Atheistic Gods and Divine Leaders of the Religion of Social Justice: The Theology of Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones

by E. Black

(E. Black is a regular contributor to this site. Her full collection of articles may be found here.)

“I Am the Father, eternal!”– Father Jehovia[1]
“I came, because I did not believe in your God.” – Father Divine[2]
“There wasn’t any God till I came along.”Jim Jones[3]

 Introduction

Like individual lamps lighted from the exact same flame or as a single mind transmuted in succession between them,[4] Samuel Morris, George Baker Jr. and James W. Jones appeared last century as exponents and embodiments of a single cause, a cause dedicated to social justice and underpinned by a unique, syncretic and heterodox brand of religious New Thought/Metaphysical teaching. This cause and its teachings were geared around the practical, political and ideological struggle for racial equity in the aftermath of centuries of African slavery in the US.[5]

Often overshadowed by the obscurity of its initiator (Father Jehovia) or the racial, religious and political sentiments of its most prominent proponent in the 1930s and 1940s (Father Divine) or by the horror surrounding the self-destruction of the Peoples Temple utopian experiment in Jonestown in 1978, this cause and its unique and connected theological ideas and teachings are often only partially understood when they are addressed.[6]

In the interest of a comprehensive understanding of the broad sweep of this fascinating phenomenon, both its historical setting and theology need to be unpacked if we are to fully appreciate it. We need to understand how “The Cause” produced a creative, radical and totalistic school for social justice that synthesized an array of sources and transformed into a cult-like heterodox metaphysical movement within marginal New Thought theology.

The Cause for radical racial and social justice: Historical antecedents

As unique as they were, the Churches of Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones did not appear fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus,. They arose out of a material base composed of the social, political and religious conditions of conflict and accommodation between the White and Black peoples after the Civil War.[7] These conditions were a response to the White racism and its flip side, African degradation, endemic in US society. Though originating on the margins of the Black communities of Pennsylvania and Maryland, it is quite clear that marginal sectors from larger majoritarian Euro-descendent communities had great impact on this small Black community metaphysical movement, either as a catalyst to react to or as a larger context from which to draw contrast, resources and/or support. Thus an interracial context was present from the very beginning, even though the actual groups that began this movement and initially sustained it were not.[8]

19th Century Roots : Abolition, Quakers, Shakers and Father Jehovia

Slavery of Africans and African descendants ended in the US in 1865 in the aftermath of the Civil War. But the struggle for abolition had begun many decades earlier, the movement composed of both Black and White advocates who had first organized in the 1830s. Among the religious organizations involved in the abolitionist movement were the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Unitarians and the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. These four separate churches – two Black and two White – were soon joined by others to form both an interracialist template and a legacy that was to serve as a model that both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple would seek to draw from a century later, as they addressed the continuing legacy of White racism.[9]

The state of Pennsylvania was, in many respects, the birthplace of the radical heterodox metaphysical movement that would morph into the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple.[10] The state was among the first to outlaw slavery in the 18th century. Not coincidentally, it was also the home of the Quakers, the first religious society of White people which opposed African slavery on grounds of faith. Indeed, Quakers had opposed African slavery for almost a century, while Pennsylvania was still an English colony.[11]

The Methodist Church was another church with an open door policy to all races, and many early Methodist – both Black and White – actively opposed slavery. Even so, during the third decade of the 18th century, Black Methodists, desiring a church that specifically focused on the spiritual and physical development of African descendant people and their communities, formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church to accomplish just that.[12]

The Quakers, Methodist and others active in the abolitionist movement helped form the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by runaway slaves to escape to free states and Canada. One of the centers of the Underground Railroad – which was most active between 1840 and 1860[13] – was southern Pennsylvania, especially the state’s largest cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. These cities were located in areas with high concentration of both Quakers and Shakers – a Quaker sect – and especially in the urban areas, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is also the area where on February 25, 1868 – three years after the end of the Civil War – Samuel H. Morris was born.

