Peoples Temple As Christian History:
A Corrective Interpretation

Introductory Remarks

The thirtieth anniversary of the end of the Peoples Temple movement was marked in November 2008 in part by the reprinting of Tim Reiterman’s Raven:  The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People.  In the preface to this new edition Reiterman reflects on the enduring interest in and horror of the deaths of more than 900 Americans who followed the Rev. James Warren Jones across the United States and eventually into South America.  Reiterman remarks that, in the thirty years that have passed, “Jonestown has come to symbolize unfathomable depravity, the outermost limits of what human beings can visit on each other and themselves, the ultimate power of a leader over his followers.”[1] While this description emphasizes the use of Jonestown as a synonym for that which is bizarre or beyond understanding, Reiterman explains that the purpose behind the initial publication of his work was to show that “the Temple was a product of its time and the search for alternative religions and social relevance in the post-civil rights and post-Vietnam eras” as well as a product of “the timeless yearnings of the human spirit for a sense of belonging, to be part of something larger than ourselves.”[2]  He goes on to state that the purpose behind the republication of Raven is “to put to rest enduring misconceptions and to grasp the forces that drove the Temple inexorably towards its end.”[3]

Within his list of ten points meant to debunk these “enduring misconceptions” is one item of particular interest:  his chiding of those who see the Temple as nothing more than a cult.  He writes that “Peoples Temple was not merely a cultlike organization that stripped away individuality; it was also a church, a social movement, and a political organization.”[4]  This statement suggests a close relationship between Peoples Temple and the church, a relationship that many Christian scholars and authors have historically denied.  This denial can be challenged by classifying and understanding Peoples Temple and the murder-suicides of Jonestown within a Christian interpretive framework.  It is to the question of Peoples Temple and its connection to Christianity that this paper turns.

The Inherited Canon:  Negative Christian Reactions and Hopeful Religious Studies Perspectives

Before exploring the connection between the Temple and Christianity there is a history of earlier Christian perspectives on Peoples Temple worth sketching.  In the years immediately following the Jonestown murder-suicides Christian scholars sought to distance Peoples Temple from Christianity by trying to underline the discontinuity between the Temple’s theory or practice and Christian theory and practice.  That is, they looked at the way Christians thought and acted – their practice – as well as the reasons why they thought and acted this way – their theory – and then explained how incompatible these were with how Temple members thought and acted and the reasons or beliefs contributing to Temple practices.  This position is exemplified by two Christian reactions to Jonestown published less than a year after the end of Peoples Temple.

Jack Sparks, in his 1979 examination of then-current cults, claims that “from its inception, neither Peoples Temple nor James Warren Jones, its founder and leader, was ever Christian in either doctrine or practice.”[5]  Sparks’ treatment of Jim Jones as a pastor is motivated by the belief that Jones “played church”, an accusation that he manifests in two ways.  First, he implies that Jones “played church” by treating somber Christian practices and beliefs in a light manner.  He recounts Jones’ childhood “denomination-hopping”, or visits to a variety of Christian congregations, equating Jones’ exposure to various forms of Christian worship to a care-free and inconsequential children’s game of hop-scotch.[6]  Furthermore, Sparks argues that belief in God was treated frivolously as Jones saw church as a way to bring attention and admiration to himself as a replacement for God.  Finally, Sparks accuses Jones of treating Christianity lightly by stating that miracles witnessed in Peoples Temple were nothing more than drama in a theater.[7]  In short, Sparks believes that Jones’ irreverence for sacred Christian beliefs and practices proves that he was only “playing church.”

Secondly, Sparks’ accusation of Jones’ “playing church” is more subtly seen in his attack on the outreach and aid programs of Peoples Temple.  While Peoples Temple emphasized social action and other concrete manifestations of faith, Sparks warns against this tendency, explaining that what one believes is more important than how one acts.[8]  He argues that “works done by those who hold heretical views . are evil, regardless of the fact that people benefit from them.”[9]  Thus in one statement the positive outcomes of Peoples Temple are swept away and the wickedness of its leader is affirmed.  This second method of accusation asserts that Jones “played church” because his practices were grounded in anti-Christian fiction rather than fact.  As his theology was phony and useful only insofar as it could attract followers, any church that Jones founded was a farce or a play that at best could only imitate a true Christian church. Thus Sparks’ critique of Peoples Temple attacks both its practices and the theory behind them and distances them from what he sees as true Christian faith.

Christian author and filmmaker Mel White takes a slightly less inflamed and more concerned approach to Peoples Temple in his 1979 book, Deceived.  He recognizes the danger of taking the road of Sparks and tries to moderate his observations – unlike Sparks, he does not claim that Satan was the true father of Jim Jones – by relying heavily on interviews with Peoples Temple defectors.  Nonetheless, White too advocates that “there was very little that was Christian about the Peoples Temple Christian Church.”[10]  White takes to task the theory of Peoples Temple rather than its practice; in fact, he is almost admiring of the way that the Temple mimicked a Christian church. Throughout his work he points out that the Temple’s practices fooled not only those who joined it but also Christians who did not join it.  He writes that services at the San Francisco Temple contained “fundamental-pentacostal Christian trappings and biblical worship.”[11]

White critiques the theory behind Jones’ use of religion and rightly sees Jones as an opportunist who “used the religious message to his own ends.”[12]  Jones chose a religious façade because, as one defector White quoted explained, “he knew religious people are already sensitive and have feeling for the human situation.  They have right ideas about freedom and race.”[13] In addition to this convenient mindset, people who came to Jones from a religious background were pre-conditioned to accept or believe in prophecy and miracles.[14]

In distancing Peoples Temple theory from Christian theory, White appropriates the Jonestown tragedy to critique the church and put forth a solution for not allowing such a deception to happen again.  Throughout his work he holds fast to his initial observation that “by the time he [Jones] reached Ukiah in 1965 he was only pretending to be Christian, using the language and forms of faith and his apparent Christian social concern as a means to gaining power and a place in history.”[15]  White concludes that Jonestown is a wake-up call for Christian America, claiming that Jones’ deception of all concerned parties shows a fatal flaw in Christianity.  Although this position can be justified to an extent, his observation that “life with us [American Christians] was not all that much better than death with Jones in the jungle” is more sensational than scholarly.[16]  White also uses the story of Peoples Temple to advocate a separation between church and state, writing that it was a travesty that the American press and government found out the true nature of Peoples Temple before the Christian church did.[17]  White suggests that the church should not depend on either the press or the government, but should instead police itself.

Both of these authors, and other Christian scholars writing just after the tragedy, ultimately see Jonestown as something that cannot be equated with true Christian theory or practice.  Despite any claims not to, both treatments of Peoples Temple use the language of lunacy and madness.  Although Sparks and White’s observations were intended to be helpful in allowing the Christian church to use the events at Jonestown in beneficial ways, neither of their works are especially helpful when trying to understand Peoples Temple from a Christian perspective.

In 1982, after the initial rush of sensationalized reactionary literature on Jonestown had slowed, Jonathan Z. Smith examined Peoples Temple, focusing particularly on the response of academics and religious studies scholars.  He points out the flaws of early Christian reactions to Jonestown and suggests a helpful trajectory which this essay will follow in considering Peoples Temple.

Smith immediately warns against the practice of dismissing Peoples Temple as something exotic or erotic, seeing such treatment as a failure of scholarship:  “if we [religious scholars] continue, as a profession, to leave it ununderstandable, then we will have surrendered our rights to the academy.”[18]  He blames the press for taking advantage of death counts, sexual deviation, and physical punishment to create “the pornography of Jonestown” in nearly the same breath as he condemns the religious leaders who shied away from the tragedy.[19]  Smith advocates continued Jonestown scholarship not to bring about closure but rather in the interest of correctly looking at Peoples Temple as something understandable as a religious event and using historical religious methods to locate Peoples Temple in a historical religious lineage.

Smith’s critique of early religious reactions is appropriate, as is his suggestion that “religion, to the degree that it is usefully conceived as an historical, human endeavor, is to be set within the larger academic frameworks provided by anthropology, the humanities, and history.”[20]  His goal that future Jonestown scholarship, taken from a religious standpoint or otherwise, should not be closure, is helpful, as is his assertion that religious, especially Christian, thought about Jonestown is at a disadvantage due to the sorry body of existing literature.  Therefore, it is the intention of this paper to avoid the mistakes of Christian reactionary literature while asserting that religious, and especially Christian, scholarship is invaluable when analyzing Peoples Temple.

It is not the aim of this paper to furnish any moral judgment on either Peoples Temple’s final solution of death or on any failures in the Christian church that may have led to such a choice.  This paper does not ask “what can Christianity learn by examining Jonestown?” but rather, “what can be learned about Jonestown through the affirmation that it was largely a Christian event?”  Asking this question contributes to Jonestown scholarship in seeking a greater understanding of the phenomenon itself.

This paper will attempt to show the benefits of using a Christian interpretive framework to understand the doctrine and practice of Peoples Temple and to show that it was, at least partially, a Christian phenomenon that rightfully belongs in Christian history.  Specifically, this claim will be made through the interpretive lens of salvation and the new humanity in Christ that accompanies it.  The merits of considering salvation in Peoples Temple have already been partially demonstrated by David Chidester, a student of Jonathan Smith, in Salvation and Suicide:  Jim Jones, The Peoples Temple, and Jonestown, published in 1988.[21]  While this paper will rely at times upon Chidester’s observations, and insofar as it is possible adhere to Chidester’s explicit refusal to moralize when considering Peoples Temple, it differs by focusing not just on understanding Peoples Temple from the perspective of religion but more specifically from the perspective of Christianity.  In order to do so, however, it is necessary to begin by sketching the history of Peoples Temple.

Birth, Life, and Death of Peoples Temple

While the organization officially known as the Peoples Temple Christian Church came into existence in the mid-1950s the story of its leader and driving force, Jim Jones, began several decades earlier.  Born in Indiana in 1931, James Warren Jones spent the first few years of his life in Crete before moving to Lynn.[22]  In a household of relative poverty Jim’s mother instilled in her son by example the virtue of hard work and the value of aspiring to something higher in life.[23]

Jones’ young life was steeped in an exploration of Christianity.  One of Lynn’s residents, Myrtle Kennedy, took Jones to church and Sunday school with her, initiating his lifelong relationship with Christian faith.  Several churches of varying denominations existed in Lynn and Jones frequently visited many of them.[24]  Nearly all accounts of Jones’ childhood relate his growing interest in church; he often held “play” church services with his friends where he would preside as minister.[25]  As he grew up his proselytizing intensified and Jones began preaching “a mixture of Christianity and equality of all men under God” not just to his friends but to strangers on the streets of Lynn and surrounding towns.[26]

After high school, he moved to Bloomington to attend university and in 1949 married Marceline Baldwin, a woman he had met while working as an orderly at Reid Memorial hospital.[27]  In 1952 he took on the position of student pastor in a Methodist church, an appointment that was fitting in title only.[28]  Jones wanted to integrate the congregation, a hope that worried his conservative Methodist audience. Combined with his interest and proficiency in conducting healing services, the Methodist denomination proved to be a constraint on the church vision held by Jones.  John Hall characterizes Jones’ religious standpoint at this time as “a radicalized Pentecostal preacher, conversant with fundamentalist theological debates, [and] proficient in Pentecostal practices”, a description that allows for the observation that his emphasis on the Pentecostal gifts of prophecy, discernment, and most importantly healing could distract congregants from what Reiterman describes as spotty theology.[29]

Jones needed a venue where he could preach his distinctive and controversial message.  In approximately 1954 he opened his own church in a rented building in Indianapolis, naming it “Community Unity”.[30]

In 1955, Jones’ Community Unity Church was renamed Peoples Temple.[31] Preaching his message of integration and healing, Jones attracted primarily those who wanted to be healed, wished to witness the dazzle of spiritual gifts in action, or benefit from the Temple’s stance of acceptance and aid.  While frustrated by the fickleness of people who came to be healed and then left the church, the Temple grew in size as Jones perfected both his message and his medium.[32]  He tempered his blend of religion and politics to move his congregation beyond a faith based on visible signs, prophecies, and healings to a belief based on more abstract concepts. From the outset, Peoples Temple tried to exemplify the egalitarian message that it preached, seeing poverty and racism as an opportunity to both act out their faith and promote their church.[33]  As Jones’ church grew, he met a number of times in the late 1950s with a man to whom the Temple would later owe many of its practices, Father Divine.  Father Divine was the leader of the Peace Mission Movement, a movement that arose in 1930s America that focused on community aid and had a large black following.[34]  Jones admired the adoration Divine’s followers showed their leader, as well as their zealous faith.[35]  The relationship between the two was fickle, however, and Jones’ dealings with Father Divine can be characterized as borrowing and stealing.  He borrowed ideologies regarding racial harmony and social aid and the titles of “Father” and “Dad”, as well as copying Divine’s movement’s structure, wherein the leader was both at the top of the hierarchy and at the centre of the movement, surrounded by a lesser group of advisors.[36]  Jones also tried, largely unsuccessfully, to steal from Father Divine.  He engaged in “sheep stealing”, or trying to lure members away from Peace Mission to his own Peoples Temple, as well as trying to embezzle the leadership role from Mother Divine upon the death of Father Divine.[37]  While his claim to be the reincarnation of Father Divine was rejected, Jones’ interactions with Father Divine’s Peace Mission were exceedingly influential on the future of Peoples Temple.

