We Need to Press Forward: Black Religion and Jonestown, Twenty Years Later

(Dr. Archie Smith, Jr., is the James and Clarice Foster Professor of Pastoral Psychology and Counseling at the Pacific School of Religion and Graduate Theological Union. He is the author of several books and many articles, including Navigating the Deep River: Spirituality in African American Families (1997). Dr. Smith has an M.S.W., and he is an ordained American Baptist minister.)

[W]e must find new ways to develop, nurture, and strengthen the courage we need to press forward. We must build the communities of struggle we need to advance past the dead ends, to begin to see ourselves, this nation, this world, and even the cosmos in ways we have not seen them before.
– Vincent Harding, 1980

November 18, 1997. Evergreen Cemetery. Oakland, California. I stood outside on an overcast day; it was threatening rain. I was there with others who had gathered to honor the memory of those who had lost life in the worst mass suicide in modern history. The depression I experienced when first hearing about the Jonestown tragedy nineteen years before revisited me. I heard the sound of a saxophone playing Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine…And then, Amazing Grace…Yes, I thought. These represent the faith of many of those who were closest to Jonestown.

What’s gone is gone.
Life is short.
Let the dead bury the dead.

These are some of the words I heard that morning. There were comforting words and bitter words, and words, I am certain, left unspoken. There were prayers for a healing that in two decades had not yet come. O God our help in ages past. Our hope for years to come. Our shelter from the stormy blast. And our eternal home.

It was obvious as I listened to one speaker after another, and as I ate lunch afterwards with many who were in various and diverse ways connected to the “movement,” that Jonestown meant many different things to members, to survivors, to all those who had come together to remember. To some it was a political movement. To others, especially for Black members, it was a church, a religious organization. It represented an egalitarian society and hope. Something tragic had gone wrong.

As I think about this holocaust and the trace it has left upon the lives of so many, my purposes in this article are four fold. The first is to identify the historical theme of secularism which renders religious claims relative and which made its effects known on the religious community, especially upon Black religious experience. The majority membership at Jonestown was Black. Many of the Black members were drawn from traditional Black churches and were attracted to the vision of Peoples Temple. The second purpose is to underscore the ideological tension that existed between the religious claims made by Black membership and the secular claims made by white leadership in Jonestown. Third, I will identify the concept of relationality which addresses the insular climates of communities which can isolate, immobilize, and render them ineffective. Last, I will consider important implications for the contemporary Black church, and by extension, other religious institutions.

The Many Roads to Jonestown

“We must find new ways” [1]

No single theory could possibly explain the many complex and related issues that led the members of the Peoples Temple to leave family, friends, and church communities, and take residence in the jungle of Jonestown, Guyana. Labeled by many as sick, dysfunctional or disadvantaged, the members were seeking an alternative to the status quo, new and just ways of living and being in the world. The folk who joined the Peoples Temple were from many walks of life and ranged widely in their motives, life-styles, and values orientation. Over 70 percent were Black, 23 percent were white, six percent were Native American, Latino, Asian and Mexican American. Many were women, children and senior citizens.[2] They were young and old, from wealthy as well as poor backgrounds, the well-educated and the illiterate, widowed and married, single parents as well as husbands and wives, the religiously committed as well as those who were indifferent to religion.[3] Some joined for personal reasons; some joined for religious, political, humanitarian reasons; most joined for validation of some sort. Therefore, it would not be accurate to say that the Peoples Temple Movement was socially regressive, or that only the socially maladjusted or down and out went to Jonestown. Many roads led them there.

There were existential or individualistic reasons for taking the road to Jonestown. Most of the membership were aware of loneliness, depression, exploitation, racism, alienation, sexism, and a general sense of despair that affects many in our society. One Black pastor reported that a beloved member of long-standing and deep involvement in her own church was a Jonestown victim. In a conversation with her pastor, she reported that she was attracted to Peoples Temple because “they did things together, ate and took trips together.” They were able to provide a family-like atmosphere, a sense of belonging on a daily basis in ways that she could not find in her own church. For her, the church still functioned as the central community institution which strengthened her participation in a larger process of social and political renewal. It was not that her home church failed her, but that she found in the Peoples Temple more opportunities for involvement. It is not unusual for blacks to claim membership in more than one or two churches. This particular woman never gave up membership in her home church, even though she claimed membership in the Peoples Temple. She was not alone in her desire to see the church more involved in issues of social protest and reform. Participation in her home church may well have been a motivating factor for involvement in the more socially active orientation of the Peoples Temple.[4]

There were social motives and historical forces that made the appeal of Peoples Temple and Jonestown, Guyana, attractive to so many.

Nothing in the arid materialism and individualism of the 1970s has eliminated the fundamental hungers in the human spirit for a deep sense of a caring, responsible, disciplined community and a great human cause to which a person may give himself or herself at the risk of ‘life, possession, security, and status.’ Indeed, perhaps we have learned again that people become truly human only as such hungers are fed, a lesson that Black folks once lived out as part of the natural necessity of our being.[5]

The people who died at Jonestown believed in the vision of a new social order, a sense of kinship and family that was projected by Peoples Temple. Many thought they saw an alternative to the loneliness, depression, racism in Jones and his movement — a mechanism and an opportunity to change their condition. In many ways the initial motivation that led many people to the Peoples Temple and then on to Jonestown was admirable. They were people of hope in that they were actively seeking new ways to care and press forward. They were seekers after a new communal and egalitarian society. They did not seek refuge in a privatized faith, but in a renewed and transformed social order. One person reportedly told a relative that in Jonestown she found something she had never found in the United States. For the first time, she believed she had found a society free of sexism and racism and one in which she experienced full acceptance as a Black woman. She had a cause to live for. American society had never given her that.

But there may be yet another reason. Perhaps, there was something unsettling and limiting in organized expressions of Black folk religion that motivated many Black people to take the road to Jonestown.

