Peoples Temple Letter to Guyana’s Religious Community

As pressures built upon the Jonestown community from the United States during the spring and summer of 1978, in the form of bad publicity, lobbying efforts by the Concerned Relatives organization, and various governmental investigations, the Peoples Temple leadership in Guyana felt the need to solidify its base within its adopted country. The agricultural project in the Northwest District had the blessing of Forbes Burnham, the country’s prime minister, as well as a 99-year lease on the property, but Temple members in Georgetown and Jonestown were aware of the rumblings of dissatisfaction from Burnham’s opponents and even from some of his own cabinet ministers. Moreover, whenever Burnham left the country, the Jonestown leadership felt vulnerable: would there be a coup in Burnham’s absence that would put his (and their) adversaries in charge; would the disaffected cabinet ministers left to govern the country use it as an opportunity to cause trouble for his political protectorate, even to the point of expulsion.

The letter to the Temple’s “Friend[s] in Christ” dated 12 August 1978 was addressed to the leaders of Guyana’s church community – its religious invocations outnumber the more familiar political ones – but the hand-written note at the top of the letter demonstrates that it was also used to keep members Burnham’s political party, the Peoples National Congress, informed of the efforts to strike a positive image for Jonestown.

Peoples Temple Letter to Guyana’s Religious Community, RYMUR 89-4286, D-2-k-11a – D-2-k-11c