The Divine War on Racism

In his later incarnation as Father Jehovia, Samuel H. Morris founded the new religious movement, first encapsulated in his Fairmount Avenue Sect that would later take other forms through both immediate and eventual disciples of his teachings, methodologies, theology and practice, as the Church of the Living God, the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple Christian Church.[14]

Born in Manor Township, Lancaster County, the light-skinned African American of mixed descent was raised in Alleghany, Pennsylvania. By adulthood, he was a respectable, stable, married father and a working class member of the community. He supported his young family with a good paying union job as a steel worker. He also served as a lay teacher, or deacon, in the local African Methodist Episcopal Church.[15]

At the age of 32, for some now-obscure set of reasons, Morris left his wife, Callie, their two small children, Arthur and Verna, his well-paying job, his status in the community, his native Pennsylvania, and – most importantly for this study – the Sky God concept of normative Christianity, to embark on a path which led him to found what would become a new, radical and marginal religious trend. Like a wandering teacher in the Hindu, Sikh or Sufi traditions, Morris – taking the name “Father Jehovia” – went to Maryland, preaching in the streets and in local churches about the “indwelling God” that was in every person, regardless of gender, status or complexion, but whose highest level of expression or mind was contained and manifested through him alone.

Also similar in style of the wandering Hindu, Sikh or Sufi teacher, he gathered a small number of devoted pupils as disciples in a small row townhouse-turned-commune and formed a metaphysical class on Fairmount Avenue in a working class, Black section of Baltimore, Maryland, where they lived, worked and worshiped together under his divine tutelage and instruction.[16]

While Father Jehovia’s teachings revealed a radical heterodox version of metaphysics with a New Thought theological base, they bore similarities to the older teachings of both the Quaker church and the Shaker sect from his home state of Pennsylvania about the “indwelling God.” In his unique version, however, Father Jehovia taught that the “indwelling God” was solely in him; it was accessible to all humankind, but only through his person and through his teachings.[17]

The circumstances that led the seemingly-stable and normative Christian Samuel Morris to reinvent himself as an earthly embodied God – one promising an earthly utopia through his teachings – is a mystery. However Father Jehovia arrived at this enlightenment, implicit in his theology was the cause to eliminate the divisive concept of race and racism, and others would take the same route.

One disciple who gathered at the Fairmount Avenue commune for enlightenment was the young George Baker Jr., who left the Baptist Church to convert to the teachings of Father Jehovia. After the example and instruction of his newfound embodied God, Baker changed his name and renounced his former mortal identity. Some 50 years later, Father Divine, teaching his version of the same theology, would attract a young, White, normative Christian minister named Jim Jones.

These three heterodox metaphysical New Thought practitioners, with their own eclectically informed ministries or classes – the Fairmount Avenue sect, the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple – would provide the underpinnings for a startlingly profound, yet marginal school for the cause of social justice.

Although Father Jehovia and his ministry are not as completely known or thoroughly documented as that of his best-known direct disciple, much of what Father Divine’s mentor taught appears to have been repeated in a greatly amplified manner in Divine’s subsequent career. In turn, many of Divine’s teachings were later spoken through the voice and teachings and practices of Jim Jones, who openly campaigned to be Father Divine’s reincarnation, heir and successor throughout his 25-year career.

But what is at focus here is not so much the succession of these three men but their core theological teaching, whose theme was the cause of social justice as expressed in the slogans, “God in everyman” and “Universal Brotherhood is our religion.” While other, more majoritarian or normative Christian Churches and organizations also worked on the cause of social justice, what Father Jehovia’s school added to this mix was the teaching that the cause was embodied in him and could only be successful through recognizing it in the mind of the paramount Teacher who, in turn, was the highest expression of “God” in a human body.

This teaching expressed in a singular theological world outlook ties all three men, Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones together. What’s important in comprehending the totality of this theology is that it was founded in and expressed through the metaphysical world outlook of New Thought.

But just what is “New Thought” and what are its tenets?

New Thought and the New Thought Movement

“Changing the conditions of the mind is like changing the conditions of the universe because the universe is the mind.”
Hermes[18]

New Thought or – as it is also known – “Higher Thought” has developed since the early 19th century as a socio-religious worldview or Movement that promotes the idea that “Infinite Intelligence” – “God” – is everywhere; that the realm of spirit is the totality of real things; that true human selfhood is divine; that divine thought is a force for good; that sickness originates in the mind; and that “right thinking” has a healing effect.[19]

Although New Thought is generally neither doctrinaire nor monolithic, contemporary New Thought adherents believe that God/Infinite Intelligence is supreme, universal, and everlasting; that God/Infinite Intelligence dwells within each person; that all people are spiritual beings; that “the highest spiritual principle [is] loving one another unconditionally and teaching and healing one another”; and that “our mental states are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living.” In short, “we are how we think.”[20]

The New Thought movement is composed of the various churches, religious/philosophical schools of thought, organizations, sects, sub-sects and cults of the same, as well as their founders and leaders that espouse its teachings. It is thus a spiritually-focused or philosophical interpretative movement based on a shared set of beliefs concerning metaphysics, positive thinking, the law of attraction, healing, life force, creative visualization, and personal power.