A spiritual quest with roots in Black folk religion was a powerful motivating force that led many Black members to the Peoples Temple and to Jonestown. Black folk religion at its finest has the potential to feed the hungers of the human spirit, and to meet the needs of those not wishing to take refuge in a privatized faith, but in a renewed and transformed social order. Black folk religion is an admixture of traditional African spiritual beliefs and practices, and western influences, including but not limited to Christianity. It finds many expressions. Of its many and diverse expressions, Jesus is the center. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Some have referred to the Black church, for example, as a Jesus-centered religion. At the heart of Black folk religion are a deep yearning to be free, an undaunting belief in God’s providential care, the fundamental goodness of all life, a sense of the unity of life, and the idea that people ought to care for and serve one another as members of God’s family. A sense of the whole (or unity of life) “is the wellspring of imagination and visioning that enables us to transcend and transform the partial projections of culture and social structure. The whole is able to fuse our partial projections with new meaning and possibilities.”[6] Strong is the belief that “God is the final answer to all that there is, which includes evil itself.”[7] Joseph R. Washington, Jr., observed that Black folk religion was “born in slavery, weaned in segregation and reared in discrimination.”[8] It matures in struggles for freedom and wider justice for everyone. Historically, it has been a sustaining and nurturing source during times of suffering. It is at its best when it has linked spiritual transformation with the struggle for responsible forms of freedom and inclusive justice, inspired hope, renewal and compassion for all. But there were challenges to this ideal of Black folk religion when the social process did not support it, and its adherents were under siege as they were in Jonestown. The ideals that led many on a search for something better were the ideals of Black folk religion. They pursued this search outside of the Black church and Black community context. What was happening to Black folk religion that led them to seek nurture elsewhere? Perhaps a creeping secularism was invisibly eroding away the core of religious expression.

People leave their religious institutions for a variety of reasons. Those reasons include, but are not limited to, conflict or internecine power struggles, a perceived insularity and a belief that their church should be more socially active. They leave when spiritual hungers are not fed. Leaving, however, has its consequences. It opens their spiritual quest to new secular challenges for which they were not prepared.

Secularization and Secularism

Secularism may be defined as the attempt to establish an autonomous sphere of knowledge free of supernatural presuppositions. It assumes the autonomy of the human person and places him or her and this world at the center of speculation where God or the Supreme Being once stood. Secularism, as a molding power of modern consciousness, is easily underestimated.

It is a product of the historical process of secularization. Secularization is the historical and cultural process by which science freed itself from theological constraints and society freed itself from domination by the church. Secularization means the erosion of traditional religious symbols of orientation and meaning centered around a compelling belief in one ultimate reality, and the increasing openness to a plurality of competing beliefs Ð all of which claim to be equally ultimate and meaningful.[9]

The origins of modern secularism can be traced back to the later Middle Ages of Western Europe. There will be no attempt made here to account for the whole of that long and complex history. The starting point for an analysis is a matter of choice. I take the seventeenth century as a point of departure, marking a break in the continuity of ideas in the history of Western civilization when secularization emerged as the dominant historical process.

The extent of the break with the past can be illustrated by Niccoló Machiavelli, in The Prince, who took the final cause concept out of politics; by René Descartes, who took God out of nature and declared God and nature to be two independent entities and submitted everything to the scrutiny of reason; and by Francis Bacon, who opposed the ancient authorities and emphasized experimentation and observation of facts as the new basis for inquiry. The significance of the break with the past by these thinkers is that the modern period became preoccupied with an enlightened mind, a rational epistemology — and a subordination of other ways of knowing.[10] The works of such men as Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave scientific support to the philosophers’ attempt to break with the past.[11]

The works of these men and others, such as Locke, Leibnitz, Hume, Kant, and Hegel, mark the rise of the modern way of thinking, as well as the rise of the physical sciences. It is from these formative figures that our concepts and perceptions of the nature of reality are derived. The largely unquestioned assumption or idea that Western society is a fundamentally rational one can be traced back to the above mentioned figures, although its roots lie in the Constantinian wedding of church and society. With the emancipation of reason came the triumph of a new ideology, namely secularism. Its influence is reflected in all current thought and life.

Secularism does not stand alone but is supported by individualism and privatism. Each of these forces creates problems for the Black church and a challenge to its ministry. The secular notion that the world is under rational control by the scientific method and that there is no central or transcendent authority beyond the human community itself to which one can appeal contributes to a plausibility crisis in Black church religion. Secularism assumes, in Machiavellian fashion, that the human being makes his or her own rules on the basis of an enlightened humanism. Under the impact of secularization and with the emergence of a secular society Black church/Black folk religion is only one among many contesting centers of orientation. For example, if secularism places Jesus on the same level with Socrates, Gandhi, Sun Myung Moon, or anyone else, then in what public sense is Christ Lord? A multiplicity of competing interests and ways of thinking emerge. The claims of Black folk religion are perceived as relative and, understandably, a plausibility crisis is the result.

What I am suggesting is that secularization is and has been a long-term social and historical process resulting in a secular social order. It has given rise to a social outlook essentially concerned with this world rather than a world beyond, with immediate rather than with ultimate questions, and with natural or practical morality. This social outlook or attitude has permeated the established institutions of our society, including the Black church and Black folk religion.

The process of secularization has a subjective side as well. As there is a secularization of society and culture, so is there a secularization of consciousness. Put simply, this means that the modern West has produced an increasing number of individuals who look upon the world and their own lives without the benefit of religious interpretations.[12]

The end result is a secularized conscience, closed to the claims of religious truths. The cunning feature of this subjective process is that it happens without our conscious recognition of it. In short, we are deeply embedded in a culture and historical process that tends to deny the presence of a transcendent and immanent God who is the ultimate source of all new possibility and who moves in and through all living things. We live in a period that stresses the autonomy of the individual, to the point that individualism, autonomously held, contributes to a false understanding of community and the human self as socially constituted. It has tended to veil the real interdependence of humanity and weaken the church’s sense of community.

Jonestown: Community Denied

“…to develop, nurture, and strengthen the courage we need.”[13]

A true community is an evolving place where individuals can develop a critical capacity for self-other awareness, receive nurture, and strengthen the courage they need to move forward with others. Members believed they had found such a community in the Peoples Temple and at Jonestown — a society free of sexism and racism. Members took with them the ideals of Black folk religion in an effort to live them out and bring them to expression. Their efforts could be seen as a courageous step toward their new vision of the realm of God. They were, however, deceived. There was operating an underlying process that would eventually deny the possibilities of a true community. The power of secularism was manifest there, in part, because of its isolation, narrowing vision, the ways Black folk religion was trivialized and exploited, and the ideology of the leadership.

