Peace Mission‘s press, are the historic facts of Father Divine’s birth, life and works as George Baker Jr.
On the appearance and manifestation of Father Divine in the Peace Mission as the second coming of Jesus Christ, see Mother Divine, The Peace Mission Movement (New York: Anno Domini Father Divine Publications, 1982), 44, 45 and 103.
 On the White racist lynching campaign against Black people, see Lynching and Ku Klux Klan in Wikipedia. See also About Lynching and Racism, Lynching, Slavery – Pillars of the American Dream. On Father Divine and the Peace Mission’s decades long public crusade against lynching, see Weisbrot, Father Divine, 157-161.
 On Father Divine’s account of his 32 lynchings at the hands of white racist mobs while evangelizing in the Jim Crow South, see Watts, God, Harlem U.S.A., 40-41.
The number 32 was given, according to Divine himself “once for each year” that he “was on earth,” indicating that he was born in 1879, making him 32 years old in 1911. Yet far from recognizing any connection with mortality, Divine was trying to connect his own chronology – as the Messenger and God in the sonship degree in 1909 and subsequent southern missionary activity after 1912 – with that of Jesus who, according to the story, came out of obscurity at the age of 30 to proclaim his divinity in acts of righteousness and miracles only to encounter a state crucifixion and divine resurrection at the age of 33.
Father Divine had scars criss-crossing the back of his head which he and his followers claimed were the results of the lynchings (Watts, God, Harlem U.S.A., 197n34). An alternate explanation could be that they came from the restraints used to secure him for the various treatments he was subjugated to while in the insane asylums he was periodically confined during this same period of time. Either explanation reflects the gruesome reality that the young Black minister faced while preaching in the Jim Crow South.
 On the appearance and manifestation of Jim Jones in Peoples Temple as the second coming of Jesus Christ, see Hall, Gone from the Promised Land, 23 and 31; and Chidester, Salvation and Suicide, 60, 62.
Articles by E. Black on the issue include The Three Virtual Intentional Communities Of God In A Body In Real Time (1868-2008)” 2008; “The Reincarnations Of God: George Baker Jr. and Jim Jones as Fathers’ Divine” (2009); and “Ever Faithful”: The contest between Mother Divine, Jim Jones and their followers for supremacy in faithfulness to the Cause (2010)
 Chidester, Salvation and Suicide, 4, 6, and 7; and Moore, Understanding Jonestown, 16.
 Such assassinations by gunshot in the 1960s also included but were not limited to civil rights campaigners Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, all of whom would have been part of the collective memory of the various members of Peoples Temple.
 After Father Divine died of natural causes at the age of 86 on September 10, 1965 he was succeeded as head of the Peace Mission Movement by his widow, Sweet Angel Divine, even though Jim Jones had aspired to be the successor to Father Divine as head of the Peace Mission from the mid 1950s on. For more on Jim Jones challenge to Mother Divine as leader of the Peace Mission, see Tim Reiterman with John Jacobs, Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1982), 139-140; Mills, Six Years with God, 175-179; and E. Black, “Ever Faithful.”
 Prior to this drama, about half of the approximately forty Peace Mission prospects who had come during the previous 6-8 month period to check out the new Father Divine in Redwood Valley, had voluntarily decided to return to Philadelphia (Six Years with God: Life Inside Reverend Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple. New York: A & W Publishers, 1979, 178, 179).
 In many ways Christianity is a utopian promising religious system built around the mythos of a self saving God/Man. Two thousand years after its founding, it is still the world’s dominant religion. See Max Fisher, Our Christian Earth. The Outstanding Reach of The World’s Largest Religion (Washington Post, December 18, 2012); and Cha cha, “Is Christianity The Main Religion on Earth?”
The tiny 20th century cult of Christianity that produced Father Jehovia, St John the Divine, Father Divine, and Jim Jones, no matter how obscure the history or horribly tragic the final outcome, all tie back into the core Christian nexus and mythos and ultimately belong there, even if the vast majority of their normative Christian comrades might shudder to think so.
Ultimately as regards to the broad historic Christian community as it relates to this tiny marginal sub/splinter grouping, the line of demarcation falls between those few believers who were (or in the case of Father Divine’s few remaining followers, are) convinced that they had, in their leader, the return of the Jesus that all Christians are waiting for; and other Christians who are just as certain that the followers of Father Divine and Jim Jones were all under some form of tragic delusion and/or demonic hypnosis for thinking so.
 On the rapidly dwindling Peace Mission Movement, see http://articles.latimes.com/2003/jun/14/local/me-religdivine14. On the Peace Mission waiting on the dead Father Divine to reincarnate in a Body, if he chooses to do so, see Mother Divine, The Peace Mission Movement, 101-103. On Jim Jones’ promise to his dying flock on November 18, 1978 that there would be a future collective resurrection in some other time and place, see Chidester, Salvation and Suicide, 157. See also the Death Tape speech; and Maggie Pehanick, Revolutionary Suicide: A Rhetorical Examination of Jim Jones’ “Death Tape”.