The three major religious denominations within the orthodox New Thought movement are the Churches of Religious Science, the Unity Churches and the Churches of Divine Science.[21] There are many other smaller churches as well as small schools and umbrella organizations consistent with New Thought teachings. Among the margins of New Thought orthodoxy there appeared, on Fairmount Avenue in Baltimore, a tiny metaphysical school headed by Samuel Morris in his spiritual guise as Father Jehovia.

While Father Jehovia’s tiny class itself was to disappear into historical obscurity, a former student and disciple would ultimately branch out on his own and manifest what he learned there in a much more media recognized and focused way through an expansive ministry of his own that would be known as the Peace Mission Movement of Father Divine. This movement would become notorious in the 1930s mainstream – that is, White – press as a bizarre Negro cult led by a short, brown-skinned man who claimed to be God Almighty and who would garner headlines by feeding, clothing and housing thousands in the midst of the Great Depression. It would be a generation later that this odd and radical integrationist religious movement got a new wind, when Jim Jones, a young, White Christian minister sought to embody and resurrect the spirit, practice and intent of the 1930s Peace Mission through his own version of it, through the church he founded called Peoples Temple.[22]

But just what did this religious movement teach? How did such a noble cause take a course as to dissolve in stagnant irrelevance in its manifestation as the Peace Mission, and in a mass murder/suicide as Peoples Temple?

New Thought teachings and Fathers Jehovia, Divine and Jones

The New Thought origins of the teachings of Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones are clearly seen in their unified, singular teachings on such core theological topics as the nature and conceptualization of God, Jesus, the Bible, Satan the Devil and Sin. But the teachings and practices of the three not only tie them together, they also clearly differentiate them from both orthodox New Thought and the various branches of normative Christianity that some have sometime sought to link them with.[23]

On God

The majoritarian and normative Christian doctrine[24] says that God exists in Heaven and rules, governs and lords over humanity from there, through his son, Jesus Christ, his angels and his power in the form of the Holy Ghost or Spirit. It also teaches that God requires a belief in the death and resurrection of his son as lord and savior in order to be with him in heaven. Most denominations describe God as a “HE” in gender pronouns, but at the same time claim that God is not a human man. Christian orthodoxy offers that God is the sole creator but is also separate from it and is therefore worthy of his demands on his creation.

Orthodox New Thought axiom holds that God is a ubiquitous Force.[25] New Thought also teaches that, as humans – who are Spiritual Beings in their own right – become more conscious of their own innate divinity, they become more like God. Therefore God or principle is not in Heaven – as a separate location, physically or spiritually located apart from humanity – but is within each individual.

The twist which Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones all brought to this orthodox New Thought teaching was that they were special individuals who embodied the universal principle or God as a sample and as an example in their respective and individual physical persons to the highest concentration or degree, in real time. Each of them as an individually unique living, walking and talking God in a Body was a role model for their followers and the world to copy and emulate so that those who believed on them could eventually develop the divine mind consciousness within to become the same God and embody the same principle as they did. Indeed, they taught that because only they were truly one with principle, or the universal mind of God, the followers needed them as their leaders if they were ever to get to the God within themselves.

In a short logical step to follow, each of them reinterpreted orthodox New Thought teachings to declare that that God is one with creation, not separate and divorced from it.

As a further extension, the separate and detached supreme God of orthodox theology, already debunked by orthodox New Thought, was relegated to and mocked as an imaginary and ineffectual SkyGod by both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple. In this way, Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones became atheistic Gods of the individual churches they founded, replacing the God of normative Christianity with the true God in them.

On Jesus

Normative Christianity teaches that Jesus is “the only begotten Son of God” and that He alone is Lord and Savior. It also teaches that Jesus was divinely born of the Virgin Mary, that he walked Palestine as both God and Man in one body some 2,000 years ago, that he performed miracles in the name of his Father, and that he died a sacrificial death on a cross, in order to save humankind from Sin.