The members’ vision, however, was not broad or critical enough to perceive the barriers of class, sex, age, and race within the social structure of the organization itself. The top echelon and key decision-makers were white, educated, and professionals, calling the shots which determined and sealed the fate of the over 70 percent Black membership, mostly women, many elderly, who had given up everything to follow Jones. According to Jeannie Mills’ account, “There were attorneys, college professors, a man who had graduated with honors from MIT, social workers, nurses, businessmen, and lots of other professional people on that council.”[14] I use the term racism to call attention to the perpetuation of an established relational pattern of superior-inferior power relationships in the Peoples Temple Movement that has been characteristic of race relations in the West since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Intragroup domination in the form of race, sex, and class exploitation was prominent. The leadership was primarily white and educated, with a few token blacks. The followers were the masses of predominantly Black and minority group members. The dominant group was a “group for itself,” in that the maintenance of the status quo in power relations was a primary goal. The vulnerable position of blacks and women in the Peoples Temple reflected their position of vulnerability in the wider society. The ruling elite and their power to shape the social outlook functioned to perpetuate inequality within the group and to control the flow of communication. The ruling ideas of race, sex, and class domination in the wider society were reflected in the organizational structure of the Peoples Temple and ultimately at Jonestown. The belief in freedom and equality that some assumed was there was a false consciousness. This belief misrepresented the true subordinate position of blacks within the group. The opportunity for Black self-determination within the Peoples Temple, i.e., the freedom and opportunity for Black people to develop their own group consciousness and to become reflective and critical of the wider social process that carried them was obviously nonexistent. A false consciousness was a partial obstacle to Black self-determination. A more social critical analysis of their situation was impossible to achieve under the circumstances. Had there been the freedom and opportunity to reflect upon and critically analyze their situation, then revolutionary activity within the group may have been a possibility. By revolutionary activity, I mean a critical questioning of the social process and an opportunity to radically change it. The people themselves were the real victims of a system of oppression and brutality which they supported or rationalized and were powerless to change. The interest of the ruling group in its own position of control and ideological domination functioned effectively to maintain the center of political power within the group. The white-controlled leadership of blacks was deeply rooted in the conventions of white supremacy.

Interviews with Temple survivors and defectors reveal that:

Racism, sexism and ageism — in fact, an utter disregard for the respect due any group or person — were systematically practiced within the group itself. Our respondents report that it was Black people who bore the heaviest burden of PT ‘discipline’ (physical abuse) within the group; that women were systematically used by Jones as objects of sexual gratification; and that senior citizens were, by some reports at least, systematically made marginal to the life of the community.[15]

This negative picture must be balanced by other factors. There were those who hated Jones and defected. They saw mainly negative things in the movement. There were those who saw in Jones a sadomasochistic madman, a Charles Manson, Idi Amin, or an Adolf Hitler, but not a reformer or champion of the oppressed. But there were also the true believers who saw no wrong. There were survivors who saw good in Jonestown, affirmed its ideals, and believed in what Jim Jones had attempted to do relative to social change and social justice. One Temple participant may have come closest to the truth when she said, “There were two Jim Joneses.”

In order to understand this, the commune itself as a social system, as well as the society from which it derived, must be the fundamental object of analysis. In this light, the context, life history and action of the victims can be better understood. Important questions center on why Jonestown was necessary in the first place. What does the Jonestown event reveal about the nature of social structures and communicative processes that obscure awareness of fundamental spiritual and emotional needs, the linking between social justice, personal and political impotence?

Audience corruption is a term I use to identify a communicative or interactive process between the leader and his followers. Followers learn to give the responses the leader wants them to learn; they feed them back to the leader on cue. He in turn believes even more in the power of the rightness of his leadership. When he announces that he is God, the followers feed back the supporting behavior, and then the leader believes unquestionably in his own deification. In turn, his unquestioned assent to divinity is believed by his followers. Absorbed in the immediate crisis, the present is the only reality, and the sole authority within that closed cosmos is the leader, who is deemed beyond challenge.[16] Isolated from the real world and pressured by their peers, converts wholly accept the leader’s power — and his paranoia — and they put their welfare and their will totally in his hands. Audience corruption is a manifestation of secularism in that it is an all-consuming and one dimensional process that molds consciousness around secular claims. It fosters an idolatrous faith, appears to empower and enhance freedom of choice, but in reality the process subordinates or subverts all claims, even religious ones, that appears to challenge the authority of the leader.

“The cult preached absolute faith and dependence on Mr. Jones, and he apparently wielded complete control over the will of his adherents.”[17] But the knife cuts both ways. The followers in turn feed back the delusions of the leader. The circle of deception was complete when both Jones and his followers took him to be the deity.

The narrowing of the individual’s mental horizon and personal freedom did not originate at Jonestown. It was a central, yet unrecognized, part of a social dynamic in becoming a true believer and loyal member of the Temple and its cause in the first place. One Temple defector stated:

I am faced with an unanswerable question: ‘If the church was so bad, why did you and your family stay in for so long?…

Only months after we defected from the Temple, did we realize the full extent of the cocoon in which we’d lived. And only then did we understand and deplore the fraud, sadism, and emotional blackmail of the master manipulator.[18]

The dynamics of interpersonal deceit, the toleration of sadism, and emotional blackmail were maintained by a shared false consciousness — i.e., the unwillingness or inability to perceive and critically question the social “cocoon” in which they lived and the lack of power to change it. Interpersonal deceit served to bolster the center of power within the group and to prevent a critical social analysis within the context of a wider reference of values.

The derived scenario goes something like this: in the isolated laboratory-like environment of Jonestown, there was no ultimate authority or reality beyond the leader himself. Jones knew that he had led his people, most of them Black and elderly, to the paradise of Jonestown. He was well aware of the pressure on him to prove his experiment was a viable one, that the trust invested in him was justified. But there was no place in Jonestown for critical and independent thought to question the paranoid fears of the leader. Conflict of opinion or alternative perspectives were not tolerated, and anyone expressing a different view was severely punished. Over a period of time, through techniques of thought control, fear, shame, induced guilt, the use of informers and widespread mistrust, and the use of tranquilizing drugs, many members of the Jonestown colony were reduced to passive cogs in a machine. Having no genuine freedom of choice, they became footnotes in some larger drama orchestrated through the megalomania of Jim Jones.

