(John Brackett is in the Music Department at University of North Carolina. His previous article in the jonestown report is A Simple Song of Freedom?: Music in Peoples Temple. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(An analysis of Peoples Temple music may be downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet here.)
In 1973, a group of musicians and singers financed, recorded, and released a long-playing record entitled He’s Able. The performers on this recording were all members of Peoples Temple, a religious group that originally formed in Indianapolis, Indiana and that now called California – specifically San Francisco and Los Angeles – home. Included on He’s Able are interpretations of traditional sacred tunes, contemporary popular songs, and original songs performed by an amateur group of musicians and singers performing in a style that can best be described as funk or soul.
Listening to the tracks on He’s Able, it is difficult to determine any sort of religious affiliation. Themes of brotherhood, equality, and freedom expressed in the lyrics would have been familiar to listeners who grew up during the civil rights era and the socially turbulent decade of the 1960s and who may have interpreted the lyrics as “spiritual” but not necessarily “religious.” However, many listeners familiar with the performers on He’s Able would have surely recognized these same themes as expressions of the core religious and political principles of Peoples Temple and its charismatic founder, Jim Jones.
The Political Theology of Peoples Temple sedimented in tapes
It is not clear how many people actually purchased or heard the songs on He’s Able following its release in 1973. What is clear is that by November of 1978, five years after the album was released, people all over the world would know of Peoples Temple and Jim Jones, not for their music, but for the mass deaths that took place in Jonestown on 18 November.  Members of the media, politicians, and religious leaders in America and throughout the world were understandably shocked by the events that took place in Jonestown. In the days and months following the murders and mass suicide at Jonestown, dozens of explanations as to how and why such a tragedy could occur were offered by “experts” appearing on television specials, quoted in newspaper and magazine articles, and paperback books seemingly written overnight. As grisly stories of Jim Jones, Jonestown, and Peoples Temple were devoured by the general public and fed by sensationalized press coverage – which religious scholar Jonathan Z. Smith described as “the pornography of Jonestown” – the FBI moved into Jonestown to begin its investigation into the assassination of Representative Ryan.
In Jonestown, the FBI recovered about one thousand reel-to-reel and cassette tapes that were subsequently returned to the United States. FBI agents listened to these tapes for one reason – to collect evidence against Larry Layton, the only Temple member who would eventually stand trial for his role in the Port Kaituma shootings – but they heard many things: speeches, sermons, and faith-healing services conducted by Jones, short-wave radio communications and news broadcasts, meetings, and various discussions and conversations between Peoples Temple members. The FBI also heard something else on many of these tapes: music. Some of the tapes found in Jonestown include music – mostly classical or contemporary popular music – that was taped from radio stations or duplicated from long-playing records. However, much of the music on these tapes is from Peoples Temple services as well as more informal gatherings of Temple members, such as concerts or variety shows. The many songs preserved on these tapes provide us with a unique perspective into what I will be calling the political theology of Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. Many of the songs performed by Jones and other members of Peoples Temple were chosen – and often times adapted – to reflect and express their core religious and political beliefs, specifically their disdain for the institutions and ceremonies associated with organized religion and their belief in the liberating possibilities, and the prospects of freedom associated with socialism. In what follows, I will explore how the core beliefs associated with the political theology of Peoples Temple was reflected in their music. More specifically, I will examine how the concept of freedom, as conceived in relation to Peoples Temple complex political theology, played a central role not only in the songs they performed (as part of a religious service or as entertainment) but also many modifications they made to the lyrics of well-known hymns and contemporary popular songs.
The Function of Freedom in the Political Theology of Peoples Temple
In many respects, the notion of freedom is the fundamental concept that connects Peoples Temple religious and political beliefs into a coherent (yet paradoxical) whole. Calls for freedom appear consistently in the sermons of Jim Jones as well as the many writings, recorded discussions, and actions of Peoples Temple members. Indeed, freedom can and should be understood as forming the cornerstone of Peoples Temple theology. At the same time, the notion of freedom informed Peoples Temple political ideology. Throughout its history, Peoples Temple was a strong political force that spoke out and fought for social change in the interest of freedom for everyone. The place of freedom within the political theology of Jones and Peoples Temple becomes clearer when we consider not only the words and writings of Jones and other Temple members, but what they sang.
Before turning to the music, however, it is first necessary to examine the nuanced ways Jones and Peoples Temple understood the idea of freedom and how this idea functioned as part of a religious and political “worldview.”
Q 134, one of the tapes recovered from Jonestown, contains personal reminiscences by Jones detailing his childhood and family life, the history of the Peoples Temple (until 1977, the time the recording was made), and his own description of a number of key religious and political movements and individuals that contributed to his beliefs. “Jim’s Commentary About Himself,” a partial transcription of Q134, provides a number of valuable insights into the religious background and heritage of Peoples Temple, especially its roots in the Pentecostal tradition:
I had my religious heritage in Pentecostalism – deep-rooted emotions in the Christian tradition – and a deep love, which I share to this day, for the practical teachings of Jesus Christ. It had always been sort of a dual concept [for me] – a doubter, and yet, a believer.
Jones’ description of himself as a “doubter, and yet, a believer” is revealing when trying to come to terms with his religious heritage in Pentecostalism and the many significant adaptations to this tradition he adopted in the formation of his own religio-political worldview.
