The Children of Jonestown, the Children of the Church

Knowledge of the Jim Jones Tragedy has been with some of us most of our lives. The children born in the nineteen sixties were susceptible of a paralyzing fear of his/her church after Jonestown, especially since our questions to our parents about why it happened, went unanswered. Those from the outside – especially churched children of that time – were strongly affected by what happened at Jonestown. We never received the comfort needed that it could never happen at our church. When we learned that parents fed poison to their very own children, it left us children beleaguered, and scared. What if our Pastor(s) asked our parents to kill us? Don’t drink the punch, was the running joke in many circles. Could this be the why of the un-churched population of today?

More than thirty years later I can remember where I was, and who I was with, when I learned of the mass suicide and killings. Jonestown was my generation’s John Kennedy or Martin Luther King assassination. I decided to speak to one of my old Army buddies, Helen, who also happens to be one of the subjects of a book I recently completed called Nana[1]. I asked her, “What was life like at church and at home after the Jonestown Tragedy?”

“It was drastic,” she said, “my Nana became very careful as to whom she would share her Christian faith. She stopped asking or inviting folks to church. I guess she did not want to be affiliated with the people at the Jim Jones Peoples Temple. I remember my father forbade even Kool-aid juice into our home after the tragedy. Emotionally, we were deeply affected in many ways more, than those that had survived Jonestown. The survivors at least knew it was over. In a sense, I guess we were kind of held hostage by our churched parents.”

Children could not hold a protest march, riot, or show any kind of civil disobedience. We had to harbor the outrage, hurt and compassion, we felt for the hundreds of children killed in Jonestown deep inside. We were children, for God’s sake.

The Jim Jones tragedy did more than to kill over 900 people. It interrupted the faith walk of an entire generation[2]. Evaluation of my current walk with Jesus shows that after thirteen years of church-hopping, I finally felt comfortable enough to join a church. I visited over 30 churches before finding a church home which I believe is thoughtful, and allows critical analysis of the Word of God. Those born 1962 between 1970 had enough understanding of what happened at the time of Jonestown, but we did not have the authority or power, to question, our parent’s relationship with their church.

(Genexxa is a former commissioned officer of the US Army, and has a B.S. from Indiana University of PA. She has been a ghost writer and a muse for many years. Her writing genres include non-fiction, sermons, and short stories. She recently completed a work under her nom de plume and is currently seeking a publisher.)

[1] Nana is about the years a little girl named Helen spent with her Great Grand Mother (Odessa Watlington-Midgette) in Philadelphia, PA.

[2] Kosmin, B.A. & Navarro-Rivera, J. The Transformation of Generation X: Shifts in Religious and Political Self-Identification, 1990-2008. Trinity College, Religious Studies. Hartford, Conn. 2008.