In 1962, Jones and his family moved to Brazil to investigate the possibility of securing a South American asylum for his congregation in the event of a nuclear holocaust.  This two year search was catalyzed by the Cold War broadly and more specifically by an article in the January 1962 edition of Esquire magazine.[38]  The article listed the nine safest places to be in the event of a nuclear holocaust, South American destinations among them.[39]  Bonnie Thielmann, who lived with the Jones family as a nanny in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, recalls that Jones fed dozens of Brazilian children each evening, using his house as a makeshift soup kitchen.[40]

Jones returned to Indianapolis from his furlough late in 1963, only to leave Indiana again a few years later.  This time, however, Jones asked his entire congregation to come with him.  He proposed a migration West to the Ukiah region of California, another location on Esquire’s list.[41]  This migration was a sort of loyalty test; nearly 150 Peoples Temple members followed Jones across the United States to their new home in Redwood Valley.[42]  It was here that the first instances of apparent persecution appeared.  In addition to vandalism, dead animals were found on the Temple’s property, thrown by inhospitable Californians, and racial slurs were hurled at members.[43]

The migration to California allowed Peoples Temple to start from the ground up, in effect providing an opportunity for the racially-mixed congregation to show the success that could come from integration.  While the congregation grew slowly, Peoples Temple capitalized on this opportunity; the church building they constructed themselves was viewed with great interest and some of their new converts were prominent members of Ukiah society.[44]  By 1969, Jones’ congregation had expanded significantly; Peoples Temple claimed to have 300 members and Jones himself had been appointed to the Mendocino County grand jury.[45]  Yet as it grew Peoples Temple in Redwood Valley began to resemble something different than the Pentecostal congregation that originated in Indianapolis.  While it was now affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination, Peoples Temple did not practice the sacraments of baptism or communion in any traditional or commonly accepted way.  While people were baptized, they were baptized in the name of the California Temple’s founding principle – Socialism.[46]

Jones had been preaching communalism and Socialism to his congregation since he began in Indianapolis.  To avoid further persecution based on their communalist views, or perhaps to shelter Temple members from dissenting opinions, the Temple rapidly became a closed community.  Members avoided the rest of the Redwood Valley region by living in an isolated fashion outside the community.[47]  As most members who made the trip from Indiana had left their extended families behind, Peoples Temple became in essence a replacement family.  Moreover, Temple members were strongly encouraged to break ties with their non-Temple relatives – as much as possible – for two reasons.[48]  By banning interaction with family members “on the outside”, the Temple was insulating itself against exposure of its questionable practices and teaching. Secondly, this ban forced members to see the Temple as the only thing in their lives they could turn to or care for, fostering loyalty.

As Peoples Temple moved further from orthodox Christian practices and teachings, a number of doctrines and practices that were extremely unorthodox, even un-Christian in appearance, emerged to take their place.  Discipline for sinfulness or disobedience in the Temple grew increasingly violent; people were publicly ridiculed during “catharsis sessions” in the Temple’s early years and paddled or forced to undergo humiliation and pain before the entire congregation in its later years.[49]  Members in the church were expected to show ever-increasing dedication and loyalty to the Temple and Jim Jones to such an extent that Temple life eventually dominated their very existence.[50]  Jones pushed an occasionally contradictory rhetoric of sexual conduct as well; Temple members were told to abstain from sex, to admit that they were homosexuals, and to see Jones as the only person worthy of their sexual desire.[51]

These practices and teachings, combined with Jones’ criticism that American churches strayed from “true” faith by ignoring the downtrodden and his condemnation of capitalism through his explicitly socialistic preaching, were hidden from the public as much as possible.  In 1972, however, Lester Kinsolving published a series of articles in the San Francisco Examiner that threatened to expose the true nature of Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.[52]  The articles were written after a reporter from the Indianapolis Star, who had published a skeptical article of Jones’ healing powers, contacted theExaminer asking about the continuing actions of Peoples Temple.[53]  Kinsolving and others were curious about Peoples Temple; the healings Jones claimed seemed too good to be true.[54]  His articles were an attempt to provide the public with an “insiders” view of Peoples Temple; despite its increasing presence in California the inner workings of Peoples Temple were still disquietingly absent from the public eye.  The articles were decidedly skeptical of Jones’ healings and hinted at some of the more questionable aspects of the Temple, such as marriages Jones arranged among his congregation’s youth.[55]

While pressure by Peoples Temple halted the publication of Kinsolving’s articles, the negative press did force Jones to sever his connection to Indianapolis.[56]  A second crisis occurred the next year when eight young members defected from Peoples Temple. This was the largest defection the Temple had suffered to date, and the desertion was made worse by the fact that the defectors were intelligent, promising, and passionate youth whose hot-headed critique of Temple leadership could do tremendous damage to Jones if authorities heard their complaints.[57]

Despite these twin crises, Peoples Temple in the early 1970s shifted its primary site of existence from small Ukiah to a much more prominent location – San Francisco. Throughout the mid-1970s Peoples Temple operated in essentially the same way they had prior to this third move but on a larger scale.  Congregation size, Temple finances, emphasis on secrecy and loyalty, political involvement, and Jones’ insistency on his unique blend of discipline, dependency, and apostolic socialism all reflected the difference between quiet Redwood Valley and San Francisco, a city that held much potential for Peoples Temple.[58]  Jones’ appointment as chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority in 1976, a position he received as a sign of gratitude from the recently-elected mayor George Moscone, was his most prestigious role in city politics.[59]

The hierarchy within Peoples Temple echoed the intricate and delicately balanced web of money, religion, politics, and activism that it was at the center of, especially in San Francisco.  Beyond any dispute is Jones’ role as the leader of Peoples Temple; he was the heart that gave motivation, instruction, and direction to the congregation.  The “Planning Commission”, composed of up to one hundred members, was intended to serve as an advisory and governing body who operated collectively and democratically.[60]  Planning Commission members were trusted with more information than normal members and were subjected to additional lectures by Jones; their ranks were populated by more women than men and more white than black members.[61] Between the Planning Commission and Jim Jones stood his “Staff”, an “elite” group of ten or fewer members entirely dedicated to the cause; every Staff member was a white female, and the majority of them were well-educated.[62]  They were given the most compromising and sensitive “missions” by Jones.[63]  It should be noted that the racial makeup of this hierarchy was not indicative of the racial makeup of Peoples Temple as a whole – whites dominated the inner circles of the Temple while blacks dominated the congregation, which in San Francisco was believed to contain 3000 members.[64]

In 1977 Marshall Kilduff of the San Francisco Chronicle caused the same panic in the Temple that Kinsolving had caused five years earlier by writing an exposé about the Temple, published in New West magazine.[65]  The Temple characteristically tried to halt the story by writing letters and making phone calls to New West requesting that the story be scrapped, but despite Jones’ efforts it was published.  Kilduff’s original draft “fell miles short of Jim Jones’ fears”, fellow San Francisco reporter Reiterman states, something Peoples Temple did not expect in light of the Kinsolving scandal.[66] However, a revised version that contained the startling accusations of Temple defectors was submitted to New West, causing Jones and hundreds of his followers to flee the United States to his nearly-constructed Agricultural Mission – and haven from persecution – purchased in early 1974:  Jonestown.[67]

The Peoples Temple Agricultural Mission, Jonestown, lay in north-western Guyana, between Port Kaituma and Matthew’s Ridge.  For a variety of political reasons, Guyana allowed Peoples Temple to build a mission in its hinterlands, hoping that if successful, this endeavor could induce the Guyanese people, who lived mostly on the coast of the country, to move inland and take advantage of the unused land.[68]  After the land was purchased in 1974, Jones gradually sent down Temple members to build his South American refuge; troublemakers in the Temple, children or family members of potential defectors, and those in trouble with American authorities were sent first.[69] The majority of Jonestown’s residents travelled to South America in 1977, and more continued trickling south from the United States in 1978.[70]

It was in Jonestown that Jones’ monopoly of his follower’s lives was made complete.  Without exception, every aspect of life for the more than 900 inhabitants was dedicated to the cause.  Upon arrival, Temple members had to surrender their passports and personal documentation, as well as any possessions that were deemed of more use to the whole colony than to the individual owner.[71]  They lived and worked by a rigorous schedule that included Socialism classes and meetings or lectures in the pavilion.[72]  Catharsis sessions and punishment continued.[73]  Most importantly, the social isolation of Jones’ congregation was complete.  Jones interpreted news and world events, reading them to the inhabitants as they worked, and coached Temple members when they communicated with their relatives in the United States.[74]  Jonestown was physically isolated and difficult to get to; after getting to the Port Kaituma region, visitors had to traverse the muddy road to Jonestown, and every visitor had to announce their intentions to visit in advance.[75]  When government officials or relatives of Jonestown inhabitants did visit the mission, the entire community was required to put on an elaborate show that accentuated the positives of Jonestown and adamantly denied the claims that people were being prevented from leaving the mission.[76]

In late 1978 congressman Leo Ryan, representing California’s San Mateo County, led a congressional delegation to Jonestown to assess the freedom of Peoples Temple members for himself and, if necessary, assist anyone who wanted to leave in doing so.[77]  While Jones had been able to convince other visitors to his Guyanese refuge that the mission was a haven rather than a prison, the Ryan delegation was treated with extreme seriousness and apprehension by the inner circle at Jonestown.  One of the major reasons for this caution and fear was that this was the first delegation to visit Jonestown that was comprised of all three of the people groups Jones feared most, namely American government officials, the press, and a group founded by Temple defectors and people who had loved ones in the Temple called the Concerned Relatives. Ryan took press members from San Francisco’s Examiner and Chronicle, theWashington Post, and NBC, in addition to a freelance reporter.[78]  Thirteen Concerned Relatives joined them.[79]  Each group hoped that the other would provide them an “entry ticket” into Jonestown.

The Ryan delegation arrived in Guyana on November 15, and after repeated attempts to stall the visit, Jones agreed to a trip to Jonestown on November 17.[80]  The visit that day went well – Ryan and the press were generally impressed and the residents of Jonestown showed few signs of being mistreated or imprisoned.[81]  However, when the Ryan delegation returned the next day fifteen residents expressed the desire to leave with the congressman.[82]  In the late afternoon, amidst growing tension and uneasiness the Ryan delegation, with the defectors, left for Port Kaituma where two planes would take them back to Georgetown.

While the party was boarding the planes Temple gunman arrived at the Port Kaituma airstrip and opened fire, killing Ryan, three members of the press and one defector, and wounding at least ten other members of the departing group.[83]

Simultaneously, Jones was preparing the residents of Jonestown for a final “White Night”, the term used for the suicide drills practiced with increasing frequency in Jonestown whenever Jones felt besieged by his American “enemies”.  He explained that Temple members had gone after the Ryan party without his orders, and were going to shoot down the planes in midair, killing all aboard.[84]  The American government would respond harshly; the only way to prevent hostile forces from torturing and killing the children and seniors in the certain invasion of Jonestown – which never occurred – was to commit “revolutionary suicide”.[85]  While Jones urged them on, more than 900 members of Peoples Temple, including Jones and most of his aides, either killed themselves or were victims of murder in the holocaust that defined the end of Peoples Temple. [86]

The history of Peoples Temple after Jonestown is brief.  Although the suicide order was transmitted via radio to the Temple’s headquarters in Georgetown and the Temple building in San Francisco, only four people out of the several dozen Temple members present in Georgetown heeded the instructions, and no Temple members living in the United States died that November night.[87]  The American government, after receiving news of the airstrip massacre and Jonestown suicides, initiated a multi-million dollar death-lift to return the bodies to the United Sates that lasted until November 26, 1978.[88]  The Temple in the United States immediately disbanded, selling off its properties in order to pay legal fees incurred by the mass murder-suicides and ending a movement that spanned two decades.

“Capitalism’s Casualties”:  What People Were Saved From

The story of Peoples Temple has been interpreted through the lenses of African American, religious, and American history.  To these the interpretive framework of Christian doctrine can be added to further aid in constructing a coherent understanding of Peoples Temple.  As a movement that originated from the Christian church, the Temple inherently retained points of continuity with Christianity.  It is through the doctrine of salvation and new humanity in Christ that some of this continuity can be seen.