Outwardly, Jones adhered to certain practices generally associated with Pentecostalism or charismatic Christianity, specifically his use of glossolalia, or “speaking in tongues” (as described in Acts 2:3-4) and the faith healings he conducted during Peoples Temple services. Over the years of his ministry, though, Jones slowly drifts from Pentecostalism (and most religions in general) in his views on God. Throughout his sermons of the mid-1970s, Jones would often mock the image of an all-knowing, benevolent God by referring to Him as the “Sky God” or “Buzzard God.” Given the long-standing suffering of so many people on Earth, Jones ridiculed the image of a loving and forgiving God. “Whoever made you did not love you,” Jones proclaimed, citing as evidence that “two out three babies [are] going to bed hungry, people [are] dying in concentration camps, first it be his chosen people, the Jewish people. Black people suffer, just because of the color of their skin” (Q1057, part 5). Given the many atrocities perpetrated in the name of the “Sky God,” Jones suggested to the congregation that the Sky God should not be worshipped and praised but instead be placed on trial. “I’m sure you got some cases that you can make in the court as to why God, the Sky God, should be put on trial, I’m sure some of you could indict the Sky God, everyone here’s got a case against the Sky God…” (Q1019) Elsewhere, Jones lists a string of offenses he associates with the Sky God, including “… murder, abandonment of his children, abandonment of his people, desertion, torture, cruelty, [and] inhuman treatment beyond description.” (Q1053, part 1)
Distancing himself further from what would be considered traditional Christian beliefs and principles, Jones often mocked the Bible in much the same way he did the image of God. For Jones, the Bible (in particular the King James translation) served as the basic text for the promotion and perpetuation of slavery and inequality throughout the world. For Jones,
God, according to the Bible, in Exodus 21, sanctions slavery. Said, if you buy a servant or slave, if his master’s given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and the children shall be her master’s. Take them away from the man. What kind of stuff— no wonder they’ve done this to blacks and browns and poor whites that they’ve put in American bond servants. They’ve done it in the name of religion (Q1035).
Jones would often denigrate the Bible in his sermons, referring to it as a “ little black book.” He even went so far as to compile a 24-page pamphlet entitled “The Letter Killeth” that details numerous inconsistencies in the King James translation along with examples of the many “atrocities” committed by, or in the name of, God.
In light of the preceding, some might argue that Jones in particular and Peoples Temple in general was not “religious” at all, at the very least in regards to the Pentecostal heritage Jones claimed. Despite the many mocking and derogatory comments he made about God and the Bible, Jones often quoted passages of scripture and often referred to God in his sermons and interviews. To make sense of these apparent contradictions, it is worth considering how Jones interpreted specific passages from the Bible as well as his understanding of what God meant to him and members of Peoples Temple.
Jones often spoke approvingly of particular passages from the Bible, specifically Acts 2:44-45 (“And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. ”) and Acts 4:34-35 (“There was not a needy person among them, for as many were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the Apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.”). For Jones, passages such as these offered evidence for a form of religion rooted in socialism. In Jones’ religio-political worldview, conceived as “Christian Social Gospel” or “Apostolic Socialism,” it was a small step from Acts 2:44-45 to Karl Marx’s dictum: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
In Jones’ political theology, “God” was not the aloof creator he ridiculed time and again in his sermons but was, instead, socialism. “When God is Socialism,” Jones explained, “God is love. … Socialism means that all the means of production that man has … are owned by the same people, the family of man, the family of God. There is only one source of ownership – love” (Q967). To the question “What is perfect love?”, Jones explained, “Socialism, Apostolic Socialism, as it was every time the Holy Spirit descended in the New Testament, they sold their possessions. … So then, that is love, that is God, Socialism” (Q967). Jones’ political theology can be described according to the following equation: God is Principle; Principle is Love; Love is Socialism. While Jones often referred to himself as God, he and the congregants understood this as a manifestation of the principle of Love as “Divine Socialism.” Jones believed that everyone had the capability of internalizing and manifesting this interpretation of God by embodying and practicing the Principle of Love through their words and deeds, often citing “Ye Shall Be as Gods” (John 10:34) as evidence. While Jones clearly understood he was operating at the margins of what many considered to be “religion,” this did not seem to bother him in the least. In fact, he explained how “ I’ve come to get you free from religion. I’ve come to give you Christ. I’ve come to give you the Word, the revolution made flesh. I have come to give you a living savior, to bring you out of your institution, to bring you out of your bondage, to bring you out of your darkness, to bring you out of man-made religion” (Q1057, part 5).
In his sermons, interviews, and actions, Jones often preached of freeing people from “man-made” religious institutions by introducing them to a way of thinking and mode of conduct that actively engaged Christ’s teachings. Peoples Temple was not only (or just) a religion but also a powerful political force that fought numerous battles against racism, sexism, classism, and ageism from its beginnings in Indianapolis through its move to California. Peoples Temple was a movement comprised of what Jones called “radical Christians”:
A Christian must be a radical. … a Christian radical attempts to transform society not by hate, animosity and fear which is now at the very heart of our institutions and souls, but by a positive activism, protest and dissent and non-violent participation in the electoral process. We can bring about total racial and economic justice, and an end to war and poverty in no other manner!
The many forms of political activism espoused and practiced by members of Peoples Temple can be understood within the context of the turbulent political and cultural climate of America in the 1960s, particularly the civil rights and black power movements, the women’s movement, and the gay rights movement. Many people represented by these different movements were attracted to Peoples Temple, given the political and religious messages preached by Jones, messages addressing equality and liberation of the disenfranchised, not only in America but all over the world. In this respect, sociologist John R. Hall recognizes the roots of Pentecostalism within Peoples Temple, noting how “Pentecostal sects attracted the dispossessed and marginal elements of society, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, unorganized factory wage earners, and others who banded together in communities where they could better survive collectively in a changing world from which they often felt excluded.” There is no doubt that the Pentecostal tradition exerted a strong influence on Jones in the early formation of Peoples Temple and in its development. However, it is clear that Jones viewed the religious traditions associated with Pentecostalism as a means to an end. Specifically, Pentecostalism provided Jones an established religious basis that expressed his core Christian beliefs as well as an opportunity to enact his socialist political ideology, the “Apostolic Socialism” that became the basis for Peoples Temple. In his “Commentary About Himself,” Jones explains how:
A part of me emotionally is caught up with the Christian tradition. I’m more comfortable in the warmth of the Pentecostal setting. And that’s why I sought that kind of lifestyle, because it was in that setting – of freedom of emotion – that I felt my first acceptance. I found that same kind of spirit in the communist rallies that I attended (Q134).