In orthodox New Thought, Jesus is the expression of a Divine Idea or Christ, who serves as a way-shower, a sample and example, of how human beings can master life and consciousness by resurrecting themselves from a state of spiritual death, spiritual ignorance and unconsciousness. Whether he actually existed 2000 years ago as a human then, Jesus in orthodox New Thought is an Archetype to help set the stage for a shift in consciousness to save humankind from its self-destructive tendencies due to what is known as a “conscious interrupt.” By suffering and dying for his principles – or for the Cause – Jesus set the stage for the redemption of humankind, not to a mystical God, but to Man’s true self. Thus, in orthodox New Thought, Jesus or the Christ principle came to remind humans who they really are and to set them free.

Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones each reinterpreted this orthodox New Thought Archetype and applied it to themselves. In turn, each man taught that he was the ultimate expression, in bodily form, of the Divine Idea of Jesus or Christ, or, in other words, that he was the physical manifestation of the Christ idea. Their followers and believers all had God or Principle lying dormant and unconscious inside of themselves, but they could, by hearing and awakening to and then following their specific Leader, learn how to master life and consciousness. Indeed, it was the only way.

Thus each of the men in turn was the actual reincarnation and the present time/real time embodiment of the actual archetype of Jesus or the Christ who had come to help set the stage for a universal shift in human consciousness. By Fathers Jehovia and Divine condescending to embody their divinity in flesh and live in the mortal realm of the dead – i.e. suffering and dying for Principle or for the Cause – or of Jim Jones’ suffering and dying for Principle or for the Cause at Jonestown, each of these Divine Fathers of his respective group set the stage for the redemption of all humankind, not to a mystical God, but to each person’s own true inner nature and true self.

In orthodox New Thought, the victory wrought through Jesus’ suffering and dying is universalized and theorized as an overarching and non-personalized understanding. By contrast, in the respective heterodox New Thought tenets of Father Jehovia, Father Divine and of Jim Jones, the union in total consciousness with the suffering, death and victory of the leader was the quintessential reality of existence, a state of realized utopia and the ultimate goal of their individual life.

On The Bible

In normative Christianity, the Bible – known in some circles as the “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” – is also the holy, inerrant Word of God which was literally dictated to select writers by God himself, either through his Holy Spirit or through his angels, into the minds of the writers. Thus, God is the actual author of the book behind the human scribe: It is literally the Word of God. The Bible holds the key to Salvation, and the stories of Jesus in the four New Testament Gospels reveal the Truth, and without the Truth, one cannot make it into heaven. For many Christians, then, the Bible is a rule-book, requiring adherence to its precepts to the best of one’s ability, although it also includes the promise of forgiveness if one backslides into Sin but still believes and repents.

In orthodox New Thought, the Bible is a book of mystery, a mystic textbook which teaches people how to think like God. It is also seen as a book of spiritual psychology that really defines the generation, regression and the re-generation of peoples’ own consciousness. In short, the Bible in orthodox New Thought serves as a tool for self-awareness, and the people who populate its pages are self-reflective of one’s own “consciousness”.

Orthodox New Thought practitioners honor the Bible for its spiritual wisdom, but recognize that Truth is Omnipresent and therefore that it is not solely contained in the Bible. One can be a faithful New Thought practitioner, yet not a student of the Bible. The Bible is about the individual person, not about a God somewhere outside of and detached from that person. The reality behind the mystery contained in the Bible is humanity and its awakened consciousness.

The teachings of Fathers Jehovia, Divine and Jones on the divinity of scripture are anchored in New Thought orthodoxy, but each had a unique twist. During his early 20th century ministry, Father Jehovia was known to enter Protestant Christian churches, but instead of referring to God and the Bible, he would offer a rambling metaphysical sermon and conclude with the declaration that he, himself, was the Father Eternal.

His disciple Father Divine was notorious for having his battery of secretaries record his every word for his movement’s publications and printed in a font that mimicked that of the King James version of the Bible.[26]

Jim Jones, perhaps the most extreme heterodox New Thought leader of this school, used the tactic of literally holding up a copy of the Bible in the air before hurling it across the room or smashing it down on the floor and stomping on it to demonstrate to his followers that the dead paper idol of the Bible wasn’t important – that he wouldn’t be struck down for a purported blasphemy – but rather, what was important was his personal example as the embodiment as the living word of God.