Such experiences as I’ve described in audience corruption go on frequently, and such a process may be quite unconscious, subtly developed over a long period of time. This process is difficult to resist, since it proceeds largely without the participant’s conscious awareness. This idea of audience corruption, whereby both cultic leader and followers together construct social reality, will not permit us to attribute all the blame to Jim Jones for what happened.

The leader is as much a creature of the group as they of him and that he loses his ‘individual distinctiveness’ by being a leader, as they do by being followers. He has no more freedom to be himself than any other members of the group, precisely because he has to be a reflex of their assumptions in order to qualify for leadership in the first place.[19]

Jones could not have orchestrated the idea of his deification without the support of his followers. Jones, too, was a victim of his ego deification process.

R. D. Laing used the term “collusion” to further identify a social process whereby two or more people deceive themselves. The process is one of mutual self-deception.

Two (or more) people in relation may confirm each other or genuinely complement each other. Still, to disclose oneself to the other is hard without confidence in oneself and trust in the other. Desire for confirmation from each is present in both, but each is caught between trust and mistrust, confidence and despair, and both settle for counterfeit acts of confirmation on the basis of pretense. To do so both must play the game of collusion.

Collusion is always clinched when self finds in other that other who will ‘confirm’ self in the false self that is trying to make real, and vice versa. The ground is then set for prolonged mutual evasion of truth and true fulfillment. Each has found an other to endorse his own false notion of himself and to give this appearance a semblance of reality.[20]

This concern around audience corruption and collusion serves as a possible window into some of the dynamics that may have transpired between Jones and his followers once they moved to the isolated jungles of Guyana. However, it is important to underscore that this dynamic was working before the move to Jonestown. In the isolated jungles of Guyana, the dynamic of audience corruption was intensified and became a central feature in the arsenal of control wielded by the leader and his inner circle. The Jonestown colony became engulfed in a closed cosmos where audience corruption and collusion may have been the paramount social process permeating everyday life. C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya suggested that the creation and maintenance of an isolated and private cosmos was Jones’ ultimate goal and single achievement. In Jonestown, he achieved communicative, social, and physical isolation.

In a completely private cosmos reality is reconstructed in terms of the vision of the leader as they are reinforced by the affirmation of the faithful. This may well set the stage for a sustained corporate relationship at variance with the real world outside as to encourage, if not in fact to ensure and produce, an extreme paranoia for all concerned.[21]

If we cast a critical eye on Jim Jones, then we must also raise some hard questions about the social process itself, about the structure of authority, and about his followers, especially the well-educated and the religiously committed ones who surrendered personal responsibility, abandoned critical thinking, took him for God, and then expected from him almost everything one expects from the Divinity.

Survivors recall that while still in Redwood Valley, the membership became divided into two primary groups: a smaller and predominantly, but not exclusively, white group which was committed to social justice but essentially secular in orientation, and a larger and predominantly, but not exclusively, Black group that was religiously oriented. And Jim Jones gave to each according to their need. To the secular group he spoke the language of Marxist ideology and declared that religion was indeed ‘the opiate of the people.’ To the religious group, he spoke the gospel language of community, neighborliness, inclusivity, and justice, invoking the names of God and Jesus and eventually claiming that he, himself, was Christ returned.[22]

In the end true community was denied.

An Alternative to Secularism: Relationality and the Building of Community

“…to see ourselves, this nation, this world, and even the cosmos in ways we have not seen them before.”[23]

The effect of secularism was evident in Black churches. It was expressed in forms of religious isolation – where churches do not become involved in social problems. Such isolation prompted members to search for something different. But the effects of secularism were also evident in the Jonestown community. It was manifest in efforts that exploited expressions of Black folk religion.

The alternative to secularism is relationality. It is a way of seeing connections, interdependence, responsibility for the world. I suggest it as a conceptual basis for ministry that is consistent with the historic role of Black churches and Black religion. It is a concept that can envision the connection between political impotence and personal disintegration; a concept that seeks to strengthen awareness of the connection between self-affirmation and community empowerment in light of the biblical covenant and liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. It may be the grounds for finding “new ways to develop, nurture, and strengthen the courage we need to press forward.”[24] The key concept here is relationality. The central theme is the unity, interrelatedness and interdependence of human life, even the unity of all life. This is not only an ancient theme, but a perennial topic, and a recurring insight which asserts our common and universal interdependence. Relationality is grounded in the insight that one’s life is constituted in relations with others; that one’s life belongs to others just as much as it belongs to one’s self. The relational self is solidly embedded in community. Relationality expresses the biblical idea that God is alone God, the underlying, unitive presence and power, and comprehensive ground of all reality — personal and social — struggling in and through the efforts of human beings. Bernard M. Loomer expresses the idea of relationality in his concept, “the web of life.”

The fact of the web means that we are members one of another. In this relational mode of life we belong and participate in the web because we exist. Through our activities we help create the web. The web in turn gives birth to us. The influences flowing from any point within this field reverberate throughout the web in varying degrees of intensity. The increase in relational value for one individual is the enrichment of all. The lessening of one is the diminution of all. The faithlessness of one adds to the impoverishment of each. As individuals we are fulfilled through, with, and in others….

This web is the primordial covenantal relationship, a covenant in which all peoples have membership as their birthright, and for whose enrichment all peoples are chosen. Special historical covenants, religious or secular, of less generality are finally justifiable in terms of their contribution to this more inclusive community. The evolution of the human spirit consists in the emergence of a deeper understanding and exemplification of this elemental covenant.[25]

Charles Hartshorne also expresses the idea that relationality is not simply a human achievement, but has its basis in a fundamental primordial unity. Relationality is more than the sum total of social relations in a society. It points to an ultimate and underlying reality in the world.