Later, Jones recalls the moment of discovery when he realized how the “freedom of emotion” he experienced in Pentecostal church services and communist rallies could be combined. “How can I demonstrate my Marxism?” Jones asked himself. “The thought was ‘infiltrate the church’” (Q134, emphasis in original).
Varieties of Freedom in the Political Theology of Peoples Temple
The word “freedom” appears so frequently throughout the recorded history of Peoples Temple (transcribed sermons, tapes, publications, personal recollections, etc.) that it is possible to lose sight of the very specific ways Jones and members of the congregation understood the concept. For Peoples Temple , freedom was conceived in relation to the core foundational beliefs and principles that formed this political theology. At its most basic level, “freedom” was understood as freedom for those people who existed at the margins of contemporary society, the disenfranchised and powerless members of the global community that included women, the poor, minorities, homosexuals, and the elderly. The type of freedom imagined by Jones and members of Peoples Temple in relation to the disenfranchised necessarily depended upon the activist tendencies of the Temple and its efforts to free people from the oppressive practices and teachings of many well-established forms of religion as well as from the oppressive practices of capitalism and – what they understood as – the institutionalized economic practices whose function was to maintain divisions based on class, race, gender, and age. In place of capitalism, Peoples Temple argued for a form of freedom they imagined was possible through socialism.
The people whom Jones sought to liberate from the tyrannical and oppressive religious and economic institutions he believed were common to contemporary America were the same people who also formed the core demographic of Peoples Temple membership. A “dramatic reading” entitled “Who Are the People of Jonestown?” written by Richard Tropp, a former English professor at Santa Rosa Community College and long-time publicist for Peoples Temple, describes the people who joined Peoples Temple and, by extension, those people whose rights and freedoms were being championed by Peoples Temple:
Factory workers, wage-slaves, people who toiled in the “pastures of plenty” for starvation pay and perpetual misery; domestics, migrants, people who rode the rails seeking jobs, who picked for food scraps among the refuse of your cities, among the wastes of people who never saw us, never cared. White, black, red and brown, haggard children of the unemployed in every city, children of subsistence farmers in the Midwest and South, children of the depression that never really ended, labor organizers, veterans of hunger marches, protests, union struggles, relief lines. We are America’s “niggers”…
Tropp’s vivid description of the various “People of Jonestown” and his use of the word “nigger” to describe members of Peoples Temple echoes language used by Jones in describing his congregation and the people for whom he fought. For Jones, the term “nigger” did not refer to race or skin color but to anyone who had been “treated cheatedly” (Q612). “[You] say, ‘I’m not a nigger’,” Jones explains, “Sittin’ back there, you’re light [i.e. white]. Oh, yes, you’re a nigger. I’m a nigger. I’m a nigger until everybody is free, till everybody that’s treated niggardly is free, I am a nigger. I don’t care if you’re an Italian nigger, or you’re Jewish or an Indian, the only people that’re getting anything in this country are the people that got the money, baby. That’s the only one. They’re the only ones not niggers in this country” (Q162).
For Jones, religion and capitalism were responsible for the creation and perpetuation of the many inequalities he and Peoples Temple hoped to overcome, not only in America but also, in time, throughout the world. In his sermons, Jones would often single out religion and/or capitalism as institutions that had repeatedly treated people “cheatedly.” As described earlier, Jones, by interpreting passages of scripture through a decidedly activist/socialist lens, hoped to “bring [people] out of man-made religion” (Q1057, part 5) The system of institutionalized oppression directly related to capitalism was also a common subject in Jones’ sermons. “Don’t you know that the only reason racism [exists] is because of capitalism? ” Jones asked his congregation in 1973 (Q1053, part 4). “The rich wanted somebody to do cheap labor,” he continues. “They wanted to get rich off somebody. And so they took the black man’s ass and put him out in the hot cotton fields and gave him nothing, so the rich could get richer. So you cannot talk about civil rights without talking about capitalism.”
Jones would often depict religion and capitalism as being inextricably linked to one another in a total system of oppression that provided false hope relating to economic opportunity and, if that was not possible during one’s lifetime, the promise of salvation in the afterlife.
If there were no rich, no poor, if everyone were equal, religion would soon disappear. People only develop religion when they’re unhappy with this world…. And there would be no racial differences if everyone were equal. There would be no room for race. … Racism [is the result] of [the] separation of people based on the ownership of property. … If you’ve got money equalized, and there was no real rich and no real poor, you’d have no racism. You’d have no religion. … [People] project a heaven out there that they got to go to – because they can’t stand the Earth – because the Earth is in the hands of the robber-baron rich. It’s in the hands of the capitalists. So [the poor] create a religious song. There was no heaven, like they sung about. The poor black people in the fields, they had to sing – “you got shoes, I got shoes,” because they were going barefoot. And the terrible rocks and the thorns were penetrating their feet, and they had to develop something that would give them hope. They knew they’d never get any shoes off of that said by and by, “you got shoes, I got shoes, all God’s children got shoes.” It’s a pitiful song. It comes out of the people that are poor.… So religion is a dark creation of those who are oppressed, those who are in bondage (Q929).
Jones’ reference to the spiritual “I Got Shoes” (or, alternatively, “Heav’n, Heav’n” or “All God’s Chillun Got Wings”) in this extended quotation is noteworthy for two reasons. First, the refrain of “I Got Shoes” (“Everybody talkin’ about Heav’n ain’t going there”) resonates with certain key features of Peoples Temple political theology, particularly the belief that those who speak of Heaven from the perspective of “man-made” religion (slaveholders in the original and the rich, capitalist “robber barons” in Jones’ interpretation) are the ones least likely to attain salvation. Second, this is not the only time Jones referred to this particular spiritual in his sermons. In a tape from 1972 (Q1057, part 5), Jones once again sings a portion of “I Got Shoes.” Here, Jones contextualizes and then modifies the lyrics to this spiritual in a manner that would have made perfect sense to members of the congregation. Jones begins by speaking from the perspective of a slaveholder who promises:
And we’ll teach you about Jesus. And now you get Jesus, and you won’t have to worry, if you work here in the cotton fields now, but bye and bye, you’re gonna have shoes, and all God’s children gonna have shoes, and you’re gonna go away, gonna fly away up into heaven, and you’re going through the Pearly Gates … and sit up in the [Heavenly] City, and finally, it took on, ‘cause there wasn’t another way you could get our people to work in those cotton fields twenty hours a day. … You know, the only reason they could get our people to work the cotton fields, and work their backs to the bone, their hands to the bone, sweat – the only thing that could keep them alive was the lie the white man had given them.