In orthodox New Thought, Truth is omnipresent and therefore not solely contained in the Bible. In the schools of Fathers Jehovia, Divine and Jones, examples of divinity and truth often included examples from the various orthodox expressions of Christianity. They just weren’t limited to these examples.

During the 1920s, for instance, Father Divine led book studies for his in-house followers on the various teachings of New Thought, Hindu and New Age philosophers; by the 1930s, he was publically teaching that other texts beyond the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible were divinely inspired. The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution – including the Bill of Rights and amendments – as well as Peace Mission publications like The New Day were also divinely inspired, and that “Real Americanism, Real Brotherhood, Real Christianity, Real Democracy and Real Judaism are Synonymous.”[27]

In Peoples Temple, the New Thought axiom that truth is omnipresent and therefore not the sole province of the Bible was expressed in The Letter Killeth,[28] a critique of the Bible’s truths as well as the untruths, its inconsistencies, and its condoning of unjust, even criminal, behavior. Moreover, according to Jim Jones, truth and divinity could also be found – and in late years, were more likely to be found – in such Temple publications as The Living Word, in the writings of various secular and political philosophers such as Karl Marx, Frederic Engels, Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung and Huey Newton, and in the writings of various New Thought authors, including Father Divine.[29]

In this case, Jim Jones practiced what he preached. His appetite for books of all types and on all religious and political authors and persuasions was voracious, and he was conversant on a wide variety of religious topics from Atheism to Zoroastrianism and political organizations from the John Birch Society to the establishment Democratic and Republican parties to the groups on the left, including old line communist parties, New Left organizations, and the Black Panthers.[30]

On Satan

In Christianity, Satan is the paramount evil spirit in opposition to God and Jesus Christ and therefore to all Christians. The devil is in eternal struggle with God for the souls of Mankind and seeks to bring as many to Hell with him as possible.

Just as there is no individual and or separate physical or spiritual being apart from humanity called God in orthodox New Thought, neither is there an opposite known as the devil. Instead, the devil is really the divine in the person which has become ill or sick within his or her self or consciousness.

Orthodox New Thought practitioners and followers seek to identify the dev – ill or the divine –ill in their own individual consciousness. As one such practitioner writes, “They [New Thought devotees] rejoice when the devil shows up in their mind [so that] it can now be rooted out and sent to the abyss (or the realm of no activity in consciousness).”[31] In this understanding, demons are not evil imps which attack individuals, but rather are unhealthy demonstrations of negative ideas held in consciousness which can be removed when they are exposed and confronted. Instead of being evil, the true purpose of negative ideas is to remind and reconfirm the New Thought reality that an individual’s true nature is to be one with God/Principle and or the universal mind.

Followers of Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones accepted the orthodox New Thought view on just what the devil is as an axiomatic, fundamental and understood truth. However, the principle that the negative ideas could be removed when they are exposed took on various and interesting, if somewhat bizarre, interpretations.

Unfortunately the direct experience of how this theological issue of evil and the Devil were dealt with in the Fairmount Avenue Sect of Father Jehovia is not known from direct documentation. Instead it must be inferred by what ultimately happened (or in fact, what didn’t happen)[32] by what was practiced in its two successor offshoots: the Peace Mission of Father Divine and The Church of the Living God of George Hickerson, known as Bishop Saint John the Divine.[33]

There is much more written and spoken of in the Peace Mission on how to “manifest the positive” than on how to eliminate the negative.[34] The greater discussion of the perceptions of the Devil – known in Peace Mission speak as “The other fellow” – comes from secondary sources, such as the writings of and interviews with former Peace Mission members and apostates. What these accounts reveal is that members of the Peace Mission who consistently carried negative energy appear to have been dealt with by a variety of methods that included censure, isolation, hard or drudge work assignments in the Promised Land properties, and transfers to distant or less desirable Peace Mission extensions. Verbal or physical abuse or correction from commune leaders may also have been used at times, and in special cases, the direct intervention from Father Divine himself may have been called for.