The conception of God which our argument leads to is that of a social being, dominant or ruling over the world society, yet not merely from outside, in a tyrannical or non-social way; but rather as that member of the society which exerts the supreme conserving and coordinating influenceÖ For religion as a concrete practical matter, as a way of life, has generally viewed God as having social relations with man, as sympathizing with him and gaining something through his achievements. God was interested in man, therefore could be ‘pleased’ or ‘displeased,’ made more or less happy, by man’s success or failure, and could thus be ‘served’ by human efforts.[26]

According to Hartshorne, God is inconceivable apart from social reality. God is the most comprehensive personal guarantor of society struggling in and through the efforts of all humans. In other words, relationality is a primordial fact of Black social life. The basic notion is that of an underlying unity, a primordial unity in which all human activity is constituted. Relationality expresses the idea that personal faith, responsibility, and accountability are derived from a collective context and from a sense of belonging to a common culture and to an oppressed and yet struggling Black community. In this context no one is free until everyone is free. Some scholars have argued that a collective sense of belonging and elements of Africanism survived the middle passage and acculturative process in the United States and somehow live on in the religions, culture, and psyche of Black people today.[27] In this connection the family can be viewed as the primary unit for the reproduction of a relational sense of peoplehood. Henry Mitchell has argued that despite the Western trek to secularization, “[t]he pull of African world view is still evident even in Blackamerican street culture, among those who have made a break with formal Black religion and the organized Black church.…”[28] “We-consciousness” is the more authentic ground for ethical reflection in Black communities, rather than reflection based upon an isolated individualism. The theme of relationality in the family can enable blacks to apprehend the biblical way more truly than enlightenment individualism permits the establishment culture to apprehend it. Whether or not a sense of relatedness and common destiny can continue is an open question. Bongenjalo Goba, a Black South African, makes the point:

We have lost so much of our sense of corporate personality. Influenced by capitalism we have become materialistically self-centered, and the emphasis seems to be on individual enterprise and material acquisition for the individual…

I am afraid that in our stress on personal autonomy and freedom of the individual which has undermined the traditional authority of the community, weakened indigenous forms of social control and raised doubts about formerly accepted traditional norms, we have lost, or perhaps we are losing, our kinship ties and thus our sense of corporateness. In our struggle to create a unified Black front, somehow we must remind ourselves of the significance of our living as a related people, our blackness suffering disinheritance must be a force which shall make us a community with a united loyalty, purpose and commitment.[29]

A diminished or lost sense of corporate identity, however, can be attributed, in large measure, to the disruptive influences of urbanization, modernization, and the impact of secularizing influences on traditional institutions such as the church and the family. While such influences tend to dismantle identities and obscure or repress awareness of the relational character of life, they do not obliterate them.

Relationality suggests that the Black family and community and the Black church, though interdependent, are related in a common enterprise. The Black church cannot realize its historic role of liberation and empowerment in the present situation apart from Black culture, Black folk religion, the family, and the Black community as a whole; and the Black community and culture cannot exist as a viable community and culture in a racist society by denying or destroying the key institutions that have enabled it to survive, namely the Black family, Black church, and Black religion.

From this perspective, Black selfhood is constituted in its relations with others. The age-old African proverb makes the point: “One is only human because of others, with others, for others.”[30] The relational self becomes a whole self by virtue of its relationship to other selves. The self, then, is more than an autonomous center of consciousness and decision-making.

What is uniquely characteristic and constitutive of the human world is something that takes place between one person and another. It is in meeting, in bi-subjective communication, that [human persons are or become truly human]. The essence of human life is what happens between man and man in community. For human existence is essentially dialogue, claim and counterclaim, demand and response.[31]

The relational self not only gains self-conscious selfhood in its relations, but it also becomes aware of the structures of life in which it exists. C. W. Mills was correct to argue the importance of grasping the interplay of person and society, of biography and history, of self and world. “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both. Yet men do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction.”[32] Without awareness of the interconnection and interdependence of social reality, the community of persons cannot hope to transform the societies in which they live, move, and have their being. The Black theologian, James Cone, expressed the relational perspective this way:

I think that the time has come for Black theologians and church people to move beyond a mere reaction to White racism in America and begin to extend our vision of a new socially constructed humanity in the whole inhabited world. We must be concerned with the quality of human life not only in the ghettos of American cities but also in Africa, Asia and Latin America. For humanity is whole, and cannot be isolated into racial and national groups. Indeed there will be no freedom for anyone until there is freedom for all.[33]

Reflexivity is the key for understanding the capacity of the self to bring a critical perspective to bear in the present in light of the whole. Here selfhood, in the context of family, religion and community, can be understood as a source of a developing consciousness, imagination, and novelty in social life. The self in relation and through critical discernment can gain awareness of the underlying spiritual and social forces that move people and the institutional arrangements that contribute to their social isolation, apathy, and personal disintegration.

Only in this way [through reflexive thought and critical analysis] can we avoid binding ourselves to some myth of the past and begin to understand that our social relations are subject to our collective interventionÖ What we face are our own antecedents and the causes for our own development — not some universal dilemma.[34]

Relationality is a way of speaking about the interdependent, yet dialectical and constituent character of Black communal life as a whole. The challenge that faces the Black family and community is the same challenge that faces the Black church, Black religion and personal existence and wider society. The challenge is to grasp the unity of life as a primordial condition of our existence in spite of and because of the presence of persistent (and destructive) conditions that appear to negate life’s unity. The challenge is one of affirming solidarity amidst an ethos that pushes it toward fragmentation. The Black church, religion and family, and personal existence are challenged to confront the principalities and powers that would obscure their interconnection and fundamental relational and communal character. Some nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Black church leaders in California, such as Jeremiah B. Sanderson, Philip A. Bell, F. W. Cassey, and George Washington Woodbey, had a relational vision which enabled them to link personal faith and responsibility with social justice issues and societal transformation. Their vision embraced the liberation struggles of the whole Black community, religious and secular. They made the social and political advancement of Black people the burden of their life commitment.[35] Their sense of mission courageously confronted conditions of segregation as they sought to humanize the wider social order.

It is that though the Black church was effective in the nineteenth century partially because of the circumstance of history, it was effective mainly because it never was free to separate its interior institutional life from its mission in and on behalf of the world. From the perspective of seventy years later, if the Black church has had a diminishing impact it is because it has turned more and more in upon itself, and faced less and less outwards the world.[36]

Many Black people originally responded positively to Peoples Temple because it was a movement that provided psychic support and linked it with a program of social/communal outreach. Black people’s involvement in the Peoples Temple Movement can be seen as an attempt to make Black religion relevant to their social, political, and economic condition. By breaking with the insularity and seemingly irrelevant style of some recent Black church worship, many thought they had found in the Peoples Temple a form of church involvement that spoke more directly to the issues of spiritual uplift, justice, social empowerment, and change. Their vision of a new social order was not wrong. It was expressive of the relational paradigm. It was a vision broader than that found in many of the Black churches they left. But their vision was not enough. It lacked a relational and self-critical dimension that would have enabled them to discern the false claims of Jim Jones toward ego deification.