(Sings) You got shoes, I got shoes, all of God’s children got shoes. When you get to Heaven, gonna put on the shoes and gonna walk off…
Well, we’ve been singing that for 2000 years, but Jim Jones come along and says, “You got shoes, you got shoes, all the damn honkies got shoes!” … We’re gonna build a heaven, [and] if you don’t give me some shoes, we’re gonna take off your shoes, and gonna walk all over your ass!
Jones’ interpretation of “I Got Shoes” is typical of how Peoples Temple used music both in their religious services, informal celebrations and gatherings.
Music in Peoples Temple
As with many religions, music was an important part of the spiritual community of Peoples Temple, reflecting its beliefs, hopes, and dreams. In Peoples Temple, music – specifically traditional folk tunes, spirituals, gospels, and contemporary popular songs – was adapted by the members in ways that reflected the varieties of freedom they hoped to attain within the context of their political theology.
The majority of songs performed by Peoples Temple members were drawn from contemporary popular music and traditional music, especially spirituals, hymns, and gospels, as noted in this article’s Appendix. This reliance upon music and musical traditions typically associated with black religious traditions was a conscious effort on the part of Jones and Peoples Temple. Themes of freedom from bondage, equality, and the promise of exodus to a promised land common to many spirituals and hymns in black religious traditions resonated strongly with the religious and political beliefs of Peoples Temple and its members, many of whom were black. In his services, Jones represented the historical and spiritual roots of black music as preceding (and in effect superseding) the racist and oppressive tendencies he associated with contemporary “man-made religions.” “No people on Earth,” Jones explains, “has the beauty of drums and rhythm and dance like the Africans, long before all this so-called Christian civilization and, oh the synchronization! Every step, every movement, the harmony, and the great creative worship that is expressed in African dance and African song…” (Q612). As congregants gradually came to understand and internalize the political theology of Peoples Temple, Jones even claimed to hear a transformation in the way white members of the congregation sang:
The fact is, when these folks sing, some of my white singers sing just like what they call black folks singin’. There’s no such thing as white folks singin’ and black folks singin’ [in Peoples Temple] (Q932).
Themes of freedom generally associated with traditional tunes common to black religious traditions – freedom from bondage and suffering and the freedom promised by an exodus to a promised land – were often adopted by Peoples Temple singers without any significant changes to the text. However, in the context of Peoples Temple, these songs not only spoke to (and about) the plight and hopes of blacks, but anyone – in Jones’ memorable description – who had been treated “cheatedly.” The poor, women, the elderly, the sick, and the addicts: all of these people were the subject of the spirituals heard in Peoples Temple services and celebrations. In addition to “I Got Shoes” (as described above on Q1057, part 5 and also heard on Q929, Q998, and Q1022), performances of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” (Q1054, part 3), “The Old Ship of Zion” (Q1057, part 3), “Amazing Grace” (Q1057, part 4), and the many traditional songs that appear on Q978 and Q987 reflect the experiences of many members of Peoples Temple and the promises of freedom preached by Jim Jones. Jones understood the subtle differences in meaning that occurred when spirituals and gospel tunes were lifted out of their traditional religious contexts and transplanted into Peoples Temple services. After referring to “I Got Shoes” once again, Jones chastises the congregation, saying “We believed that shit until Jim Jones come along!” Jones then sings the opening of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” before reminding them, “You couldn’t get a fuckin’ ride in a Model-T Ford, and you’re talkin’ about a chariot gonna swing low for you?” (Q998)
On Q1027, Jones sings “O, the Blood of Jesus” and makes a small but – in the context of the religious and political worldview of Peoples Temple – significant alteration to a single line of text. Jones alters the second verse from “Oh, the word of Jesus, it cleanses white as snow” to “black to glow.” “We’re changing some of that,” Jones explains:
That’s why someone the other day heard us singing this song: “What can make us black– our black to glow? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” They said, well, I never heard it that way. Well, we’re changing it because black isn’t bad, darling. Black is beautiful! You see the old racist church, they want to talk about white as snow. Well, we want our black to glow. It’s all right to be white as snow if you want to be. We want our black to glow. So we change the little words like that because we’ve got to reeducate. … This type of imagery of black being bad and white being good, we’ve got to change that around. Because we’ve found black to be very, very good and very, very beautiful.
As he did with “nigger,” Jones reclaims and thereby empowers certain words that he believed reflectively negatively on a large segment of his congregation, a practice that resonates with contemporary socio-political movements, notably the Black Power movement.
But Jim Jones didn’t limit his interpretations of lyrics to suit the political theology of Peoples Temple just to spirituals or gospels. P opular songs generally associated with the civil rights movement also played an important function in the musical self-representation of Peoples Temple, as seen for instance on the record He’s Able. Joe South’s “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” which appears on He’s Able, was a song that came to be associated with the civil rights movement in the 1960s and early 1970s. Bobby Darin’s “Simple Song of Freedom” also appears on He’s Able and was sung on numerous occasions in services and celebrations as late as October of 1978. A seemingly innocuous alteration to the text of “Simple Song of Freedom” is present as the singer changes the line “Hey there, mister black man, can you hear me?” to “Hey there, mister rich man, can you hear me?” (emphasis added) This single change (sung by Peoples Temple member Norman Ijames on the He’s Able release) is filled with meaning, as it reflects a desire on the part of Jones and Peoples Temple to rise above divisions based on skin color and focus instead on overcoming divisions based on socio-economic factors. In addition to “Simple Song of Freedom,” songs made popular by Nina Simone were performed in Peoples Temple services and on record. “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” appears on Q219 from October 1978, where the title is changed to “To Be Strong, Gifted and Black” (emphasis added). A version of Simone’s “Brown Baby” also appears on the He’s Able release, where it is identified as “Black Baby” and is sung by Jones’ wife, Marceline. where, the lyric “I want you to live by the justice code / And I want you to walk down freedom’s road” assumes a significant yet complicated poignancy when interpreted according to the political theology of Peoples Temple.