Daniel L. Migliore explains that, in Christianity, salvation is the “fulfillment of life in relationship with God and others.  It includes rescue from the bondage of sin and evil, forgiveness and healing, renewal of life, and reconciliation with God, with neighbors and enemies, one’s self, and the natural world..[it is ] fulfillment of life in perfect and everlasting communion with God and our fellow creatures.”[89] Peoples Temple operated on the principle of salvation, and through this many of their actions and decisions are best understood.  The clearest type of salvation experienced by the Americans who joined Peoples Temple is found in what they were saved from, as one of the main ways Jones drew people to his congregation was in pointing out the “sins” or errors of American society.  In one sermon, Jones explained that “people only make heavens, because this is so much a hell, they can’t stand to look at this place.”[90]  The only reason for forming a community united in faith or religion, Jones in essence argued, was as a reaction to something undesirable.  This parallels Christianity, where the fulfillment of life begins with the affirmation that rescue is necessary from sin and evil. The only way Jones could offer salvation to those who joined his social, political, and religious movement was to first identify what it was those people needed to be saved from.  Joining the Temple offered the promise of salvation from three major categories: social collapse and social injustice caused by capitalism, inactive and errant Christianity, and obscurity in life.  While these three broad categories overlap, and while each in turn was prominent in Temple recruiting and focus, for the sake of coherency they will be examined individually.

The potential for social collapse as a result of nuclear war between American capitalists and the socialists of the world was one situation Jones offered salvation from. Fueled by the Cold War, Jones played on peoples’ fear of a nuclear battle between the United States and the Soviet Union and the annihilation that would occur.  While salvation from a nuclear holocaust faded from the forefront of Jones’ message in the late 1970s, Bonnie Thielmann believes that Jones was, at least for a time, truly frightened of the world’s superpowers’ potential to destroy society.  She explains that while in Brazil Jones spoke of “how important it was to find a place to hide from the nuclear holocaust that was sure to come.”[91]  She also clarifies that Jones’ presence in South America was not just to find a personal refuge for himself and his family, but for his entire congregation.[92]

Jeannie Mills, who along with her family attended Peoples Temple from 1969 to 1975, recounts a 1969 sermon in which Jones promised salvation from a nuclear attack: “we have gathered in Redwood Valley for protection, and after the war is over we will be the only survivors.”[93]  Mills recalls that “he was the first person I had heard who seemed to have a message of salvation from the bomb that I had been fearing for almost twenty years.”[94]  Interestingly, for all of his ties to socialism and condemnation of capitalist America, Jones’ offer of salvation from a nuclear holocaust was a blanket promise; he did not differentiate between a Soviet-initiated conflict and an American-initiated conflict.

The people who joined Jones’ Peoples Temple were also saved from social injustice and racism in capitalist America.  The defining characteristic of Peoples Temple throughout its history was its racially-mixed congregation.  Jones first opened the Temple in Indianapolis on the premise that a union between black and white worshippers was not only possible but attractive to many Christians who currently worshipped in “separated” churches.  This racial harmony persisted until the end of Peoples Temple; Rebecca Moore’s demographic survey of the Temple reveals that more than two thirds of Jonestown settlers were black.[95]  Jones took every opportunity to implicitly or explicitly bring up racism in his speaking, painting a very bleak picture for blacks in America.  In answer to a congregant’s question regarding divisions in society based on class, Jones explained that “race is developed because the rich want someone to do their slave work.”[96]  He linked victimization through racism with subservience, offering equality to those he said were being used by whites.  He identified with the blacks and their downtrodden status, calling himself a “nigger” and telling the white members of his congregation that “some of you whites are just as much of a nigger as I am.”[97]

This focus on racism spilled over to include concern, acceptance, and advocacy for the other minority groups found in America.  Jones seemed shocked by how complacent so many in his congregation were, blaming their blind and uncritical faith in their previous religious experiences as the reason they did not believe the message of oppression at the hands of capitalism that he preached.[98]  Jones confided to his audience that concentration camps were being built in the United States to hold any who protested against the racial structuring of society by which blacks were oppressed by whites, warning them that Christianity had blinded them against this truth:  “they’re gonna put us in hell while we’re looking for silver streets.”[99]  When reading the news to the settlers of Jonestown, Jones would remind them of the racism they were being saved from by including reports of crimes committed against minority groups.[100]

Racism was blamed by the Temple on capitalism, the great root of social injustice according to Jones.  He warned that the price of capitalism was pollution, hate, social stratification, and inequality.  America, in the eyes of the Temple, was a failed society when in the hands of capitalists, proven by the presence of poverty and hate. Jones explicitly stated the Temple’s position, saying that “our [the Temple’s] enemy, the devil, is capitalism.”[101] Jones’ message offered to save people from the hate and inequality of capitalist America in much the same way as the message of Christian ministers offers to save people from their sins and the world.

Thus, the building of a remote jungle settlement and the giving of money, possessions, and property to the Temple are not bizarre or ununderstandable.  They merely reflect the social injustices attributed to capitalism that joining Peoples Temple offered salvation from.

A second category Peoples Temple offered salvation from was an inactive and errant Christianity.  This is noticeable in the Temple’s earliest days in Indianapolis.  The Temple was interested not so much in proselytizing to unbelievers; rather it sought to convert people who already attended church.[102]  White, when interviewing Temple defectors in 1978, observed that all the people he interviewed had been exposed to Christianity as children and had, in many cases, taken active roles in their churches.[103]

Jones attacked the Bible to show the failings of American Christian churches. He told those who attended his meetings that the Bible was full of errors and contradictions and that it condoned and promoted evil practices.  He explained that the Bible should not be the primary informant on how to live a “right” life because it could not even save itself from obvious errors.  Differences, additions, omissions, and outright contradictions pointed out by Jones in the New Testaments’ recounting of the life of Jesus all revealed the Bible to contain erroneous information.  Peoples Temple offered salvation from having to base one’s life around a book that was claimed to contain nothing but life-giving truth, but was actually errant.[104]

The Bible was not seen as the Word of God by Jones; he offered to save people from an ignorance of the true Word of God by explaining the actual inspirations for the Bible.  He stated in an early 1970s Los Angeles service that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  The word of God’s not written, it didn’t say faith cometh by reading, it says faith cometh by hearing.”[105]  The true Word of God was not contained in the Bible, but rather in the words of a preacher sent by God.  Jones explained that the King James Version of the Bible – his most popular choice of translation – did not accurately render the original text into English; rather, it reflected the power structure of King James’ day.  In the same Los Angeles sermon he pointed out that King James was a slave owner and thus the New Testament commanded slaves to obey their masters.[106] This underscored the disconnect between the Bible’s command and the horrified attitude American Christians would have had toward anyone claiming to own slaves in a 1970s church. In another sermon he explained that King James had modeled biblical characters after his own life and reign:  “that’s why we have the King James description of. the Bible God.  That’s why we got this God that hated, the God of jealousy, the God that had slaves, because somebody made God in their image.”[107] This God, either ignorant or apathetic to human suffering, was far removed from the human condition and was thus dubbed a “Sky God”.[108]

Moreover, Jones offered salvation from the fear the errant Bible exercised over people.  Both Thielmann and Mills show this fear when recalling their shock that Jones was not smote in some supernatural fashion when he hurled out the challenge, “If there’s a God up there, —- you God!”[109]  Mills further recalls that on her first visit to the Redwood Valley Temple she did not notice anyone in the congregation holding Bibles to verify Jones’ quotation of Scripture.[110]

As the inheritors of an errant set of guidelines for living and a tradition that consolidated the authority of those in power, the Christian church was seen by the Temple as equally errant from “true” Christianity and ineffectual for leading to “true” salvation.  Jones told his congregation that “there’re very few people that’re saved.  They talk about being born again.  I haven’t seen anybody born again in these Baptist or Pentecostal churches.  They’re not new creatures.. I’ve seen nothing new in the church.”[111]  He critiqued Christian churches by claiming that those who attended them apparently did not need to alter their lifestyles, unmasking their hypocrisy and marveling that “they’re [Christians are] the worst racists, they’re the worst bigots, they’re the most selfish. they talk about being born again, but they’re the same old devil they were when they were in the tavern.”[112]

In the eyes of Jones, living a Christian life in an American church did not require any effort.  Christianity in America was composed of and required words alone, instead of the deeds and actions that characterized “true” faith and commitment.  As a consequence of this, or perhaps as further proof, the Christian churches of America practiced a religion that did not achieve visible results and therefore, according to Jones’ interpretation of “true” Christianity, was faulty.  Peoples Temple offered salvation from the fundamentally flawed atmosphere of both Protestant and Catholic churches in America, as well as salvation from the hypocritical teachings of pastors whose own lives did not exemplify what they preached from their Sunday morning pulpits.  Membership in Peoples Temple and the instruction of its leader saved people from being forced to follow faith traditions that hindered, or ignored, the potential for change held within Christian theory and practice that seemed so desperately needed amongst the downtrodden in American cities.

Along these same lines, Peoples Temple saved people from not knowing how to act when they did wish to bring about change.  Joining the Temple eliminated the need of having to try and find a meaningful way to address issues of poverty, racial segregation, corruption and moral bankruptcy in American society’s leadership. Moreover, this salvation maximized the positive outcome of such desire to do good; the positive results of Temple-run community outreach initiatives surpassed what any individual could hope to accomplish alone.[113]

The third category that Peoples Temple offered salvation to its members from was obscurity.  While the racial attitudes of the 1960s may well have led many members of Jones’ congregation to be inconspicuous, most human beings do not want to live a life that will be forgotten.  Peoples Temple offered this salvation based on the idea of safety in numbers; if enough sympathetic individuals joined together, and especially if some of those individuals were praised by prominent California politicians, their views would be given more credibility and showcased more broadly.

This type of salvation is cyclical when considering the demographics of the Temple.  By offering the potential of being part of a movement that affected real social, cultural, and political change Jones attracted those who would either benefit from this change – the downtrodden of society – or who could not affect this change in their current lives – the ineffective or unsure.[114]  Once these people had been drawn in, they could in turn be enlisted to draw in more people in similar situations.

To further extrapolate on the use of demographics to explain this salvation from obscurity, the seniors in Peoples Temple need to be considered.  While many elderly people came to Temple services because of Jones’ ability to heal or revive – theoretically the aged or infirm could continually be healed of their maladies and not pass away – they also came to be valued and respected.  The Temple prided itself on being able to claim that it treated the elderly with dignity and love.  In Jones’ eyes the elderly of society were put out of mind by physicians and families as soon as they went into retirement or nursing homes; their worth plummeted as they grew in age.  Hence the elderly were left to slip into obscurity in their ever-failing and unloved state, their social security checks one of the few indicators that they were remembered by America.

The theme of remembrance as opposed to obscurity runs deep throughout the rhetoric of Peoples Temple.  Phil Kerns recalls his first visit to Peoples Temple in 1967, where Jones spoke the eerily prophetic lines “They’ll speak about us for years to come. These are historic days..Isn’t it exciting to be a part of this?”[115]  Jeannie Mills’ conclusion that Jones planned to start up his ministry with his accumulated money and his core aides again after the deaths of his followers in Jonestown rests partially on her statement that “his insane desire to be remembered well in history would have caused him to destroy everything before he died”.[116]  Charles Garry and Mark Lane, Jones’ two lawyers during his later years, escaped from Jonestown on November 18, 1978 by appealing to this issue of remembrance, telling their guards “Charles and I [Lane] will write your story.”[117]

Peoples Temple existed to offer salvation from the failures of capitalism, the corruption and inaction in the church, and living in obscurity without purpose or worth. Much of Jones’ preaching revolved around identifying the aspects of American society that he offered shelter from, as well as identifying their causes.  The appeal to a lifestyle of apostolic socialism combated racial inequality, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and the capitalist system that fostered it.  The protests and letter-writing campaigns that Temple members participated in quelled the disappointment of obscurity.  The reading of world news and incessant lecturing over the loudspeakers of Jonestown attacked the complacency and ignorance fostered in American churches.  All of the Temple’s actions pointed out the things Americans needed to be saved from, offering itself as a vessel containing this salvation.

Muhammad Isaiah Kenyatta’s essay, “America Was Not Hard to Find,” draws parallels between the existence of Peoples Temple in post-Vietnam America and the current outreach attempts of Christian churches founded in the hopes of following Jesus’ command to “tend my sheep.”[118]  Specifically, he reminds his readers that these attempts “recommend themselves to us as creative models of sheep-feeding in the context of current social realities.”[119]  He affirms the manner in which the Temple attracted new members – by offering salvation from America – by accusing the American public of being exactly what Peoples Temple found it to be, namely a hostile and inhospitable environment, writing that “we too have found America.  And we are it.  We are its sustainers and sufferers, its victims and executioners.”[120]  Jim Jones was an opportunist whose ambitions were planted and grown in the fertile soil of 1950s and 1960s American social and religious issues.  His Peoples Temple existed because there were social, religious, cultural, and political conditions that he believed people wanted to be saved from; the Temple merely pointed these conditions out and offered an alternative approach to eliminating the wrongs of society, relying less on government initiates such as Johnson’s Great Society than on its own often underestimated abilities.[121] This approach makes sense in light of a statement by David Chidester, who observes that “religion arises in response to human limit situations.”[122]  Jones and his aides believed that America was reaching, if it had not already reached, its limit in terms of inequality and hatred and thus Peoples Temple was born.