Implications for the Black Church

“We need to press forward.”[37]

Here, in brief, are some further implications for the Black church’s ministry, derived from this presentation:

1. Interpretive. This paper can be viewed as an attempt to play a critical interpretive role. The Black church as a witness to the presence of the living God has a critical interpretive role to play, as well as being a gathering place for worship and fellowship. The interpretive role includes: to understand Black history and cultural traditions in such a way as to inspire self-esteem, faith, and action; to link religious faith with responsible involvement in the events that mark and circumscribe the lives of Black people and all people; to interpret the biblical Word and foster relational and therapeutic patterns which mediate the active care of God’s presence to the oppressed in our time.

The interpretive task is one of illuminating the social and historical context in which the community of faith lives, works, makes moral or ethical decisions, and learns to care for those on the margin. Historically, the Black church understood itself to be a servant church. And it has been a faithful church wherever it has brought good tidings to the afflicted, proclaimed liberty to captives, and helped break the yoke of oppression. Today it has the same task as it did from its inception, namely to work for the moral social transformation of an exploitative system of social relations. The real relations produced by a system of profit-centered capitalism do not appear as inherently exploitative and demonic, nor do the social structure of competitive and hierarchical power relations and the ideologies which support and legitimate it. The contradictions and oppression that emanate from such a system tend to confront the individual as a potentially mysterious or sinister power, shaping the lives of oppressed people. For example, poverty and high infant mortality, high unemployment, substandard and congested housing conditions may appear as “the will of God,” or as “the way things naturally work.” Such conditions are neither the will of God nor the natural state for Black, poor, and disenfranchised people. Rather, these conditions are the products of a specific organization of life, a particular history and social structure and system of economic exploitation. They are created and maintained by the ruling class and their particular system of domination. The Black theologian Cornel West has been especially helpful in identifying the idea of “the ruling class.”

Within the complexities of post-industrial capitalist America, the capitalist class — or ruling class, since its primary aim of profit-maximization is the most dominant and successful one in American society — consists essentially of transnational corporations which own large segments of the means of production and employ a disproportionate number of the citizenry. Of course, elected and appointed government officials also rule. But, since their rule is undeniably sedimented, permeated by and usually subordinated to the primary aim of the capitalist class, it is appropriate to designate the latter, the ruling class. The most glaring example of this relationship between the capitalist class and government is the historic refusal of the latter to ever even raise the issue of redistribution of the wealth by calling into question the primary aim of the former.[38]

The Black church is challenged to help illuminate the generally unrecognized workings of the capitalist class and the supporting system of exploitative social relations it engenders. The Black church is challenged to interpret and to help change the workings of this system in similar ways it has helped to interpret the history and meaning of slavery, to empower victims toward self-determination, and to become agents in nurturing relational patterns.

It is not enough for the Black church to promote equality and integration of the oppressed into the mainstream of society. The Black church is challenged, by its own history, to move beyond an interest in integrating the disinherited into a higher status within an unchanged structure of oppression and exploitation. The task is to transform the social order and to work to humanize social relations. The Black church, in faithful obedience to its Lord, calls persons to become therapeutic agents in the process of transformation, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to work for their physical and spiritual release from material and ideological bondage to ruling groups. The spirit of truth, which interpretation seeks, is concealed by ideologies which present the status quo as the true and ideal way. The Black church is challenged to seek the truth that sets prisoners free to create a liberating and just social order.

In this interpretive mode, the human person’s chief danger lies in the unruly forces of contemporary society itself, with its alienating methods of reproductive relations, its enveloping techniques of political domination, its international anarchy, in a word, its pervasive transformations of the very “nature” of the human self into a tool or agent in the system of domination.[39] Black religious experience and the church’s interpretive role ought to enable us to identify the forces that move us, our social location, and give insight concerning the nature of the social structures under which we labor, as well as preparing us to fashion creative responses as persons of faith and agents of change.

Perhaps one of the lessons to come out of Jonestown and the Peoples Temple Movement for the Black church is that we need to understand better the history of our faith and possibilities for action in light of the biblical Word. An inmate at Vacaville Correctional Facility once told me that he wasn’t sure where it was to be found in the Bible, but that “the law of self-preservation” was the first law of the Bible. How wrong he was! Although he grew up in a San Francisco Bay Area Black church, he was still in the fog on the Bible and its message. Yet he thought he was quoting from the Bible. He could not distinguish the biblical message from other messages or social philosophies he had acquired. This brother and inmate does not stand alone. He represents many in our churches who profess the faith, but know very little about what the Scripture really has to say to us when we enter into serious dialogue with it and critically reflect upon our activities in its light. In this case a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. The Black church as a servant and therapeutic community may interpret as clearly as it can the central proclamation of the gospel in ways that liberate Black Christians to link critical reflection upon praxis with their faith and with a responsible and daring commitment to the living God who struggles with us, in and through every case of oppression.

2. Communal Empowerment and Interdependence.

The Black church is challenged to assert itself as a communal church, seeking to heal, empower and undergird Black families, support the alienated, psychically distraught, and socially abandoned, to feed the spiritually hungry, and to reach out to spiritual refugees.[40] One church cannot do this alone, but must see itself as our extended family form and as a part of the community effort. The church may give vision and leadership to this effort.

The Black church has a continuing supportive and empowering function to play in Black family life. Historically, the Black church has been the backbone of the Black family.[41] The Black church has functioned for many as an extended family fostering nurturing relational patterns which reinforce and strengthen a sense of inner worth, respect, and value of each for the other. Eugene Genovese referred to these values as “weapons of defense.” The Black church in the past has nurtured a religious faith “that taught [slaves] to love and value each other, to take a critical view of their masters, and to reject the ideological rationale for their enslavement.”[42]

We are still challenged to reject the ideological rationale and debilitating relational patterns that support our enslavement. Again, Genovese writes: “And the slaves, drawing on a religion that was supposed to assure their compliance and docility, rejected the essence of slavery by projecting their own rights and values as human beings.”[43] The Black church is challenged to play a similar role in the lives of Black families and single persons today who face new forms of alienation and spiritual bondage to materialistic values.