As seen in many of the preceding examples, Peoples Temple members would often alter the lyrics to songs to suit their specific beliefs, a practice not dissimilar from other religions and religious traditions that borrow music from a variety of sacred and secular sources. Laura Johnston Kohl, a Temple member for nine years who was away from Jonestown on November 18, 1978, recalls how “We always changed the lyrics of gospel music, other more popular music, and even songs from slavery. Jim did it extemporaneously all the time. Dianne [Wilkinson] – but more likely Loretta Cordell – who had the religious training – would [also] change the words.” In the atmosphere of freedom and openness that characterized Peoples Temple, Don Beck, a member since 1970 and the director of the children’s choir, recalls how anyone could “[make] up words for songs … there was no official group to make lyrics … whoever had an idea would work it out or work with others to change words to a song.”
Changes to lyrics could be planned in advance or they could occur spontaneously, as seen in the following excerpt from a service in 1973 (Q357):
Washington: [Jim Jones] surely took me out of that (unintelligible) place. He put my feet on a rock to stay. He put a song in my soul today, and now, I can sing. Hallelujah!
Congregation: (Applause and cheers)
Washington: I’m going to sing a song, “God is Real.” … Because to me, Jim Jones is real. I’ll change the words to that!
The adaptation of lyrics to pre-existing songs are especially noteworthy when considering the other forms of freedom imagined by Jones and Peoples Temple, specifically freedom from “man-made” religions and freedom from the oppressive economic and political institutions of America, as contrasted with the forms of freedom promised by socialism.
As described earlier , Jones sought to free his followers from the image of the “Sky God,” and from what he believed to be the oppressive, racist “word of God” as represented by the King James translation of the Bible  For Jones, anyone (including himself) could assume the name of God, as God was understood in the equation God is Principle – Principle is Love – Love is Socialism and therefore God is that person who personifies the divine principle of socialism.
As we have seen, Jones would carefully select and interpret specific passages from scripture that he believed supported his socialist cause, notably passages from Acts and from the Gospels.
Whether spoken or sung, when Jones or any other member of Peoples Temple refers to God, it must be understood as a manifestation of the divine principle – socialism – and, often, the principle as manifested in the body of Jim Jones. We clearly see this in Caroline Washington’s willingness to change the lyrics to “God Is Real” to “Jim Jones Is Real.” Elsewhere, when Jones and the congregation sing “Oh What a Mighty God We Serve,” as heard on Q233, Jones is clear to point out “… if you don’t know it, a revolution’s on the scene, and God will have his way, God, father, socialism, he’ll have his way. No man can hinder, nothing can prevent me [God] from doing my just purpose, nothing can prevent me from having my holy way, nothing can prevent me from building this new holy, equitable, egalitarian, socialist order of people’s democracy.”
From a faith healing service from 1970, Jones and the congregation sing “God Is So Good” during which Jones alludes not only to the presence of God in the body but also on Earth. “I’m living in the actual conscious presence of God in the Earth plane,” Jones exclaims. “You see, I know where God is. He’s in my hands, he’s in my feet, he’ s in my body!” (Q648) The possibility of heaven existing on Earth at this moment – and not an imagined place in the sky inhabited by the “Sky God” who promises eternal salvation after death – was a theme commonly heard in many songs. An unidentified (possibly original) song from May 1974 heard on Q953 includes Jones and the congregation repeating the refrain “It’s true, you never knew, you could live in heaven today.” A striking example of this idea can also be heard on a version of the Hal David/Burt Bacharach song, “Alfie” heard on Q174 (from October 1978). Here, the Jonestown Express – a funk, rhythm and blues, and soul band comprised entirely of members of Peoples Temple – alter the lyrics to “As sure as I don’t believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie” (emphasis added).
For members of Peoples Temple, freedom from America meant freedom from a variety of cultural, political, economic, and religious institutions that created and perpetuated forms of inequality based on race, gender, age, and class. The relocation of many Peoples Temple members to Guyana beginning in 1974 was viewed not only as a way of breaking free of America, but also as an opportunity to freely practice and express their form of Apostolic Socialism. For Temple members, the communal area in the jungle that came to be known as Jonestown – originally called “Freedomland” – was the Promised Land, the Zion described in the spirituals and hymns they borrowed from black religious traditions. The beauty and freedom represented by Jonestown was expressed in songs such as the one heard on Q936 where the line of text “Guyana is good enough for me” is repeated. Joe Cocker’s hugely popular ballad “You Are So Beautiful To Me” was adapted to either “Jonestown” or “Guyana is so beautiful to me” and appears on numerous tapes (see Q219, Q365, Q408, and Q338/Q410).
The socialist principles held by Peoples Temple members were also expressed in song. The number of songs that explicitly address socialist concerns is due, in part, to historical reasons. The majority of tapes recovered from Jonestown date from the years 1974 to 1978; very few tapes recovered pre-date the move to Guyana. As religious scholar Rebecca Moore points out, after the move to Guyana, Peoples Temple was, in many respects, “no longer a religious organization … but was instead a socialistic utopian experiment.”
Indeed, the socialist ideals preached by Jones and practiced by members of Peoples Temple came to the attention of many sympathetic leaders and politicians from all over the world. For example, Feodor Timofeyev, a Consular of the Soviet Union embassy in Guyana, visited Jonestown on October 2, 1978 where he was treated to a performance by Dianne Wilkinson who sang a protest song in praise of socialism followed by an extended sing-a-long of the refrain “I’m a socialist today, and I’m glad,” sung by the entire Jonestown community.
