Do Not Be Gullible

Christians must guard against deceit by knowing what Scripture teaches.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1-7)

People do not set out to believe lies or to be deceived, and they definitely would not die for a lie if they knew it was a lie. They are slowly immersed into believing something is true, like a frog which is put into a pot of water and slowly boiled to death as the heat is turned up one degree at a time. I was once that frog: I was mesmerized by the man in the long white robe and dark sunglasses, and little by little I was completely drawn into his world. I was naïve and spiritually blind. After joining Peoples Temple in LA, I remember going to Jim and telling him I wanted to move to Redwood Valley because I needed more structure in my life. But I was a teenager at the time, and as any teenager – or parents of teenagers – can tell you, they want freedom, not structure. I must have had a case of temporary insanity that lasted for five years.

Believers are in a war, a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world-forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Before I moved to Redwood Valley I had this feeling that I should be in his meeting in San Francisco. I talked a cousin into going with me. We rode in one of the buses and stayed in the housing that had been arranged for us. During one Temple meeting, I wrote a note to Jim asking him what could I do if my parents did not want me to move? I had sensed their reluctance, but I did not talk to them about it. I did not give him the letter, but somehow it disappeared. Later during a “healing” session, he called my name, he told me several things about my life, and he told me he was healing me of breast cancer that was too far for the doctors to reach. I did not take the time to process this information or question him as to whether it was true or not. I ran up to the podium crying and I hugged him and thanked him for healing me.

I was moving away from the truth in falling deep into the realm of darkness. 1 Timothy 4:1,2 says, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the truth, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own consciences as with a branding iron.” I moved from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa, Redwood Valley and finally to San Francisco. Over the years I advanced from just a member to security guard, greeter, nurse on his “healing” team, choir member, counselor and finally bodyguard/companion to his wife Marceline. I had to cook for her. Since I hated cooking and really did not know how, I’m surprised she lived through that ordeal. I once got a letter from Shirley, my older sister, from Jonestown teasing me about that. Recalling the first time I tried to make cornbread which turned out very hard and dry, she said, “you didn’t cook her any cornbread.”

2 Corinthians 11:13,14 says, “For such mens are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” I never feared Jim Jones, but I should have. On the contrary, I liked being around him. And I was pleased when he noticed me. For example, I lived on the third floor of the church in San Francisco. One night I was at the top of the stairs and he was at the bottom with his guards. I had on a long multi-colored lounging gown. He looked up at me and said, “Darling, you look like an African queen.” I smiled, said thank you, and went on my way. Another time I had to go to Los Angeles for business. I was on his bus, and I rolled out my sleeping bag in the luggage rack next to his room (I’m not the only one in the Temple who could tell you, the racks were the most comfortable places to sleep on long trips). When he got on the bus, he stopped by me to ask if I wanted anything to eat, I said no thank you. I wrote poems about him and gave them to him. He liked them and sometimes read them to the people who were still in the church after the meetings. I did not see the dark side of him. All I saw was a handsome man with dark features. I did not know he was planning or plotting this nightmare.

* * *

During World War II, Adolf Hitler said, “If you tell a lie enough times, people will believe it as truth.” That, in my view, is what propaganda is all about. And for several years, Hitler successfully created a state of delusion among his people. Jim Jones did the same thing.

Christians must be students of the Bible, and not just take someone else’s word for something. Take your Bible to church with you every time you attend and follow along with the pastor to see if what he is saying aligns with Scripture. 2 Timothy 4:3,4 says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” I did not know the Bible and I could not dispute Jim’s words, and as a result I was almost destroyed. I made it, but my family did not.

Perfectly normal people get involved with cults, but the most vulnerable are those people who are idealistic, folks who want to change the world or people who are going through some kind of crisis. These same people have this attitude that they could never be recruited into a cult, they could recognize it as a cult and avoid it. Not true. Cult leaders and recruiters are crafty; they know when to scoop in and draw you into their webs of deceit.