The Black church is still challenged to enable Black families and singles to break the bonds of enslaving action and to develop therapeutic relational patterns which contribute to change and growth and enhance the capacity to care. “Liberation of the oppressed” will become a vacuous euphemism if the intended audience is itself too emotionally crippled to respond. The Black church must link liberation with healing, salvation, and critical reflection within a therapeutic community which is concerned with spiritual uplift and reconciliation and salvation. These motifs come together in Edward F. Wimberly’s understanding of pastoral care.

The fact that social oppression existed did not mean that healing did not take place in the Black church. Although the Black person’s personality was damaged by racism and oppression, wholeness did come for many through the experience of God’s love toward them. When the caring resources were brought to bear upon persons suffering from low self-esteem and self-hatred, they experienced themselves as accepted and as ‘somebody’ in the eyes of God and their Black brothers and sisters.

Racism and oppression have produced wounds in the Black community that can be healed only to the extent that healing takes place in the structure of the total society.

Therefore, the Black church has had to find means to sustain and guide Black persons in the midst of oppression. In this effort, much attention has been focused upon reducing the impact of racism upon the Black personality, but it has been difficult to restore the wholeness of the person caused by the impact of oppression. People need guidance and hope in the present while making the most of their situation; at the same time they look forward to a future time of ultimate healing.[44]

3. Social Action. Interpretation, healing, sustaining, guidance, and confrontation must incorporate social action. Interpretation must be linked to praxis. Social action must seek to comprehend and transform the processes and social arrangements that maintain and legitimate structures of oppression. It “must come from behind its stained-glass walls and dwell where mothers are crying, children are hungry, and fathers are jobless.”[45] Social action ministries must be open to the critical perspectives of others as the church and community continue to evolve the praxis of caring, emancipation, and social transformation.

4. Prophetic, Critical, and Self-Critical Reflection. The Black church in the United States has often played a prophetic role when it has proclaimed the power of the gospel in judgment upon an exploitative economic and social system which ensures structural inequality and insidious forms of racism. That role was expressed in the witness of Harriet Tubman, Richard Allen, Jeremiah B. Sanderson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and a host of other witnesses. The prophetic role must be reflexive and ask: What is the Black church doing now in light of Scripture and the oppressed? This role is consistent with the interpretive task and social action ministry of the church.

Summary and Conclusion

The official closing of the Peoples Temple was on December 31, 1978. Jonestown has vanished, consumed by fire in the early 1980’s. It would be folly if we failed to learn its lessons. Jonestown was not an anomaly. Rather, it was a product of the evolving ethos of our time, an ethos that tends to repress and trivialize the essentially religious impulse. The social and historical forces that gave rise to Jonestown twenty years ago operate today. This paper has attempted to interpret some of those forces in the light of the Peoples Temple, the Jonestown tragedy, and role of Black religion. The paper identified the historical process of secularization and secularism as important themes and related them to a plausibility crisis in Black folk and church religion and to the appeal of the Peoples Temple.

The plausibility crisis in the Black church referred to a posture of withdrawal from involvement in liberation struggles and a retreat into privatized religion. An implication of living in a secular milieu is that the Black churches’ claim — that Jesus Christ is Lord — faces a plausibility crisis. A plausibility crisis occurs when the social milieu itself has undercut the basis for belief and when an increasing number of people intellectually attack and attempt to destroy the foundations upon which the faith rests. For the Black church, God’s liberating, healing, and reconciling activity manifested in Jesus was once the center of orientation. The Black church must recognize, however, that secularization has pulled the rug of absolutism from under Christian feet, and the choice to stand with Jesus is an alternative decision amidst the possible contesting centers of orientation. The choice to stand with Jesus as the suffering and triumphant Lord has again become a radical and daring choice amidst competing claims for loyalty. Not everyone in the Black community will choose to stand with Jesus. Indeed, an increasing number of young people, intellectuals and spiritual refugees have chosen not to. But this fact does not mean that such persons stand outside the scope of God’s grace and concern for a Black and suffering, and often co-opted, humanity. The Black church must stand with the whole Black community, because God’s struggling, liberating, and reconciling presence is to be discerned there.

In part, the church’s retreat into privatized religion has been occasioned by objective factors of secularization, conditions of rapid social change, new complex patterns of urban life, and dwindling financial resources in some cases. As a partial response, the church has protected the individual from overwhelming impersonal forces but at the same time has tended to limit the range of personal religious commitment. The Black church faces a plausibility crisis wherever its prophetic voice has been effectively silenced or relegated to the margin of society without a critical social vision to help discern or interpret what is going on. The Black church, then, may be seen by fewer and fewer people as an institution capable of moving us toward liberation or responsible involvement, hope in a more open future, or a resource for critical discernment of the social order. In this case, it is more likely to be seen as a source of false consciousness and as an opiate to militancy, rather than as a stimulant to therapeutic and relational patterns of liberation, social responsibility, and empowerment. Decreased involvement of the Black church in the struggle for liberation necessarily contributed toward a plausibility crisis for many who joined the Peoples Temple. Ironically, the Peoples Temple revealed another form of deception and oppression through its loss of historical perspective, narrowing horizon, and in the many ways it ignored, trivialized and exploited the spirituality of its members, and presumed to play God. Wherever the Black church has lost sight of its historical mission, emphasized personal faith, and separated it from critical reflection, liberation struggles or oppressed people, social transformation, and healing in the social world, then it will fail to be a vehicle to meet the fundamental hungers of the human spirit.

When I stood with others outside on that overcast day at the Evergreen Cemetery on November 18, 1997 and heard the sound of a saxophone playing Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine, I knew it was the right sound. It represented a connection with the wellspring of imagination and visioning that enables us to transcend and transform the tragic meanings of Jonestown. We can learn the lessons of the past and use them in our struggle to be faithful to the God who works with us to transform our world. We need to press forward.


[1] Vincent Harding, The Other American Revolution, Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies University of California, and Atlanta: Institute of the Black World, 1980, p. 226.