“The Faces of a Thousand Angels”:  What People Were Saved Into

Logically, if the process of salvation begins with an act of rescue some alternative lifestyle or community must be offered.  In the case of Christianity, this alternative community is the Church, or “body of Christ”.[123]  Migliore explains that “to be in Christ is to enter into an inclusive family where all are brothers and sisters and there are no more damaging hierarchical orderings.”[124]  This understanding comes from the New Testament book of Galatians, which promises that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female.”[125]

Peoples Temple was billed as just such a family, where blacks and whites, rich and poor, and lawyers and criminals gathered as equals.   However, unlike the church, it was only selectively inclusive.  Peoples Temple was unquestionably a separate entity from the rest of society in its final year, but already in the early 1960s the Temple strove to create a community that was closed off from the watching eyes of America.  This community operated according to a unique set of principles and rules, complete with its own customs and rituals.  Thus while not all were accepted, understanding the community those who were accepted entered into enhances the understanding of Peoples Temple as a purveyor of salvation and helps to lay the groundwork for the next important use of salvation language when thinking about Peoples Temple.

Chidester writes that Peoples Temple was “animated by a particular religious worldview”, concisely alluding to the obvious yet often overlooked fact that Jones’ movement was a community that existed in a specific time and place.[126]  The previous discussion of the prejudices and shortcomings of American society will in this case have to suffice as an explanation of this time period and place in favor of examining some more specific aspects of the Temple community that formed the nucleus of their identity. Several qualifications can be seen when looking at Peoples Temple as a community of people rather than an institution of twentieth century America.  The Temple was first and foremost a secretive and separated community.  It was a demanding community in which loyalty and punishment played an enormous role.  The Temple saw itself as a persecuted community.  Finally, the Temple community was a pioneer group whose life together anticipated a movement towards an unknown life of harmony.  While not exhaustive, these four observations together form a good representation of the community into which members were saved.

When a person joined Peoples Temple, they joined a community that demanded separation rather than conformity to the ways of American society.  Reiterman describes Peoples Temple as “a nation unto itself.  It could claim its own president for life, its own unique mix of people, its own institutions, its creeds and liturgy, its dietary and sexual practices, its justice and educational systems.”[127]  Hall notes that “once within the Temple’s gates, people became immersed in a comprehensive culture with a distinctive worldview that could frame new interpretations of experiences in the ‘outer’ world,” emphasizing the line of demarcation between the “inner” and “outer” world in Temple doctrine.[128]  While the Temple interacted with the outer world, or everything not directly under Jones’ control, through community aid or political involvement, Jones tried to prohibit the ideas propagated by capitalism from reaching the ears of his congregants, in the inner world, without guiding commentary from himself.  In doing so he emphasized the mutual exclusiveness of the inner and outer worlds.

As Peoples Temple practiced communalism it was easy to separate Temple members in terms of living arrangements.  Members lived together in houses owned by the Temple, the elderly lived in nursing homes provided or supported by the Temple, and members attending university lived together in communal dormitories.  Eventually more than one thousand Temple members lived together in Jonestown, built in relative isolation.  Thus the Temple’s walls extended, in a manner of speaking, far beyond the actual Temple building to separate the community’s living arrangements from the rest of society.

Separation from outside relationships and ideas was also a part of Peoples Temple.  Temple children were told not to play with other children at school; in Redwood Valley Jones took a teaching position and soon filled his classroom with Temple members.[129]  In California, Temple children played, ate, and walked home together from school; bringing home a non-member friend from class was deemed, in the words of Reiterman, “a breach of security.”[130]  The disproportionate number of Temple-sponsored students attending Opportunity II High School in San Francisco – a school for adolescents who could not or did not want to keep up in other city schools – eventually became noticeable enough that authorities began to wonder if Jones had deliberately filled the school with Temple children.[131]

Prohibition of unnecessary communication with family members was another method of separation used by Jones.  In a May 1978 petition to the United States Secretary of State, the Concerned Relatives alleged that Peoples Temple staff at Jonestown enforced “the prohibition of long distance telephone calls to the United States and all other forms of free communication,” as well as “the censoring of all incoming and outgoing mail,” effectively cutting off communication between Temple members and their extended families or friends.[132]  Yulanda Crawford, a Temple defector who left Jonestown in 1977, further explained in an affidavit that “Jim Jones ordered all of us to break our ties with families.”[133]  It is important to note that this type of separation was not necessarily consensual, suggesting that the separate and segregated nature of Peoples Temple reflected the will or suited the agenda of those in charge more than it reflected the preference of the congregation.

This type of separation brought about a distinctly “hidden” lifestyle.  Jones rightly believed that his controversial speaking against capitalism and religion in America would not be received favorably, and thus had to insulate himself and his message.  This was done through advocacy of separation and segregation; a rhetoric of piousness and revolutionary faith achieved through segregation from the outer world masked Jones’ true purpose of avoiding controversial confrontations or legal action. Reiterman’s work affirms this; he explains the lack of opposition to Jones in the mid-1970s by asking “how could anyone speak against such a secretive organization with any certainty?”[134]

This true objective in no way diminishes the validity of the statement that Peoples Temple saw itself as a separated community.  In theory, doctrine, and practice they were separated from Protestant and Catholic congregations.  In lifestyle they strove to be segregated from the capitalism that Jones claimed would destroy the Western world.

A second characteristic of Peoples Temple is that it was a community that was demanding.  Concepts of loyalty and communal punishment motivated the actions of many Temple members, who were expected to be loyal to “the cause” for the duration of their life.  Having friends outside the Temple and holding back money or property from Temple collections was seen as both selfish and disloyal.[135]  Two reasons for subscribing to such loyalty are apparent.  The first reason involves the demographics of the Temple; it can reasonably be assumed that persecuted minorities are likely to band together in solidarity and loyalty with one another.  The second reason can be tied to self-preservation:  if one was loyal to the cause they were within Jones’ protective care. Jones professed to safeguard his congregants through intervention in otherwise tragic situations with his divine powers.  Members could purchase prayer cloths or pictures of Jones that would, it was explained, protect or heal those who meditated on them.[136] More substantially, members could appeal to Jones and the Temple for counseling, career help, shelter, food, or asylum.  Failure to show loyalty meant that one was not dedicated enough, or did not have enough faith in “Father”, and thus risked being rejected and left at the mercy of the social injustices the Temple sought to combat.[137]

Communal punishment, or “catharsis sessions”, was the primary form of correction for disloyalty or incorrect behavior utilized by the Temple.  Just as the Christian church rebukes those who sin, the Temple disciplined those who went against Jones’ teachings and broke either spoken or unspoken rules.  Punishment can be linked to loyalty when explaining how people were selected for punishment.  Simply put, Temple members were asked to carefully monitor the conversations and actions of their friends and family members and report any inappropriate behavior to Temple aides.  Hall explains the acceptance of this elaborate setting of lay supervision in the Temple by surmising that it closely resembles gifts of the Holy Spirit in Christianity, thus “the lines between surveillance and discernment, threats and prophecy, would be hard to draw.”[138]  Children were brought forth for punishment for lying, making fun of others, or attacking others.[139]  Common adult misdemeanors included lifestyle choices such as drinking or smoking, character flaws such as laziness or vanity, and failing to attend services or not participating in enough Temple-driven events.[140]

0While frowning upon sin may not be particularly defining within the milieu of Christian churches, the method of dealing with transgressors stands out and compliments the demanding nature of Jones and Peoples Temple.  The Temple community practiced public catharsis rather than private punishment.  This catharsis initially took the form of verbal attacks in which the offender was brought before a gathering of Planning Commission members and friends or family members, and then subjected to ridicule and verbal abuse.[141]  As the Temple grew and demanded more from its members Jones began employing physical punishment, again carried out at meetings, to punish any offending members.  People were paddled, shocked with cattle prods, made to fight unfair “boxing” matches, or forced to partake in some activity with which they fundamentally disagreed.[142]  Sexual misdemeanors were often punished by making offenders engage in demeaning or undesirable sexual encounters before the congregation.[143] Public catharsis continued in Guyana, where those who voiced dissenting opinions were punished with solitary confinement, hard labour, or group humiliation.[144]

The pain of being humiliated publicly was intensified by being humiliated by those whom the offender trusted most – their families or confidants – and bred paranoia and caution amongst the congregation.  By being punished in front of the congregation, and by being further humiliated in being forced to thank “Father Jim” after punishment was complete, the individual was truly broken by Temple doctrine and discipline.  Their friends and family, as well as Temple leadership, knew not just their crimes but also the individual’s validation of those crimes by submitting to punishment and thanking the church for intervention and behavioral correction.  Additionally, public punishment latently implicated the whole congregation as the punishers, diminishing the chance of news of beatings leaking out.  Ironically, the Concerned Relatives employed similar tactics when accusing Jones of brutality and mind-control.  An accusation of human rights violations sent to Jonestown by the Concerned Relatives in April 1978 explains in pained terms that “we have no choice as responsible people but to make this pubic accusation and to demand the immediate elimination of these outrageous abuses.”[145] The Concerned Relatives, just like Jones, realized the power of public condemnation and its usefulness in bringing about reform.

A third classification and characteristic of the Peoples Temple community was their identity as a persecuted group.  This descriptor mirrors salvation into new humanity with Christ, as living in solidarity with Christ is an action that often arouses “opposition and perhaps even persecution from those who see the movement toward solidarity as a deadly threat.”[146] With ever-growing urgency Jones told his followers that they were either entering a period of persecution or in the midst of persecution at the hands of their enemies.  This ever-escalating mentality, confirmed by events such as Kinsolving andNew West’s attempted exposés and Ryan’s visit to Jonestown, led the community to act in an ever-increasingly fanatical manner.

It is imperative to this particular observation to understand that while much of the Temple’s paranoia was unfounded – and in some cases unrealistic – an examination of certain events and interactions concerning Peoples Temple explains how the congregation, and Jones, justified their persecuted status.  When the Temple moved to California it began to experience visible persecution; dead animals were found on the Temple lawn, windows were broken, members were ridiculed, and multiple assassination attempts targeted Jones.[147]  While most Peoples Temple scholars point out that at least some – if not most – of this persecution was staged at Jones’ direction to breed a persecuted mentality, it is more pertinent in this case to affirm that these actions, staged or not, provided the Temple with fuel to fire their identity as a group under attack.

The inception of the Concerned Relatives and defection of members, negative press coverage, and government interest added to the community’s identity as a persecuted group.  When the “Eight Revolutionaries” defected from Peoples Temple in 1973, Jones called emergency meetings to denounce them as “Trotskyite adventurists”, “Coca-Cola Revolutionaries”, and “terrorists”.[148]  He implied that defectors were ultra-revolutionary zealots who were dangerous to society and to the group they had left.[149]  There is some truth to Jones’ teaching in this regard, as John Peer Nugent mentions when talking about cult defectors.  He explains that those who defected from Peoples Temple defected from a zealous and revolutionary movement; a defector’s zeal did not necessarily cease immediately, and this gusto for change, combined with their knowledge of Temple infrastructure and practices, had the potential to do great damage to the Temple’s image.[150]  While this reversed obsession with Peoples Temple initially hurt the Concerned Relatives’ believability, their desire to get their families and friends out of the church caused anguish, perceived as persecution, to Jones.[151]

Any unwanted or uncontrolled press coverage was seen as persecution or as an attack on the humanitarian efforts of the Temple.  Jones flirted with the media, sometimes donating money to various newspapers and sending letters of congratulations to any news media who wrote stories that were in line with Temple doctrine.[152]  In 1976, Jones bused one thousand Temple members to Fresno, California to protest the jailing of four newspapermen who refused to reveal their sources, defending First Amendment rights in the public eye.[153]  Jones’ dislike of the media was cemented in 1972, Kilduff and Javers allege, when Kinsolving’s attempted exposé was published.[154]  Reiterman explains that in the wake following Kinsolving’s articles “the Temple simultaneously went after Kinsolving and promoted its own image as an advocate of press freedom,” a tactic that would work well for the next half decade.[155]

Government interest in Peoples Temple provoked members to see themselves as persecuted.  In light of Jones’ teaching this makes sense; in one sermon he referred to the United States as an “old rotten stench-ridden racist. garment” immediately after instructing his followers to “wear everything you’ve got as a loose garment”.[156]  As figureheads of a government that was supposedly constructing concentration camps for blacks and partakers in an “old” and “rotten” form of governance, congressmen and many politicians were viewed as the enemy.  Therefore, whenever the American government showed any interest in Peoples Temple or Jonestown, it was interpreted as hostile interest.