Tape Q936 (also recorded in Guyana) is comprised almost entirely of songs performed by Temple members in praise of socialism. One song included on this tape is an adaptation of Psalm 122 where the text “I was glad when they said unto thee, let us go into the house of the Lord” is changed to “let us go into the house of socialism.” Spirituals and other traditional songs were also modified to express the type of freedom promised by socialism imagined by Jones and the congregation. Dating from 1974, tape Q1024 contains performances of two hymns: “The Touch of His Hand in Mine” and “My Savior First of All.” In the former, the lyrics as sung by Jones and the congregation are altered to “Oh, the touch of the socialist hand in mine, Yes, it’s the touch of the socialist hand in mine, His grace and power in this trying hour, by the touch of Father’s hand on mine.” In the latter they sing “I must know Him, for redeemed by His side I must stand, … I must know the socialism in this man.”
Socialism became religion in Jonestown, a possibility that was not an option available to Jones in America. In America, Jones used religion as a pretext to attract people to Temple services where members would slowly be introduced to his socialist beliefs. In terms of music, this can be heard on the He’s Able recording. For all intents and purposes, He’s Able was conceived as a musical way of attracting new members to Peoples Temple. Given this purpose, the album was designed to appeal to a wide range of people from different backgrounds in the hopes that they would join Peoples Temple. With this aim in mind, there are no explicit references to anything that might be considered “controversial” – such as socialism – and that could put off potential members. Indeed, the most “socialist” song on the entire album is the final track, “Will You.” With lyrics such as “We found joy in sharing, sharing what we have with one another,” it is easy to see how listeners would have missed any possible socialist undertones and interpreted the song more generally within a post-hippie aesthetic of openness characteristic of the early 1970s in California. Elsewhere, performers on He’s Able alter the lyrics to songs by removing passages that might suggest their socialist leanings. Again, “Simple Song of Freedom” is notable in this regard as singer Norman Ijames deletes an entire verse from Darin’s original, a verse that begins with the line “Brother Yareshenko, are you busy?” It is possible that a reference to the Russian-sounding name “Yareshenko” would be a bit too blatant given the intended aim of the He’s Able record. Contrast the version of “Simple Song of Freedom” as it appears on He’s Able with a performance from October of 1978 where no attempt is made to conceal Peoples Temple socialism and where an unidentified man sings “Hey there, mister rich man, can you hear me? We don’t want your diamonds or your gain, no, we just want to be someone known to you as communists, and if you’re honest, you will want to be the same.” Later in the same song, the man sings “No doubt some folks enjoy doing battle like presidents, prime ministers and kings, so let us build them shelves so they might fight among themselves, and leave us be we who want communism!” (Q432)
A final example from 1972 (Q1059, part 3) encapsulates many of the core political and theological beliefs held by Peoples Temple. Jones asks the congregation to “Draw close. Get … a visual image of the God that is made flesh, the Word that is here amongst you. … That’s the only Word you can help that can help you. So help me. Get on board, little children. Get on board. Be good socialists, and we’ll cause the kingdoms of this capitalist world to be no more, and become the kingdoms of God and socialism. … I will never leave you. Right here. Or whatever my form or shape, I’ll always be right here. I will never leave you leaderless, like so many places have left you. Follow me, and you shall not regret it, because I know the way to life, and life more abundantly.” Jones then leads the congregation in a song of affirmation that, when viewed through the events of November 18, 1978, assumes an aura of tragic irony:
There’ll be no dying, there’ll be no dying
With socialism our leader,
There shall be no dying…
Despite Jones’ promise, many of the people he led in song that day would be dead six years later in the jungles of Guyana.
Freedoms Denied, Freedoms Inverted
In the days and months following the horrific events of November 18, 1978, members of the media and other high profile public figures in politics and religion offered numerous explanations as to how and why such a tragedy could have occurred. The majority of “explanations” offered by commentators in the wake of the massacre at Jonestown did not align with the core beliefs held by members of Peoples Temple. By characterizing the basic principles of Peoples Temple as misguided or, in some cases, simply wrong, commentators often inverted the core political and theological tenets preached by Jones and practiced by Peoples Temple members.
Perhaps the most ironic – and chilling – instance of freedom being inverted occurred on November 18 in Jonestown. Q042, a tape recovered from Jonestown by the FBI, includes conversations between Jones and members of Peoples Temple from the evening of November 18. As can be heard on Q042, Jones is preparing everyone in Jonestown for their death, as they are about to “step over.” Following the assassination of Congressman Leo Ryan, Jonestown defector Patti Parks, and three members of the media on the airstrip in Port Kaituma, Jim Jones explained to those who remained in Jonestown “If we can’t live in peace, then let’s die in peace” (Q042). The last words spoken by Jones to appear on tape are an appeal to the principle of “revolutionary suicide” as described by Black Panther founder Huey Newton: “We didn’t commit suicide,” Jones explains, “we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world” (Q042).
As horrific as it may seem, collective suicide (and not necessarily the “revolutionary suicide” described by Huey Newton) is consistent with the political theology of Peoples Temple. Many of them preferred to die than be forced to return to America and everything the country represented to them. “Suicide,” as David Chidester notes, “was regarded as a liberating release from the bondage of life” for the faithful in Jonestown. While this may be true for some who died, it is hard to imagine that the principle of “suicide as the ultimate freedom” was a belief held by the many children who were also killed that day.
A range of emotions – dread, anger, sympathy, and helplessness – is elicited as one listens to Q042. Scattered over the course of forty-five minutes, we hear the sound of children crying , pleas by some Temple members searching for an alternative to suicide, expressions of gratitude towards Jones by those who believe in what they are about to do, and Jones’ calm and deliberate delivery as he explains that death is the only option.