Remember, most of Jim Jones’ followers were good people who wanted to do something good or change their lives. I know this from personal experience. I saw the humanitarian work he was doing, and it appealed to me. We had our share of former drug addicts and ex-cons, just as he attracted college professors, white-collar professionals and Ivy League lawyers. Between these extremes were decent hard-working middle-class folks who believed in interracial harmony and helping others. I knew a lot of them and I know they were only looking for a better way of life. Jim had the right idea, but he went about it the wrong way. You cannot achieve utopia outside of Jesus Christ.

Jim Jones was a master manipulator: he used mind games on his followers; he isolated them to make them dependent upon him; he demanded that they break ties with families except when we could get money from them for the cause; he used harsh or strict discipline, long work hours and very long meetings to control people, to wear them out to the extent that they couldn’t see that was no way to live. I do not know how many of them thought about leaving the group. I know I never did.

Rudyard Kipling said, “I had six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew: Their names were, where and what and when and why and how and who.” We all need to know those six serving men very well; we need to know what we believe; why we believe it; where to find truth; how to discern error; who we can trust and when to walk away.

The Bible warns us over and over to be aware of false teachers and leaders. 1 John 4: 1-3 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of which you have heard that is coming, and now it is already in the world.”

According to Pastor Rob Zinn, this is how we know the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is leading us to unity – and if it does not lead us to unity, it is not the spirit of God.

• Does the Spirit confess Jesus as Lord? – 1 John 4:2.
• Does the Spirit promote the love of the brethren? – 1 John 4:7-13; John 13:34.
• Does the Spirit lead you to love God or things? – 1 John 2:15-17; Matthew 6:19-21.
• What kind of fruit? – Matthew 7:15-20.
• Does the Spirit lead me to obey or disobey the Word of God? – Luke 6:46; John 14:15.
• Who gets the glory? – John 14:26; John 15:26-27; John 16:13-14
• The Spirit of God will not sidetrack the church from evangelism. – Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8.
• The Spirit of God will not contradict the Word of God. – Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; Jude 3.
• The Spirit of God will not condemn the believer, but convict you. – 1 John 1:9; John 16:8; Romans 8:1.
• The Spirit of God will not lead you to disrupt the unity. – Ephesians 4:3.

My purpose is to encourage Christians to be faithful to read and study the Bible so they will know it for themselves, because most likely they will not have their pastors around to speak the Word for them when Satan comes to tempt, deceive or destroy them. I also write to encourage Christians in their walk with the Lord that they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them. Philippians 4:13. It is especially important for pastors who shepherd the flocks. God has entrusted you with his people, and it is your responsibility to see that they are fed and protected from the wolves. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 says, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort. With great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Believers need to pray for their pastors every day, to lift them up to the Lord, because if the shepherd is attacked or destroyed, the sheep will run away or be captured by evil doers. We need to allow them time to get before the Lord to study his Word so they will be prepared to tell us, what says the Lord. Not what their opinion is, or what some news magazine says, but what says the Lord.

Here are some common cult beliefs to watch out for:

  1. Jesus did not really exist. He was not really human or truly God.
  2. People can be saved only by doing some action or work of their own.
  3. The Bible is not as important as another “inspired” book as a source of God’s word.
  4. Jesus did not really rise from the dead.

All of those cult beliefs statements are false. Jesus did exist, he was human and he is God. John 1:1, 14 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we behold His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” He is the only way to heaven. Acts 4:12 says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.” Ephesians 2: 8,9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” The Bible is more important than any other book, it is the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is inspired by God and it is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Jesus did rise from the dead and was seen by over five hundred people. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 says, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” And I can personally testify that he is alive and lives in my heart.

Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” He is still in the business of saving lost souls. It is not His desire for any to perish. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

Remember God loved us so much He sent His Son to die on the cross for us, and if you say there is no God, Psalm 14:1 says, “the fool has said in his heart there is no God.”

(Hattie Newell is a former member of Peoples Temple and a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. Her previous writings appear here.)