This attitude towards the government became more pronounced when the exodus to South America occurred.  A little more than a year before the end of Peoples Temple, the settlers at Jonestown were told that a custody battle between Jones and defectors Tim and Grace Stoen had resulted in an impending armed attack on Jonestown.[157]  This state of fictional siege, where members were forced to stand on alert and defend their agricultural settlement from American and Guyanese forces if necessary, lasted for six days.[158]  With each visit to Jonestown from the American embassy in Georgetown, Jones became more convinced of persecution.  During the final White Night, Jones rationalized the decision to commit revolutionary suicide by explaining that “they’ll [hostile forces will] parachute in here on us.”[159]  He explained that the death of Peoples Temple would be a final strike against the enemy, telling his dying followers that “they’ll pay for this.  They brought this upon us and they’ll pay for that.”[160]

Thus Peoples Temple can be described in terms of a persecuted community. Their liberal and unorthodox methods and ideas caused more conservative and less progressive parties to sometimes respond in what the Temple perceived as a hostile manner.  In some cases the persecution was imagined, in other cases it was created by the Temple, and in yet other instances the congregation really was victimized.

A fourth characteristic of the community Jones offered salvation into was its pioneer mentality.  The definition of a pioneer as someone beginning a new life in unfamiliar territory relying predominantly on their own strength and resources perfectly fits the initial settlers of Jonestown.  Those who travelled to South America to begin clearing land and erecting structures in the Guyanese jungle in early 1974 were faced with the task of preparing a home for hundreds of others. These workers had neither immediate personal contact with the stateside Temple nor experience of Temple life without the supervision of Jones, let alone surviving in the South American jungle. They knew only that the mission they were building would be, in Reiterman’s words, “the place where Jones would make a fresh start, abandon the mistakes and deceptions of the past and be free to live openly the true socialist principles of the church.”[161] They were further disadvantaged by Jones’ misrepresentation of the land; he referred to it as the “promised land” but in reality, as Charlie Touchette told an early visitor to Jonestown, “you could go into the jungle and starve.”[162]  Yet the praise for the completed settlement was a testament to the pioneering spirit of Peoples Temple:  the Guyanese ministers of foreign affairs, education, and agriculture all showed interest and were impressed with the site.[163]

But beyond the agricultural mission, Peoples Temple members were pioneers in a more self-proclaimed than actual sense.  While the sensation their religious and humanitarian efforts caused in both Indiana and California could be used to defend their position of leading a new foray into social justice, it must be balanced by the other American movements at the time that Peoples Temple mimicked or emulated.  The vigilantism and autonomy of the Black Panthers, and more distantly the left-wing militant actions of the Red Brigades, co-existed with Peoples Temple and gave Jones ideas for how to articulate his particular brand of apostolic socialism.  The religious trappings of Peace Mission, which predated the rise of Jones’ movement by several decades, were modeled by Peoples Temple rather than created by them.  Nonetheless, the Temple community saw itself as a group of revolutionary pioneers who were moving into unknown, and potentially dangerous, political and social territory.

This pioneer mentality is echoed in Christian theology, as Jesus has been described as “the great pioneer of a new humanity” whose death on the cross precipitated a movement to life with God in eternity.[164]  Similarly, by distancing themselves from the other Christians and other revolutionaries of 1960s and 1970s America, Peoples Temple moved towards a racial harmony in religion and life which had not been widely achieved.  Furthermore, the lack of a concrete or discernable end to Peoples Temple gave the community a sense of pioneering.  While revolutionary suicide was eventually settled upon as the “gallant, glorious end” of Peoples Temple, authors such as Nugent and defectors Kerns and  Mills defend theories that the White Night of November 18 was not to be the end of Peoples Temple, leaving the possibility of any number of different scenarios following Ryan’s visit.[165]  If true, the multiplicity of these scenarios would have obscured the “end” of the Temple community’s journey, contributing to a sense of pioneering.

These four elements form the nucleus of the characteristics of the community Temple members were saved into.  This community, as has been shown, was seen in two rather different ways.  The first was the way in which the “outer” people and institutions surrounding Peoples Temple saw them.  This perception was heavily influenced by the Temple’s characteristics of secrecy, loyalty, and control.  Jones and his aides went to great lengths to surround the Temple with a pre-selected aura that they controlled; thus, exposés and confessions of defectors were seen as dangerous threats. The second way Peoples Temple was seen was the way in which the Temple community saw itself.  Their status as “apart” from America, an accountability to the larger body, suffering through persecution, and the new and autonomous pioneer lifestyle they lived were not defining factors imposed by the outside, but rather were propagated and cultivated by Temple leadership.

In using the Christian interpretive framework of salvation and looking at what type of community Temple members were saved into one is able to formulate a clearer picture of the goals and aims of Peoples Temple and the way that the image of the Temple helped to achieve these goals.  This particular aspect of salvation also helps explain the actions of Peoples Temple.  By identifying how the community viewed itself and the world, one can more adequately explain the path that Jones and his congregation followed from formation to success to destruction.

“Lift Us Up Out of Our Misery”:  What People Were Saved By

Now that the reasons for the existence of Peoples Temple, as well as some defining characteristics of its community, have been explained in light of the Christian idea of salvation, it is possible to address the question of exactly what Temple members were saved by or through.

The first step in Christian salvation is justification, which Migliore describes as “God’s gracious forgiveness of sins received by faith alone.”[166]  Justification emphasizes the fact that this forgiveness is “free, unconditional, and unmerited” and that it is received solely through faith.[167] Thus, although Christians are called to live in a certain way once they have been saved there is no way any human work or effort can be substituted for God’s grace as a catalyst for salvation.  The distinction between works and grace in regard to how human beings are saved plays a very important role in understanding how salvation was achieved in Peoples Temple.

The concept of grace, as a self-sacrificial act extended to undeserving individuals, is evident in Peoples Temple doctrine, yet in the Temple it was grudgingly rather than freely given.  Jones harangued his congregation frequently about the sacrifices he personally had to make for the good of the group.  Jones attributed his perseverance – despite attempts on his life, tiring counseling and decision-making, and preaching tours of California – to his grace, adding that he was exchanging his personal health for the salvation of America’s disillusioned and minority groups who were slow to respond.  The almost inhuman amount of work that Jones had to accomplish in order to keep the Temple operating resulted in an increasing dependency on medication and drugs; shortly after moving to California it is reported that Jones began taking amphetamines to make up for his lack of sleep.[168]  Jones’ wife once reprimanded the Temple congregation for not showing proper respect to their overworked Father, warning them that “life would be so much easier for him if he would put himself up on a pedestal and stay out of your way”, in essence setting himself up as another ineffectual yet content Sky God.[169]    Reiterman describes the leader of Peoples Temple during his visit to Jonestown in November 1978 as a “shrunken man. [with] an involuntarily feeble handshake.”[170]  Nugent remarks, with some amazement, that despite his mental and physical deterioration in Jonestown, the Temple’s leader still “had the fervor and imagination to destroy all free thought and will.”[171]

Jones’ contributions to the cause, while they can be balanced by the numerous concessions and privileges he enjoyed, were obvious.  Yet the attitude they were made with can hardly be called graceful.  There was an almost threatening aspect to Jones’ “grace”, as he was quick to point out that without him people would have nothing.  In one Los Angeles gathering Jones flew into a rage when a congregant tried to leave, combining threat with truth by shouting “by golly, I may not ever come back to this stinkin’ hole.  Where’re you going?  You got no place to go.”[172]  Furthermore, he expected his congregation to give almost everything to the cause, just as he gave almost everything.  Thus salvation in Peoples Temple was not given through the grace of Jim Jones happily, it was given more grudgingly than willingly.

In Peoples Temple the Sky God of Christianity was not seen as a being that could save anyone through grace.  The Sky God was, first and foremost, the deity that created pain, hate, and inequality, and who further condoned it by accepting the worship of Christians who inflicted pain or segregation on the downtrodden.[173]  Thus, secondly, the Sky God either could not or would not save Temple members from the evils of America.  Chideseter, in his treatment of superhuman beings as viewed by Peoples Temple, supports this idea by concluding that “the Sky God was ultimately useless for human salvation, liberation, or deliverance from real suffering.”[174]

Therefore, grace can be eliminated as the primary vehicle of salvation by which people were saved in Peoples Temple in light of Christianity, as Jones’ “grace” was not freely given.  A second method of salvation, which moves in the direction of works rather than grace, is salvation by participating in ritual.  In the Christian church, rituals point to salvation in that they “help engender. [a post-salvation] way of thinking, feeling, and living.”[175]  “If they do not serve this purpose”, Migliore explains, “they are empty religious rites.”[176] Like Christian institutions, Peoples Temple had rituals such as communion and baptism, albeit in different forms than churches it coexisted with.[177] More strikingly, the increasingly frequent White Night suicide rituals practiced in times of crisis in Guyana was a ritual practiced devoutly by Jones and his followers.  In fact, it is this particular ritual that Chidester bases his interpretation of salvation in Peoples Temple upon; he views the Temple members’ participation in November 18’s White Night as their ultimate assertion that they had in fact progressed from the subhuman status designated to them by America to “proud, black socialists.”[178]

However, one should be hesitant identifying ritual as the primary method by which people were saved in Peoples Temple.  The use of ritual in the Temple was more for purposes of satisfaction and training than for salvation.  The Christian ritual sacraments practiced in the Temple were enacted to satisfy certain membership requirements of the Disciples of Christ, as well as to placate those congregation members who still held strongly to their previous Christian church experiences.[179]  The rituals of Peoples Temple that did not come from the Christian tradition, such as the White Nights, functioned as a form of coaching, control, and training of the minds and bodies of Temple members.  While it is unwise to fully dismiss ritual in Peoples Temple as a means by which people achieved salvation, it, like grace, should not be seen as the primary vehicle by which people were saved.

A third way in which it could be assumed people were saved was through the foreknowledge of Jones.[180]  The salvation offered by Jones’ proclaimed supernatural gift of prophecy and premonition was very tangible and could be felt immediately by those he healed or protected.  Yet this type of salvation is superficial compared to the salvation of one’s soul, and is further marred by the realization that being saved in this manner necessitates, almost compulsorily, worship of, or reciprocally-vested interest in, Jim Jones.  As the effects of this salvation were immediately and tangibly verifiable, the “repayment” for this saving act could be more forcefully requested; salvation promised and salvation realized demand two different approaches to thankfulness.

When one catalogues grace, ritual, and foreknowledge as only secondary means of salvation in Peoples Temple, one is left with two choices for what members of Peoples Temple were saved by:  works and belonging.  These two categories are interconnected and to some extent each requires the other to be totally effective.

Salvation by belonging was emphasized by the isolation of Temple members intellectually and relationally.  Jones painted an attractive picture of life in Peoples Temple to potential members, highlighting the ways in which Temple membership could save them from their particular societal discomforts.  Deborah Layton, a Temple member for seven years, recalls Jones using a mixture of sympathy, prophecy, promise, and guilt, telling her “your parents have never appreciated your immense warmth and sensitivity. Not once have they recognized or embraced your wonderful and loving spirit.  I want you to stay.  Join me and my family.”[181]  When she resisted joining, Jones began isolating Layton, setting himself up as a wise and empathetic figure by saying “I know all about you, I feel your hurt.. You have been misjudged and forgotten.  Your parents have committed a terrible injustice.. How could they have been so blind.”[182]  In this exchange one can see the inner logic of Jones’ argument:  first Jones isolated the individual from their life or family by highlighting negative aspects and then presented belonging in Peoples Temple as salvation from those negative aspects.

Salvation by belonging to Peoples Temple can also be explained in a literal sense.  As salvation in Christian faith is ultimately dependant on an omniscient God, the location or congregation in which one receives salvation is not necessarily important. Belonging to a church becomes important after one receives salvation.  Peoples Temple, however, reversed this importance.  Jones described the Temple building, or wherever he and his congregation met, as a locus of supernatural power or energy that allowed for healings and growth.  At one meeting Jones explained his ability to heal by saying “the power that’s in this state of consciousness or in this ordained place of God, whichever vernacular you choose to use, this point of contact was able to make that kind of a miracle.”[183]  Salvation and healing were only possible within the Temple and was achieved by belonging to the community.

It was one’s continuing contribution to Peoples Temple, socialism, and the alleviation of suffering in the surrounding world that best explains the method by which members of Jones’ movement were saved.  Salvation by works permeated the rhetoric of Jones throughout his twenty-five year term as leader of Peoples Temple and motivated many of his actions.  Temple members were saved from errant or mistaken American religion by working through Peoples Temple in the world.  While the Sky God sat dispassionately upon a pedestal, Jones and his congregation worked to help minority groups and the downtrodden.  Feeding the poor in soup kitchens was an outreach that Jones began in Indianapolis in 1960 and continued in California.[184]  Drug rehabilitation and counseling could be found in Peoples Temple, offered by caring individuals who were sometimes living examples of how addictions could be overcome with the help of Jones’ power.  Medical care was offered in a variety of forms in the Temple; when it could not be obtained in the Temple the church offered financial assistance.[185]

Salvation through works was also achieved through the myriad of roles people filled when they became Temple members.  Attendant, money handling, Planning Commission, music, administration, and public relations roles were all given to members.  Hard work and dedication, enacted through efficient and incessant labour within the Temple, were signs of socialistic salvation.  Acts of communalism, such as taking Temple members into one’s home or giving resources to the Temple, were also saving works.  Even scholarship amongst the young adults at university can be considered an act contributing to their salvation.[186]  In Jonestown everyone able to was expected to work, earning not only their salvation but also their “keep” at the mission.