If we listen closely, we can also hear something else: music. The faint, ghostly echo of music previously recorded on the same tape emerges and recedes at various points throughout the tape. Amidst all of the chaos, terror, joy, and relief, the snippets of music heard on Q042 are a reminder of how music was used and conceived in ways that expressed the many forms of freedom imagined and hoped for by members of Peoples Temple. The music we hear is from an earlier time, a time when almost one thousand people believed that Jonestown really was “Freedomland.” It is impossible to experience the “message in the music” without hearing the cries and the pleas, just as it is not possible to experience the horror of those final moments without the ghostly traces of music and the many ways members of Peoples Temple used and understood music within their political theology.
As the poisonous cocktail that would kill over 900 people in Jonestown that day was being mixed and administered, Jones spoke to his congregation one final time. Preserved on Q042 above the faint traces of music, Jones justifies his decision, explaining how the events that transpired that day make it impossible to live the way that they want to live. The prospect of returning to the United States was, for Jones and many others, a fate even worse than death. “That’s not living to me,” Jones explains about having to return to America. “That’s not freedom. That’s not the kind of freedom I sought.”
Carpenter, Rev. Dr. Delores and Rev. Nolan E. Williams, Jr., eds. African American Heritage Hymnal. Chicago: GIA Publications, Inc., 2001.
Chidester, David. Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, The Peoples Temple, and Jonestown. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.
Hall, John R. Gone From the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004.
Hollenweger, W. J. The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Churches. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1972.
Johnson, James Weldon and J. Rosamund Johnson, eds. The Books of American Negro Spirituals. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1977.
Jones, Jim. “Racial Prejudice: Rooted in Language.” Peoples Forum 1, no. 13 (1976): 3.
Kevin, Brian. “Songs Primarily in the Key of Life.” Colorado Review, Vol. 37, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 68-101.
Kohl, Laura. Jonestown Survivor: An Insider’s Look. New York: iUniverse, 2010.
Layton, Deborah. Seductive Poison. New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1998.
Lincoln, C. Eric. The Black Church in the African-American Experience. Durham: Duke University Press. 1990.
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, ed. Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, 28-46. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. On Religion. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2008.
Moore, Rebecca. Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2009.
Moore, Rebecca and Fielding M. McGehee, III, eds. The Need for a Second Look at Jonestown. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 1989.
Moore, Rebecca, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.
Newton, Huey P. with the assistance of J. Herman Blake. Revolutionary Suicide. New York: Penguin Books, 2009.
Redfield, Robert. Human Nature and the Study of Society: The Papers of Robert Redfield, Vol. 1, ed. Margaret Park Redfield. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.
Reiterman, Tim with John Jacobs. Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2008.
Smith, Jonathan Z. Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1982.
Stephenson, Denice, ed. Dear People: Remembering Jonestown. San Francisco, CA: California Historical Society Press; Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2005.
Thrash, Catherine (Hyacinth) as told to Marion K. Towne. The Onliest One Alive: Surviving Jonestown, Guyana. Indianapolis: M Towne, 1995.
1 I gratefully acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Fielding M. McGehee, III, Rebecca Moore, and everyone associated with the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple website (http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/) during the preparation of this article. I am especially thankful to Fielding for providing me with numerous mp3s and cassette tapes, unpublished transcripts, and for providing quick answers to my many questions. I would also like to thank Laura Kohl and Don Beck for responding to Fielding on my behalf.
For more on this record, see the “Special Section” devoted to He’s Able in The Jonestown Report, Vol. 11 (November 2009). See also Brian Kevin, “Songs Primarily in the Key of Life,” Colorado Review, Vol. 37, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 68-101.
2 In addition to the resources available at the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple website (http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/), I have consulted the following resources on Jim Jones and Peoples Temple: Tim Reiterman with John Jacobs, Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2008); John R. Hall, Gone From the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 2005); Rebecca Moore and Fielding M. McGehee, III, eds., The Need for a Second Look at Jonestown (Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 1989); Rebecca Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2009); David Chidester, Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, The Peoples Temple, and Jonestown (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003). Accounts by former members of Peoples Temple include Deborah Layton, Seductive Poison (New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1998) and Catherine (Hyacinth) Thrash, as told to Marion K. Towne, The Onliest One Alive: Surviving Jonestown, Guyana (Indianapolis: M Towne, 1995). Selected materials from the Peoples Temple Collection at the California Historical Society are reprinted in Denice Stephenson, ed., Dear People: Remembering Jonestown (San Francisco, CA: California Historical Society Press; Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2005).
3 See Jonathan Z. Smith, “The Devil in Mr. Jones,” in his Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), 102-120. Smith’s title, of course, suggests an analogy with the well-known pornographic film, The Devil in Miss Jones (1973).
4 See Jonathan Z. Smith, “The Devil in Mr. Jones,” in his Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), 102-120. Smith’s title, of course, suggests an analogy with the well-known pornographic film, The Devil in Miss Jones (1973).
5 Of the 971 audiotapes recovered from Jonestown, all but 53 were released within the first year following the deaths under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and those 53 initially withheld were later released following the trial of Larry Layton. The dates of the tapes span from the Temple’s days in Indianapolis – the earliest tape is likely from the late 1950s, although it is undated – to November 18, 1978. Following their recovery, the tapes were assigned a number that was preceded by the letter “Q.”
6 In Salvation and Suicide (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1988), David Chidester stresses the importance of coming to terms with the religio-political “worldview” of Peoples Temple. Chidester’s understanding of worldview is based upon the work of anthropologist Robert Redfield as described in his “The Primitive World View,” Human Nature and the Study of Society: The Papers of Robert Redfield, Vol. 1, ed. Margaret Park Redfield (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 269-280.
7 An edited version of this document also appears in Stephenson, Dear People where the excerpted quotation appears on page 77.
8 For more on these differences, see Hall, Gone From the Promised Land (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2004), 23-28.