[2] Archie Smith, Jr. The Relational Self: Ethics and Therapy from a Black Church Perspective, Nashville: Abingdon, 1982, p. 229.

[3] The appeal of Jim Jones was not limited to one group, but cut across a wide section of the population. Religious cults such as the Moonies, Children of God and Hare Krishna tend to recruit young persons from white and middle-class backgrounds. Blacks tend not to join these groups, especially blacks who are elderly, single parents, welfare dependents, or wards of the state. The Peoples Temple did claim these and others. Its social base was much broader than most groups that have been referred to as “cults.”

[4] Hart M. Nelsen and Ann Kusener Nelsen, Black Church in the Sixties, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1975, p. 99. Nelsen and Nelsen basically reject the conclusion reached in Protest and Prejudice by Gary Marx who argued that religion was a sedating influence rather than a stimulating drive toward social protest, reform, and radicalism among the Black masses. Nelsen and Nelsen found that blacks, when compared to whites, were more likely to favor the church’s speaking out on social and political questions. At least this was the case during the 1960s. This posture was consistent with Black churches which were at the forefront of liberation struggles in the nineteenth century. However, both other worldly religious orientation and this worldly change have been a part of the Black religious heritage in the United States.

[5] Harding, The Other American Revolution, p. 224.

[6] Archie Smith, Jr. “The Meaning of Spirituality in the Preparation for Life: An Empirical Approach,” Religious Factors in a Student’s Maturing: A Colloquium, Santa Barbara, California: Educational Futures, International: March 9-12, 1978, p. 61.

[7] Howard Thurman, The Creative Encounter: The Religious Experience Sensed and Achieved, Richmond, Indiana: Friends United Press, 1954, p. 49.

[8] Joseph R. Washington, Jr., Black Religion: The Negro and Christianity in the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964, p. 33.

[9] Richard K. Fenn, “Toward a Theory of Secularization.” Mimeograph series number 1. Published by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1978.

[10] Sterling P. Lamprecht, Our Philosophical Traditions, New York: Appleton-Century- Crofts, 1955, pp. 210, 212.

[11] Stuart Hampshire, The Age of Reason, New York: A Mentor Book, 1956, p. 15.

[12] Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1969, pp. 107-8.

[13] Harding, The Other American Revolution, p. 226.

[14] Jeannie Mills, Six Years with God: Life Inside Reverend Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple, New York: A & W Publishers, 1979, p. 26.

[15] Paul Schwartz was a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and a research assistant in the New Religious Movement Program interviewing Temple defectors. His remarks were shared at a Graduate Theological Colloquium on April 10, 1979.

[16] Hugo J. Zee, “The Guyana Incident: Some Psychoanalytic Considerations,” in Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, Vol. 44, No. 4, July 1980, p. 358; also see C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, “Daddy Jones and Father Divine, The Cult As Political Religion,” in Religion in Life, Spring 1980.

[17] The New York Times, December 1, 1978.

[18]18. Mills, Six Years with God, introduction, p. 9.

[19] Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, New York: The Free Press, 1973, p. 136.

[20] R. D. Laing, Self and Others, New York: Penguin Books, 1969, pp. 108-9, 111.

[21] Lincoln and Mamiya, “Daddy Jones and Father Divine,” p. 14.

[22] Mary R. Sawyer, “Black Religion and the People of Peoples Temple.” Unpublished paper. Mary R. Sawyer is an associate professor of Religious Studies and African American Studies at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. This paper was shared with the author winter, 1998.

[23] Harding, The Other American Revolution, p. 226.

[24] Harding, The Other American Revolution, p. 226.

[25] Bernard M. Loomer, “The Web of Life,” The Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, October, 1977. Unpublished paper, pp. 17, 27

[26] Charles Hartshorne, “Reality as Social Process,” Studies in Metaphysics and Religion, New York: Hefner Publishing Company, Inc., 1954, p. 40.

[27] See W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publications, 1961; Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past, Boston: Beacon Press, 1941; John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972; Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, New York: Vintage Books, 1976; Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

[28] Henry H. Mitchell, Black Belief, New York: Harper & Row, 1975, pp. 59-60.

[29] Bonjanjalo Goba, “Corporate Personality: Ancient Israel and Africa,” The Challenge of Black Theology in South Africa, ed. Basil Moore, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1973.

[30] Allan Aubrey Boesak, Farewell to Innocence, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1977, p. 152.

[31] Paul G. Pfuetze, Self, Society, Existence, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954, p. 131.

[32] C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, London: Oxford University Press, 1959, p. 3.

[33] James H. Cone, “Where Do We Go from Here?” in The Witness, March 1978, p. 6.

[34] Eli Zaretsky, Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life, New York: Harper & Row, 1973, pp. 135-36.

[35] Larry George Murphy Lee, “Equality Before the Law: The Struggle of Nineteenth-Century Black Californians for Social and Political Justice.” Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation presented to the Faculty of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, May 16, 1973. Also see Philip S. Funer, “Reverend George Washington Woodley: Early Twentieth Century Black Socialist,” in The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 61, No. 2, April 1976; Gayraud Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1972; Benjamin E. Mays and Joseph W. Nicholson, The Negro’s Church, New York: Schocken Books, 1974; Douglas Henry Daniels, Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.

[36] Lawrence N. Jones, “They Sought a City: The Black Church and Churchmen in the Nineteenth Century,” eds. Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman, New Theology, No. 9, New York: The Macmillan Co., 1972, pp. 172-73.

[37] Harding, The Other American Revolution, p. 226.

[38] Cornel West, “Black Theology and Socialist Thought,” The Witness, Amber, Penn.: The Episcopal Church Publishing Company, Vol. 63, No. 4, April 1980, p. 18.

[39] Mills, Six Years with God, p. l3.

[40] For the concept of “spiritual refugee,” see Archie Smith, Jr, Navigating the Deep River: Spirituality in African American Families. Cleveland, Ohio: The United Church Press, 1997.

[41] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, p. 13.

[42] Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, p. 6.

[43] Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, p. 7.

[44] Edward P. Wimberly, Pastoral Care in the Black Church, Nashville: Abingdon, 1979, pp. 20-21.

[45] Gayraud A. Wilmore and James H. Cone, Black Theology: A Documentary History, 1966-1979, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Press, 1979, p. 347