Salvation was achieved in Peoples Temple primarily through hard, revolutionary work that came as a result of belonging within Jones’ socialistic aura of influence.  Thus, salvation was earned rather than gifted, a reversal of the Christian concept.  This reversal is understandable when one recognizes the correlation between the involvement of each religion’s deity in the world and the achievement of salvation.  The Sky God of the Christians interacted impersonally, passively, or not at all with the world; and thus Christian salvation could be achieved through passive reception.  Father Jim, viewed by some as “god” in Peoples Temple, interacted actively with the human world, and thus salvation was achieved through this same active engagement and sacrifice.

“Protesting the Conditions of an Inhumane World”:  What People Were Saved Out Of

Christian salvation encompasses not just a moment of justification or a life of sanctification whereby Christians grow in love to more fully embody the message of Christ, but also a final hope and expectation of things to come.  Migliore writes that “Christian life is a pilgrimage.  It is life on the way to fulfillment of God’s purposes for us [Christians] and the world.”[187]  Until Christ returns this fulfillment cannot be realized by Christians while they remain on earth, thus Christians live in hope of being taken up out of their present lives.  This idea, when applied to the Temple’s final act of revolutionary suicide, can help explain what members were saved out of.  There are two paths that one can follow when approaching this question.  One can view the events of November 18, externally, as tragic salvation out of a life of exhaustion and isolation far from home.  One can also see the events, from an internal perspective, as the ultimate sacrifice for the cause and the ultimate testimony to the superiority of socialism to life in America.  As a point of clarification, and as a balancing factor to what will follow, it needs to be recognized that it is difficult, if not impossible, to explain what those who were murdered – that is, those who did not die voluntarily – were saved out of.[188]  One could defend the position that they were saved from life under a tyrant, somewhat like the external view of the suicides, but for the purposes of this paper the following explanation of what Temple members were saved out of applies to those who willingly and consciously made the decision to end their lives on November 18.

Before attempting to reconcile internal and external interpretations of what they were saved out of it is important to explain how Jones rationalized the decision to commit suicide.  Mass suicide, since the mid-1970s, had been proposed by Jones as a solution to persecution or any situation which the Temple could not resolve using normal tactics or responses.  It was threatened with increasing frequency to counter prying by the press and government after Jones moved to Guyana.[189]  The exodus to Guyana allowed for an understanding of determined persecution in Peoples Temple; while being investigated by California authorities in the 1960s and early 1970s could be reasonably explained by the presence of the Temple in California, investigations of the South American mission seemed geographically beyond America’s jurisdiction, much less congressman Ryan’s San Mateo County.

The determined nature of this persecution justified the use of military language when talking about visits by Americans to Jonestown.  Jones frequently told his followers that the Guyanese and American armies, the CIA, or mercenaries hired by ex-Temple member Tim Stoen were coming through the jungle or up the Kaituma River to forcibly remove certain individuals from Jonestown or to violently destroy their socialistic paradise.  Jones advocated at times an equally militant strike against those who persecuted them, a plan that appealed to certain Temple members.  One Jonestown resident stated that “I emulate and I agree with the tactics of the Red Brigade, and I think there could be nothing better that I could do with my life personally than give it for the cause of communism in that fashion.”[190]  However, despite the presence of arms in Jonestown Jones realized that any such conflict would be, at the very least, ineffectual.[191]

Hopelessly, Jones told his followers that even nonresistance would not save them from destruction by their bloodthirsty harassers.  As the community was preparing for its final revolutionary act on November 18, Jones explained that “the GDF [Guyanese Defense Force] will be here..they’ll torture our people, they’ll torture our seniors.”[192] Thus the decision for suicide had a twofold “revolutionary” purpose, first as the only effectual act of retribution against a military strike, and second as a defensive act against further persecution and torture.[193]

Again, a Christian interpretive framework of salvation can justify both the afore-mentioned external and internal views of what Temple members were saved out of.  Part of new life in Christ is, according to Migliore, to “seek ‘a homeland,’ ‘a better country,’ [or] the ‘city’ that God is preparing.”[194]   For many Temple members, this seeking of a better country began when they joined the Temple.  They made their journey away from their present lives into a better existence by joining Peoples Temple, finally “stepping over” during the final White Night.[195]  Like Christians, those who died were told they were “going to a quiet rest. [with] no more pain”[196]  They were departing to a world with no hard labour, threat of invasion, or secrecy.  In a manner similar to a dying Christians’ departure from a world not fully perfected in Christ, the Jonestown dead departed from a world that had not yet grasped true apostolic socialism, even in Jones’ South American paradise.  Thus, the external understanding of what Peoples Temple members were saved out of has Christian parallels in that they were told the place they were going would be better than the place they left.  It differs, however, in the fact that Christians are called to never give up hope for the present world, while in Guyana Jones viewed the present with only despair.[197]

The internal interpretation of the mass suicide also has Christian correlations. Throughout the centuries, Christians have been killed for refusing to renounce their faith.  These individuals are called martyrs, a title whose Greek origin means “witness”. Throughout its twenty five year existence Peoples Temple tried to be a witness to the principle it held to:  apostolic racially-harmonized socialism.  The caravan of buses that carried Temple members around California for services in various cities is an example of the expanding witness of the Temple.  Jones’ appointment to various visible positions in city and county government increased the witness of the Temple.  The creation of a socialist paradise, built by blacks and whites without government aid, was destined to become a tremendous testament to the Temple’s principles if it succeeded.  While these examples all had ulterior motives, mentioned earlier throughout this paper, they all were attempts by the community to clearly and ultimately express their allegiance to socialism.

In the cases of both Christian martyrs and those who died at Jonestown, death was the ultimate witness to their respective causes.  By finally attaining the ultimate expression of their purpose and mandate in life, it can be concluded that the Temple members who died were delivered from the toil of professing their faith to a hostile world.  In death, Peoples Temple members were saved out of trying to articulate their faith by enacting a conclusive and ultimate show of loyalty to their principles.

Insofar as what those who willingly ended their life with Jones on November 18 were saved out of, both the external and the internal approach to the question have parallels in the Christian ideas of salvation and life in Christ through heaven and martyrs.

Concluding Observations

After using a Christian interpretive framework to order and view the life and death of Peoples Temple, the claims of early reactionary Christian literature to the events at Jonestown can be challenged and the relationship between Christian history and Jim Jones’ revolutionary community can begin to be repaired.  Sparks, whose treatment of Peoples Temple was explained above, laments in his analysis that “all of us [Christians] have been spattered with filth as a result of the connection of Peoples Temple to Christendom.”[198]  Yet despite the overt offense to such a connection, Christian reactionary literature to the Jonestown murder-suicides seems to have had little problem spattering “filth” on Jones and his movement while simultaneously casting it aside as wholly other than Christian.  To call this practice unhelpful is an understatement; in the past it has in fact been an impediment to a holistic understanding of Peoples Temple.

While progress has been made in the past thirty years to come to terms with Peoples Temple as inseparable from religion, it has come from circles other than Christian scholarship.[199]  Scholars such as Mary Sawyer, David Chidester, and Rebecca Moore have approached Peoples Temple from the areas of religious studies or African American studies; their works have unquestionably contributed to the humanizing of the Jonestown dead and to understanding Peoples Temple more clearly. These advances, however, should not serve as an excuse for Christian scholarship to ignore the value or necessity of its contribution to understanding Peoples Temple. Rather, progress in other fields highlights the possibility of considering Peoples Temple from a Christian perspective in a non-reactionary and non-dismissive manner. Sawyer identifies the validity of Christian scholarship implicitly when commenting that Peoples Temple “did what religion does:  it met people’s needs.  It provided meaning and purpose.  It addressed ultimate concerns.”[200]

As has been shown, re-examining the history of Peoples Temple using a Christian interpretive framework is not merely possible to do without slinging filth at the Temple, moreover it yields necessary points of similarity and comparison.  Specifically, the concept of salvation permeates and structures the story of Jones and his congregation.  The birth and growth of Peoples Temple in a society of capitalist enterprise, errant Christianity, and obscurity is not surprising in light of the fact that Jones founded his Temple on a principle of salvation similar to Christian salvation.  By exploring the type of community members were saved into, one is better equipped to understand the functioning of the Temple as an organization and a collective body.  By considering the Christian question of the relationship between grace and works in regard to how people are saved, one can determine what actions or beliefs Peoples Temple members were saved by.  Finally, by understanding the events of November 18 in light of the Christian concept of salvation, the Temple’s final White Night migrates from the realm of the incomprehensible to a realm with Christian referents.

Much can be learned about Jonestown by viewing the life and death of Peoples Temple as a Christian event.  Peoples Temple belongs to the realm of Christian history as much as it belongs to the realms of African American studies, religious studies, and American history.  The use of Christian concepts and doctrine, like salvation, to contribute to a more holistic understanding of Peoples Temple does not lend itself to a distancing of Jonestown and Christianity, but rather to their coming together for the benefit of Peoples Temple scholarship.


Primary Sources

“Accusation of Human Rights Violations by Rev. James Warren Jones Against Our Children and   Relatives at the Peoples Temple Jungle Encampment in Guyana, South America, April  11, 1978,” in Peoples Temple, Peoples Tomb, Phil Kerns and Doug Wead, 239-251.    Plainfield, NJ:  Logos International, 1979 (also available here).

“Affidavit of Yolanda [Yulanda] D. A. Crawford Showing the Teachings and Practices of Rev. James  Warren Jones in Guyana, South America, April 10, 1978” in People’s Temple – People’s  Tomb, Phil Kerns and Doug Wead, 224-227.  Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1979 (also available here).

“Comments About Jonestown, Guyana, From On-Site Visits,” in People’s Temple – People’s   Tomb, Phil Kerns and Doug Wead, 285.  Plainfield, NJ:  Logos International, 1979.

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 042, 18 November 1978. Transcribed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, Washington D.C. (accessed March 13, 2009).

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 175, 9 November 1978. Transcribed by Seriina Covarrubias.  Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple (accessed March 13, 2009).

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 245, October 1978. Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III.  Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple (accessed March 13, 2009).

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 929, 1973. Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III.  Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple (accessed March 13, 2009).

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 953, 1974. Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III.  Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple (accessed March 13, 2009).

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 955, 1972. Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III.  Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple (accessed March 13, 2009).

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1023, 1970s. Transcribed by Seriina Covarrubias.  Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple (accessed March 13, 2009).

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1032, 1972. Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III.  Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple (accessed March 13, 2009).

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1053 part 1, 1973. Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III.  Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, Moore (accessed March 13, 2009).

Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1057 part 2, 1973. Transcribed by Michael Bellefountaine.  Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple (accessed March 13, 2009).

“Letter to All U.S. Senators and Members of Congress, March 14, 1978,” in People’s Temple –   People’s Tomb, Phil Kerns and Doug Wead, 223.  Plainfield, NJ: Logos International,   1979.

“Petition Entreating Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to Protect the Human Rights of United   States Citizens in ‘Jonestown’, Guyana, May 10, 1978” in People’s Temple – People’s  Tomb, Phil Kerns and Doug Wead, 219-222.  Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1979.

Q 454,  transcribed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of  Justice, Washington   D.C, in Raven:  The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People, Tim Reiterman   and John Jacobs, 293.  1982.  Reprint, New York, NY:  Penguin Group, 2008.

Secondary Sources

Chidester, David.  Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple and Jonestown.    Revised Edition.  Bloomington, IN:  University of Indiana Press, 2003.

Flamm, Michael W.  Introduction to Law and Order:  Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis   of Liberalism in the 1960s.  New York, NY:  Columbia University Press, 2005.

Galanter, Marc.  Cults:  Faith, Healing, and Coercion.  2nd Edition.  New York, NY: Oxford  University Press, 1999.

Hall, John. R.  Gone From the Promised Land:  Jonestown in American Cultural History.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Transaction Books, 1987.

Kenyatta, Muhammed Isaiah.  “America Was Not Hard to Find,” in Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, edited by Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, 158-165.  Bloomington, IN:  University of Indiana Press, 2004.

Kerns, Phil, and Doug Wead.  Peoples Temple, Peoples Tomb. Plainfield, NJ:  Logos International, 1979.

Kilduff, Marshall, and Phil Tracy.  “Inside Peoples Temple,” New West, 1 August 1977, 30-38.

Kilduff, Marshall, and Ron Javers.  The Suicide Cult: The Inside Story of the Peoples Temple Sect and the Massacre in Guyana.  New York, NY:  Bantam Books, 1978.

Layton, Deborah.  Seductive Poison:  A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the  Peoples Temple.  Toronto, ON:  Anchor Books, 1998.