9 For critics who have sought to discredit Jones by labeling him a charlatan, many have pointed to his supposed ability to heal people and the many extravagant ways he would trick and deceive his congregation into thinking he had healing powers, for instance, having people cough up pieces of chicken that Jones would then identify as “cancer leaving the body.” However, Jones never denied the use of deception in his healing services. On the contrary, Jones openly admitted that his healings were a “sleight of hand” designed to “trigger others to get healed [as] a kind of catalyst process, to build faith” and as a way to build a following, to “get the crowd, get some money, and do some good with it.” (From a transcript of recordings dating from September 1977 identified as “An untitled collection of reminiscences by Jim Jones.”)
10 The title of his pamphlet comes from II Corinthians 3:6: “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
11 Chidester, Salvation and Suicide, 57.
12 On the political activities of Jones and Peoples Temple, see Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 40-56; 140-171.
14 Hall, Gone From the Promised Land, 9. See also W. J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Churches (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1972). On the history of blacks within the Pentecostal tradition, see C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Church in the African-American Experience (Durham: Duke University Press, 1990), 76-91.
Another important influence on the political theology of Peoples Temple and Jim Jones in particular was The Peace Mission Movement of Father Divine. See Kenneth E. Burnham, God Comes to America: Father Divine and the Peace Mission Movement (Boston: Lambeth Press, 1979). On the importance of Father Divine and the Peace Mission on Jones, see C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, “Daddy Jones and Father Divine: The Cult as Political Religion,” in Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer, Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 28-46.
16 Jones’ belief that religion and capitalism work together in a total system of oppression is clearly drawn from Marx’ “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (1844) and his oft-quoted statement “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people” (Emphasis in original). (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, On Religion (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2008), 42.
17 The Appendix includes a list of songs performed or referred to by Jones or members of Peoples Temple as heard on select tapes retrieved from Jonestown by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Appendix is organized in the following manner: the tape (or tapes) on which the song appears (many songs appear on multiple tapes), the song title (if known), song artist/songwriter/composer (if known), performer(s) (if known), the date of the performance (if known), and any specific notes on some aspect of a particular performance or a text incipit that may help in identifying unknown songs. The tracks that appear on He’s Able are included at the end of the Appendix. When compiling the Appendix, I relied upon two sources when trying to identify many of the traditional songs performed on these tapes: Rev. Dr. Delores Carpenter and Rev. Nolan E. Williams, Jr., eds., African American Heritage Hymnal (Chicago: GIA Publications, Inc., 2001) and James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamund Johnson, eds., The Books of American Negro Spirituals (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1977).
18 See the essays in Moore, Pinn, and Sawyer, eds., Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America.
19 Chidester also comments on this change to the lyrics in Salvation and Suicide, 70.
20 See Jones, “Racial Prejudice: Rooted in Language,” Peoples Forum 1, no. 13 (1976): 3.
21 Private e-mail communication with the author via Fielding McGehee, December 23, 2010. See Kohl’s Jonestown Survivor: An Insider’s Look (New York: iUniverse, 2010). Dianne Wilkinson (sometimes identified as Diane, Diana, or Deanna) was the lead singer for the Jonestown Express, a band comprised entirely of Peoples Temple members. Many of the songs listed in the Appendix were performed by the Jonestown Express with Dianne Wilkinson featured on lead vocals. Loretta Cordell, who was married to Dianne Wilkinson in Jonestown, was the long-time organist for Peoples Temple services. Both died in Jonestown.
Rebecca Moore also identifies Dianne Wilkinson and her role in altering the lyrics to pre-existing songs to accommodate the beliefs of Peoples Temple, notably their “socialist sensibility.” See Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple, 93
23 I wish to thank Fielding McGehee for bringing this passage to my attention.
24 Jones would sometimes change lyrics in an attempt to desacralize specific beliefs, images, or idols associated with “man-made” religions. From a service in 1972 (Q1054, part 3), Jones sings the traditional song “Standing Somewhere in the Shadows” where the final line of the refrain is changed from “And you will know Him from the nail prints in His Hands,” to “And you’ll know Him from the straight talk He gives to the land.” In his version, Jones erases any reference to the stigmata and their religious, mystical meanings within Catholicism. “You see, you won’t always know [Jesus] by the nail scars,” Jones explains, “but he’ll give you straight talk.”
26 Rebecca Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple, 55.
27 In what might be the most peculiar instance of music to appear on any of these tapes, Jones, during a service performed sometime in late 1974 or early 1975, communicates with a spirit (really another member of the congregation hiding out of sight) who sings to Jones – in Russian – about how s/he was betrayed during the revolution of 1917 (Q927).
28 In these and other songs, references to “He” or “Him” refer to Jim Jones. “Father” also refers to Jones and not the traditional representation of God as “Heavenly Father.” Jones urged the congregation to call him “Father” and “Dad.” Similarly, Jones’ wife, Marceline, was called “Mom.”
29 Moore also notes that Jones no longer delivered sermons in Jonestown. Instead, what counted as sermonizing was Jones’ drug-fueled, paranoid interpretation of world events delivered over loudspeakers in Jonestown.
30 This verse is also absent from Tim Hardin’s 1969 version of the song, a cover that was enormously popular at the time and would surely have been known to many members of Peoples Temple.
32 See, for instance, Billy Graham, “Billy Graham, on Satan and Jonestown,” The New York Times, December 5, 1978: A23. In his editorial, Graham attempts to distance Jones and Peoples Temple from what Graham considers a “true” version of Christianity. See also Michael Novak, “Jonestown: Socialism at Work,” The Washington Star, December 17, 1978. Novak understands the tragedy in Jonestown as the almost inevitable result of communism. For yet another perspective, see Huel Washington’s “Looking Back on Jonestown: The Real Culprit is America,” from the Sun Reporter, November 30, 1978. Excerpts from these three pieces are reprinted in Stephenson, Dear People, 7-8.
33 See Huey P. Newton, with the assistance of J. Herman Blake, Revolutionary Suicide (New York: Penguin Books, 2009).
34 Chidester, Salvation and Suicide, 134.