Lincoln, C. Eric, and Lawrence H. Mamiya.  “Daddy Jones and Father Divine:  The Cult as  Political Religion,” in Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, edited by Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, 28-46. Bloomington, IN:  Indiana  University Press, 2004.

Martin, Walter R.  The Kingdom of the Cults:  An Analysis of the Major Cult Systems in the  Present Christian Era.  Revised edition.  Minneapolis, MN:  Bethany House Publishers,  1977.

Migliore, Daniel L.  Faith Seeking Understanding:  An Introduction to Christian Theology.  2nd  edition.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.

Mills, Jeannie.  Six Years with God: Life Inside Reverend Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple. New  York, NY:  A&W Publishers, Inc., 1979.

Moore, Rebecca, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, editors.  Introduction to Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America.  Bloomington, IN:  University of Indiana Press,  2004.

Moore, Rebecca.  “Demographics and the Black Religious Culture of Peoples Temple” in  Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, edited by Rebecca Moore, Anthony B.  Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, 57-80.  Bloomington, IN:  University of Indiana Press, 2004.

Nugent, John Peer.  White Night: The untold story of what happened before and beyond Jonestown.  New York, NY:  Rawson Wade Publishers Inc., 1979.

Reiterman, Tim, and John Jacobs.  Preface to Raven:  The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones  and His People.  1982.  Reprint, New York, NY:  Penguin Group, 2008.

Reiterman, Tim, and John Jacobs.  Raven:  The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His  People.  1982.  Reprint, New York, NY:  Penguin Group, 2008.

Sawyer, Mary R.  “The Church in Peoples Temple,” in Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, edited by Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, 166-193. Bloomington, IN:  University of Indiana Press, 2004.

Singer, Margaret Thaler.  Cults in Our Midst:  The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden  Menace.  Revised Edition.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Smith, Jonathan Z. Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. (Chapter 7, pp. 102 – 120, “The Devil in Mr. Jones”.)

Sparks, Jack.  The Mindbenders:  A Look at Current Cults.  2nd edition.  Nashville, TN: Thomas  Nelson Publishers, 1979.

Thielmann, Bonnie, and Dean Merrill. The Broken God.  Elgin, IL:  David C. Cook Publishing  Co., 1979.

White, Mel, with Paul Scotchmer and Marguerite Shuster.  Deceived.  Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming  H. Revell Company, 1979.


[1] Tim Reiterman and John Jacobs, preface to Raven:  The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People (1982; repr., New York, NY:  Penguin Group, 2008), ix.  Raven, along with John Hall’s more sympathetic Gone From the Promised Land (New Brunswick, NJ:  Transaction Book, 1987), contains one of the most comprehensive chronologies of Peoples Temple history.  From the earlier reactionary literature, Marshall Kilduff and Ron Javers’ The Suicide Cult (New York, NY:  Bantam Book, 1978) comes closest to an informative, if not entirely objective, recitation of Temple history.

[2] Ibid., ix-x.

[3] Ibid., x.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jack Sparks, The Mindbenders:  A Look at Current Cults, 2nd ed., (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 257.

[6] Ibid., 259, 260.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 294

[9] Ibid., 295.

[10] Mel White with Paul Scotchmer and Marguerite Shuster, Deceived (Old Tappan, NJ:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1979), 11.

[11] Ibid., 39-40.

[12] Ibid., 26.

[13] Ibid., 153.

[14] Ibid., 58.

[15] Ibid., 38.

[16] Ibid., 152.

[17] Ibid., 44.

[18] Jonathan Z. Smith, Imagining Religion:  From Babylon to Jonestown (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 104.

[19] Ibid., 109.  The rush to publish the story behind the Guyana holocaust exchanged thorough, objective scholarship for the selling power of death and madness, stripping the understandable aspects from the Temple in order to show the public a morbidly attractive sensational picture – the pornography of Jonestown.

[20] Ibid., 102.

[21] David Chidester, Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple and Jonestown (1988., repr. Bloomington, IN:  University of Indiana Press, 2003).

[22] John R. Hall, Gone From the Promised Land:  Jonestown in American Cultural History (New Brunswick, NJ:  Transaction Books, 1987), 4-5.

[23] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven:  The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People (1982; repr. New York, NY:  Penguin Group, 2008), 12.  Various anomalous or questionable characteristics of Jones’ parents have been cited in Jonestown literature with an at least implicit goal of explaining Jones’ later unorthodox or paranoid beliefs, most notably his father Jim’s association with the Ku Klux Klan and his mother’s mysterious visions regarding the deeds of her yet-unborn son (Hall, 5, 7).

[24] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 8.

[25] Marshall Kilduff and Ron Javers, The Suicide Cult: The Inside Story of the Peoples Temple Sect and the Massacre in Guyana (New York, NY:  Bantam Books, 1978), 10.

[26] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 23, 26.

[27] Ibid., 36.

[28] Ibid., 41.

[29] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 19.  Reiterman mentions theological conversations Jones took part in while attending university, showing an equal balance between Jones’ apparent lack of comprehension regarding Christian theology and an impressive knowledge of Scripture (Reiterman and Jacobs, 35).

[30] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 47.

[31] Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, eds., Introduction to Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America (Bloomington, IN; University of Indiana Press, 2004), xi. While some early Jonestown literature states the adoption of “Peoples Temple” as the name for Jones’ church occurred in 1956, most later scholarship agrees on 1955 as the correct year.

[32] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 53.

[33] Ibid., 54.

[34] Walter R. Martin,  The Kingdom of the Cults:  An Analysis of the Major Cult Systems in the Present Christian Era, revised ed. (Minneapolis, MN:  Bethany House Publishers, 1977), 213.

[35] C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, “Daddy Jones and Father Divine:  The Cult as Political Religion” in Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, eds. Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer (Bloomington, IN; University of Indiana Press, 2004), 38.

[36] Ibid., 39-40.

[37] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 59.

[38] Ibid., 77.

[39] Ibid.  The seriousness of Esquire’s article is disputed.  John Hall implies that the article’s intent was humor as much as scientific advice (Hall, 59), and Kilduff and Javers explain the article to be “a half-satirical yarn” (Kilduff and Javers, 21).  However it was intended, Jim Jones apparently took the list and explanation seriously.

[40] Bonnie Thielmann with Dean Merrill, The Broken God (Elgin, IN:  David C. Cook Publishing Company, 1979), 25.

[41] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 95.

[42] Ibid., 98.  The number of migrants varies depending on which sources are consulted.  Moore, Pinn, and Sawyer’s Peoples Temple and Black Religion in Americaplaces the number of migrants at 70 (Moore, Pinn, and Sawyer, xi), Chidester’sSalvation and Suicide at almost 140 (Chidester, 6), and Hall writes that 70 families made the trip (Hall 63).

[43] Kilduff and Javers, The Suicide Cult, 32-33.

[44] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 65.

[45] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 126.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid., 102.

[48] Phil Kerns and Doug Wead, People’s Temple – People’s Tomb (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1979), 75.

[49] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 121-122.

[50] Ibid., 108-109.  This monopoly on the life of members was thorough – money, time, and relationships were all eventually surrendered to the greater good at the request of Jones in the name of socialism.  For a typical weekly schedule followed by Temple members in Redwood Valley, see Thielmann’s description in The Broken God, 71-73.

[51] Kilduff and Javers, The Suicide Cult, 53.  Reiterman identifies the “sexual eclectic climate” of Peoples Temple as one “of guilt, repression, and division.” (Reiterman and Jacobs, 173.)  Hall explains that the motivation for this climate stemmed from the belief that “intimate monogamous relations between individuals could undermine collective solidarity.” (Hall, 173).

[52] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 211.

[53] Ibid., 210.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 212.

[56] Ibid., 210.

[57] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 131.  This group of Eight Revolutionaries was also feared by Jones as their desertion proved that members could in fact leave Peoples Temple.

[58] Kilduff and Javers, The Suicide Cult, 39.

[59] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 169.  Hall explains that San Francisco politicians in the 1970s “counted on the ability of ward heelers and big-time politicos to deliver votes”; if a voting bloc backed a winning politician, the bloc would receive political favors (Hall 165).  Jones increased his odds of backing the winning candidate by aiding both sides in elections (Hall, 166).

[60] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 160.

[61] Ibid., 160-161.  Additionally, being chosen for the Planning Commission reflected either Jones’ favor or distrust:  some people were placed on it so that they could not so easily leave Peoples Temple or voice their dissent.

[62] Ibid., 157.

[63] Ibid.

[64] This statistic was inflated by the Temple to 20,000 members (Reiterman and Jacobs, 586).

[65] Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy, “Inside Peoples Temple”, in New West, August 1977, 30-38.

[66] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 325.

[67] Ibid.

[68] John Peer Nugent, White Night: The untold story of what happened before and beyond Jonestown (New York, NY:  Rawson Wade Publishers Inc., 1979), 72. Nugent’s work gives one of the clearest pictures of Caribbean and South American politics in the 1960s and 1970s in relation to Peoples Temple, explaining that Jones and Guyana were compatible for several reasons.  Guyana was a newly independent Socialist country (Nugent, 47).    Its Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, desperately wanted to both promote Guyana and build better relations with the United States – Burnham felt slighted by the Ford administration and was concerned by the United States’ pressuring of Venezuela to infringe on Guyanese land (Nugent, 71).  Thus Jonestown stood near Guyana’s western border on the pretext that Venezuela would not invade a settlement of Americans, as well as to show the emigrating native Guyanese how profitable and plausible hinterland settlements could be (Nugent, 72-73).

[69] Ibid., 79.

[70] Ibid., 88.

[71] Deborah Layton, Seductive Poison:  A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple, (Toronto, ON:  Anchor Books, 1998), 150-151.

[72] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 349.

[73] Layton, Seductive Poison, 174-177.   For a brief yet encompassing description of punishments used, especially on children, in Jonestown, see Margaret Thaler Singer’sCults in Our Midst:  The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace, (rev. ed., San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass, 2003), 246.

[74] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 237.

[75] Nugent, White Night, 107.

[76] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 470.

[77] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 256.

[78] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 476.

[79] Thielmann and Merrill, The Broken God, 122.  The number of Concerned Relatives who joined the Ryan delegation fluctuates, representing the plethora of numerical anomalies in early Jonestown literature. Reiterman confirms Thielmann’s count while Javers recalls fourteen Relatives (Reiterman and Jacobs, 480, Kilduff and Javers, 150).

[80] Kilduff and Javers, The Suicide Cult, 137, 148.  While most of the newsmen were able to join Ryan on the visit to Jonestown, there was only room for four Concerned Relatives on the chartered flight (Reiterman and Jacobs, 485).   Reiterman explains that the Concerned Relatives selected the four individuals with race in mind – they selected a racially-balanced contingent – in addition to considering who were most likely to be granted admission into Jonestown (Reiterman and Jacobs, 485-486).

[81] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 494.

[82] Ibid., 518.

[83] Ibid., 534.

[84] Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project (JAPP):  Transcripts, tape no. Q 042, 18 November 1978. The Jonestown Institute. Transcribed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, Washington D.C. (accessed March 13, 2009).

[85] Ibid.  The term “revolutionary suicide” was a mis-appropriated idea originally conceived by Huey Newton (see Newton, Revolutionary Suicide, quoted in Chidester,Salvation and Suicide, 129, for Newton’s use of the term).  The siege or invasion of Jonestown, it could be argued, did occur in the form of Ryan’s visit, but Jones seemed to envision a more militant invasion of his mission (Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 929, 1973.  The Jonestown Institute.  Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III. [accessed March 13, 2009]).

[86] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 282-287.

[87] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 544, 546.  The Temple headquarters in Georgetown was a house that also served as a waypoint between California and Jonestown.

[88] Nugent, White Night, 231.  The total cost of the death-lift, amounting to more than four million dollars, was billed to Peoples Temple in addition to more than $700 million dollars filed in legal action (Nugent, 232,256).

[89] Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding:  An Introduction to Christian Theology, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 319.

[90] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 929.

[91] Thielmann and Merrill, The Broken God, 22.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Jeannie Mills, Six Years with God: Life Inside Reverend Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple (New York, NY:  A&W Publishers, Inc, 1979), 122.

[94] Ibid., 123.

[95] Rebecca Moore, “Demographics and the Black Religious Culture of Peoples Temple”, in Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, eds. Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, (Bloomington, IN:  University of Indiana Press, 2004), 61.

[96] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 929.

[97] Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1032, 1972.  The Jonestown Institute.  Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III. (accessed March 13, 2009).

[98] Ibid.

[99] Ibid.

[100]  Tape no. Q 175(Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, 9 November 1978.  The Jonestown Institute.  Transcribed by Seriina Covarrubias [accessed March 13, 2009]) provides an example of this. Jones inserts a news story about a black youth being castrated and left to die in New York between news regarding a Socialist convention and North America’s impending oil crisis.

[101] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 929.

[102] Marc Galanter supports the observation that most Temple members were converts from various church congregations in Cults:  Faith, Healing, and Coercion, 2nd ed., (New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1999), 113.

[103] White, Deceived, 16-17.

[104] For an example of Jones speaking about an “error” in the Old Testament (the two creation myths in Gen. 1:1-2:3, 2:4-25) and its ramifications, see See JAPP: Transcripts, tape no. Q 1032.

[105] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1032.  Jones is quoting Romans 10:17 from the King James Version of the Bible.

[106] Ibid.  Jones paraphrases Eph. 6:5 to prove this point.

[107] Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 955, 1972.  The Jonestown Institute.  Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, Site Manager, Rebecca Moore, (accessed March 13, 2009).

[108] Chidester, Salvation and Suicide, 53.  For a more extensive description on Jones’ opinion on the Sky God, see Chidester, 52-55.

[109] Thielmann and Merrill, The Broken God, 53.  Censored word in original.  Jeannie Mills recalls a different occasion, where Jones said “If there is a God in Heaven, let Him strike me dead!” (Mills, 121).

[110] Mills, Six Years With God, 121.

[111] Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1023, 1970s.  The Jonestown Institute.  Transcribed by Seriina Covarrubias. (accessed March 13, 2009).

[112] Ibid.

[113] As an example of this, see Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 55, for a description of the Indianapolis Temple’s free restaurant, which served 2,800 meals a month in the early 1960s.

[114] Mary R. Sawyer’s work in “The Church in Peoples Temple” (in Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, eds. Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, [Bloomington, IN:  University of Indiana Press, 2004]), 167, supports this observation:  “people joined the Temple for one of two reasons: in order to give help, or in order to receive it.”

[115] Kerns and Wead, Peoples Temple, Peoples Tomb, 43-44.

[116] Mills, Six Years With God, 318.  Mills cites the millions of dollars untouched in Temple bank accounts, the incriminating documents that were not destroyed, and the absence of some of Jones’ most trusted aides from the final White Night as proof that Jones did not plan to die on November 18, 1978 along with the rest of his followers. She surmises that Jones died at the hands of someone who realized too late the horror that was occurring around them (Mills, 319).

[117] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 541.  This rhetoric was familiar to Peoples Temple – Grace Stoen remembers Jones voicing this same idea when presenting mass suicide as an option for dealing with problems in 1973; he would remain alive to “properly” interpret this event that America would surely misunderstand (White, 169).

[118] Found in John 21:18.

[119] Muhammed Isaiah Kenyatta, “America Was Not Hard to Find” in Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, eds. Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, (Bloomington, IN:  University of Indiana Press, 2004), 158.

[120] Ibid., 164.

[121] For a brief description of the failure of Great Society as a cure for social hardship, see Michael W. Flamm, introduction to Law and Order:  Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s (New York, NY:  Columbia University Press, 2005), 6-7.

[122] Chidester, Salvation and Suicide, 14.  It should be noted that while Chidester’s work supports the concept of salvation from errant Christianity to a large extent, and while he supports to a lesser degree the ideas of salvation from capitalist America and obscurity, he identifies subclassification and inhumanity as two things Temple members were saved from.  For Chidester’s three concerns Jones offered salvation from, seeSalvation and Suicide, 51-52.

[123] 1 Corinthians 12:27, NASB.

[124] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 161.

[125] Galatians 3:28, NASB.

[126] David Chidester, preface to Salvation and Suicide, xi.

[127] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 145.

[128] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 108.

[129] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 99.  Jones encouraged members in Redwood Valley who did not have their high school diplomas to attend classes.  This teaching position not only allowed Jones to control what Temple children and members learned, it also provided him with another arena for indoctrination (Reiterman and Jacobs, 99).

[130] Ibid., 257.

[131] Ibid., 308-309.  Opportunity High appealed to Jones because of the political activism of the school’s coordinator, Yvonne Golden, who attended Peoples Temple for a time (Reiterman and Jacobs, 309).

[132] “Petition Entreating Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to Protect the Human Rights of United States Citizens in ‘Jonestown’, Guyana, May 10, 1978,” in Kerns and Wead,Peoples Temple – Peoples Tomb, 220.

[133] “Affidavit of Yolanda D.A. Crawford Showing the Teachings and Practices of Rev. James Warren Jones in Guyana, South America, April 10, 1978” in Kerns and Wead, Peoples Temple – Peoples Tomb, 225.

[134] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 271-272.

[135] Interestingly, White lists both of these actions as prerequisites to successfully escaping a cult (White, 171-172).

[136] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 169-170.

[137] Reiterman somewhat trivializes the subject, but explains that Jones was more interested in “quality” than “quantity” when it came to members (Reiterman and Jacobs, 586).

[138] Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 117.

[139] Ibid., 123.

[140] Ibid.

[141] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 162.  For an eyewitness description of catharsis, see Mills, Six Years With God, 133-135.

[142] Kilduff and Javers, The Suicide Cult, 63-64.

[143] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 393.

[144] Ibid.

[145] “Accusation of Human Rights Violations by Rev. James Warren Jones Against Our Children and Relatives at the Peoples Temple Jungle Encampment in Guyana, South America”, in Kerns and Wead, Peoples Temple – Peoples Tomb, 239.

[146] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 244.

[147] Kilduff and Javers, The Suicide Cult, 31.  Q 1057 part 2 (Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, 1973. The Jonestown Institute.  Transcribed by Michael Bellefountaine. [accessed March 13, 2009]) and Q 953 (Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, 1974.  The Jonestown Institute.  Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III. [accessed March 13, 2009]) for example, contain commentary by Jones on assassination attempts.

[148] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 226.

[149] During an emergency meeting that was held, Jones expressed concern at the defectors’ potential to destroy innocent people or one another (JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1057 part 2).

[150] Nugent, White Night, 96.

[151] Reiterman, for example, explains his reluctance to publish stories in the San Francisco Examiner due to the fanatical and conflicting nature of his interviews with defectors (Reiterman and Jacobs, 408).

[152] Kilduff and Tracy, “Inside Peoples Temple”, 30.

[153] Ibid.

[154] Kilduff and Javers, The Suicide Cult, 74.

[155] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 216.

[156] Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1053 part 1, 1973. The Jonestown Institute. Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III. (accessed March 13, 2009).

[157] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 362.  The Stoen custody battle, waged between Jones and Grace – joined later by her husband Tim – Stoen, became representative of the more ambiguous American antagonism of Peoples Temple which prompted the Temple to send a letter to all U.S senators and congressmen stating that “it is better even to die than to be constantly harassed from one continent to the next.” (“Letter to All U.S Senators and Members of Congress, March 14, 1978”, reprinted in Kerns and Wead,Peoples Temple – Peoples Tomb, 223.)

[158] Ibid., 370.

[159] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 042.

[160] Ibid.  Jonathan Z. Smith sees this inverted attack as the only realistic violence that Jones could initiate in his struggle against America with any hope of success; Peoples Temple, as attested to in Q245 (Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project:  Transcripts, The Jonestown Institute, October 1978.  Transcribed by Fielding M. McGehee, III. [accessed March 13, 2009]), lacked the means to defeat capitalistic America with violence directed at it (Smith, 117).

[161] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 246.

[162] Ibid., 248.  It should be mentioned that perspective and purpose play a crucial role in descriptions of the Temple’s early days in Guyana.  Reiterman describes the freedom that the pioneers experienced away from Jones while Kilduff and Javers sensationalize the dangers they faced.  The authors’ treatment of native Guyanese illustrates this: Reiterman reports that “Mike Touchette [an early Temple settler] . liked the Amerindian children running around naked and free”, while Kilduff and Javers write that “a wily local population of Amerindians. delighted in pilfering the curious newcomers’ stores.” (Reiterman and Jacobs, 242; Kilduff and Javers, The Suicide Cult, 94).

[163] “Comments About Jonestown, Guyana, From On-Site Visits”, reprinted in Kerns and Wead, Peoples Temple – Peoples Tomb, 285.  Furthermore, John Peer Nugent affirms the success of Jonestown as an agricultural and pioneering endeavor by explaining that, legally, the only way the Guyanese government could “shut down” Jonestown was if Peoples Temple did not actively cultivate the land – a condition that they never had to act on (Nugent, 79).

[164] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 160.

[165] Q 454, in Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 293.  As mentioned earlier, Mills suggests Jones planned to begin another Temple-like movement.  Nugent suggests that Jones planned to start a worldwide string of Peoples Temples (Nugent, 148).  Kerns lists several far-fetched possibilities, including situations where Jones planned to create his own state or use Jonestown for a staging ground for guerrilla attacks on Venezuela (Kerns and Wead, 209).

[166] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 236.

[167] Ibid.

[168] Nugent, White Night, 24.

[169] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 955.

[170] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 491-492.

[171] Nugent, White Night, 140.  This language is reminiscent of Sparks and White.

[172] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1032.

[173] Ibid.  Jones was very clear that he was a “savior”, not a “creator”.  He accepted no responsibility for creating a world of hurt and hate.

[174] Chidester, Suicide and Salvation, 55.

[175] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 244.

[176] Ibid.

[177] The mass-baptisms, rather than individual baptism, practiced by the church, as well as the substituting of potlucks and banquets for the bread and the wine of communion, bring to mind images of the early Christian church, or the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformations, rather than mid-twentieth century American churches.

[178] Chidester, Salvation and Suicide, 159.

[179] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 126.  Reiterman, however, does not see Jones’ mass baptisms in the Temple swimming pool or banquets as fulfilling the Disciples of Christ’s sacramental requirements.

[180] This supernatural knowledge has been implicitly connected with Jones’ claims to be “God in a body” or the gift of being fully attuned to true socialism (Chidester, 53).

[181] Layton, Seductive Poison, 41.

[182] Ibid., 43.

[183] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 1023.

[184] Reiterman and Jacobs, Raven, 56.

[185] The question of healthcare in Peoples Temple is quite extensive.  As Jones practiced phony and staged healings, the presence of a genuinely sick individual in his congregation would have detracted from his image.  For this reason, as well as its obvious social aid uses, Jones had a number of medical staff in the Temple and at Jonestown.  Chief among these was Dr. Larry Schadt, whose medical abilities and facilities at Jonestown were praised by visitors.  Defectors, however, complained that Schadt was at times sadistic and unprofessional (Reiterman and Jacobs, 392).  Yet staff members, like Jim’s wife Marceline and Schadt himself, had commendable medical training and experience.   Nugent critiques Jones’ medical system, passing it off as merely a way in which Jones kept seniors alive to collect their social security checks (Nugent, 83).

[186] For a description of the life of Temple members attending post-secondary schools, see Layton, Seductive Poison, 54-55.

[187] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 245.

[188] Jonestown literature is often careful to divide those who died on November 18 into two categories:  those who willingly took the poison and those who either could not or did not willingly engage in revolutionary suicide.  Included in this second category, those who were murdered, were infants, minor children, and anyone who vocally or physically opposed the suicide plan.  The conscious decision to die was seen as pivotal by both Jones and the Concerned Relatives.  Q 245 is comprised of more than two dozen vocal confessions by various members that the decision to die “has been a very long process”.  Additionally, Q 245 seems to have been recorded in defense against claims that Jones had brainwashed or forced his congregation into making this decision. Lemuel Grubbs says in his statement “I am of a free mind, a free spirit, and free volition do sacrifice my life” (JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 245).  Richard Tropp explains that “we have made collectively and individually a decision” (JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 245).  The Concerned Relatives, as predicted by Jones, asked “by what moral or legal jurisdiction could you [Jones] possibly make such a decision on behalf of minor children?” (“Accusation of Human Rights Violations, April 11, 1978”)

[189] See “Letter to All U.S Senators and Members of Congress, March 14, 1978” for an excellent example of the use of suicide threats to deter investigation.

[190] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 245.

[191] See footnote 161 for appropriate references to Smith’s thoughts on the feasibility of outwardly-directed violence against America by Peoples Temple.

[192] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 042.

[193] To these a third purpose, suggested by Chidester, could be added.  The suicide ritual of November 18 fully “humanized” Temple members by allowing them to die a fully socialistic, and therefore fully human, death rather than die as subhuman people in capitalistic America (Chidester, 159).  Therefore the death of Peoples Temple justified its purpose for existing.

[194] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 245.

[195] The language of “stepping over” is used by Jones to describe the process of dying in Q 042.  It is interesting to note that while for the vast duration of this journey members followed Jones but in the end they “stepped” into another existence ahead of, rather than after or with, him; evidence suggests that Jones died after the majority of his congregation (see Reiterman and Jacobs, 564-566, for a speculative timeline of the deaths of Jones and his aides).

[196] JAPP:  Transcripts, tape no. Q 042.

[197] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 245.

[198] Sparks, The Mindbenders, 298.

[199] Smith’s call for such progress, and Chidester’s response, have been discussed earlier in this paper.  For an even more recent attempt to reconcile Peoples Temple with religion, see the collection of essays contained in Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, eds. Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer (Indianapolis, IN:  University of Indiana Press, 2004).

[200] Sawyer, “The Church in Peoples Temple”, 167.