Some apostate accounts charge that if a female was the source of a negative disturbance of some sort, or if she acted out in an inappropriate way – especially if it was of a sexual nature – the remedy may have included an intimate encounter with Father Divine so as to bring the offending sexual desire – or dis-ease – in the sub-consciousness of the afflicted woman to the surface in order to root it out and send it to the abyss.[35]

Peoples Temples evolved a very elaborate system of behavior correction and/or modification of negatively charged individuals that ranged from giving some offenders repetitive and back-breaking work assignments for extended periods of time, to being brought into group confrontations called catharsis sessions. Such corrective sessions were first used among members of the upper echelon Temple leadership in the late-1960s, before gradually used more broadly among the general membership, culminating in the behavioral modification techniques made infamous in Jonestown. Malcontents and miscreants were brought “on the floor” – in other words, before a public gathering – for verbal humiliation, spankings and boxing matches. More threatening and severe infractions or the repetitive breaking or disregarding of Temple rules might result in beatings, isolation in underground rooms, and being terrorized with threats to exposure to snakes or tigers. People deemed uncontrollable or dangerous to the community were also drugged, especially during Jonestown’s final months.[36]

Both in California as well as in Guyana, punished offenders were to demonstrate their contrition and repentant attitude by publically thanking Father for the corrective measures and pledging before the community to change their negative ways.

What was unique in the case of Peoples Temple was that Jim Jones – the paramount leader – was theoretically not exempted from any of these punishments, but as he was recognized inside of the group as the spiritually highest and most evolved individual, rarely was he judged to have committed a negative offense that would subject him to the behaviorally corrective measures experienced by the general Peoples Temple community.[37]

On Sin

Normative Christianity views sin as activity that is considered immoral or a breach of God’s laws. To a Christian, Sin is missing the mark of God’s standards of holiness and therefore constitutes willful disobedience to God’s laws. For many Christians, this covers many human activities, such as sex outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage – premarital sex, homosexuality, adultery, even masturbation –, drinking alcohol, swearing, pornography, gambling, and much more.

Orthodox New Thought views sin as not something one does, but an activity of consciousness. Sin, then, for the orthodox New Thought devotee, is missing the mark of who one really is. It is not so much a wrongdoing as it is understood in normative Christianity, but an off-point to the highest idea of oneself as an individual striving to manifest the highest form of God. This means that actions considered sinful in normative Christian orthodoxy are considered “immoral” in New Thought, but they are sins only from the perspective of one’s personal ethics.

One can indeed sin if what someone does is an act that they find is out of alignment with their inner most consciousness, but if one is truly in alignment with who and what they truly are and knows themselves to be, then they cannot sin.

This orthodox New Thought view on the nature of sin was largely accepted by Fathers Jehovia, Divine and Jones. What was different, though, was the weight given to what was considered to be missing the mark of individual divinity or sin in the group. What was or was not sin in this reality was ultimately determined by the personal example of the group’s leader, who set the example for all of his followers on what was and what was not acceptable behaviors.

Again, while little is known about the inner workings of the Fairmount Avenue Sect of Father Jehovia, we do know a lot more about the practices of Father Divine’s Peace Mission of and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple.

A teetotaler and non smoker himself, Father Divine’s primary and immediate audience of recruits were inner city Blacks, many of whose personal behaviors regarding smoking and alcohol consumption were often the very opposite. Many of his first recruits exhibited a range of negative self-defeating behavioral tendencies due to their experience as the immediate descendants of enslaved Africans or – in some cases – of having been enslaved earlier in their own lives.

Many, if not most, were also regular or former members of various types of orthodox Christian churches and exoteric Black community cults and sects. In addition, many of them were often unemployed or under-employed. When they did find jobs, they often did intense agricultural work, hard manual labor, and served as domestics, maids or caregivers. Most of these jobs were for very low pay, for long hours, and in the employ of racist Whites. All of these factors contributed to self medicating with drugs and alcohol in their off time from work.

To break these patterns of negative behaviors, Father Divine enjoined his true followers not to smoke or express vulgarity, profanity or obscenity, or imbibe liquor or drugs. He also required couples to live sexually responsible lives within the confines of marriage. If, however, they were to live in one of his communal extensions, his rule was for them was to practice celibacy and not to mingle unnecessarily with the opposite sex.

Peace Mission instructions also required followers to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, to be independent and self-supportive in every way, not to beg, borrow or steal, not to accept bribes, tips, gifts, or legacies of any kind or anything they had not specifically or immediately earned or paid for ­– including social security or insurance benefits – not to use credit or installment plans but rather to pay all purchases in cash in order to stay free from all forms of debt, and not to use lotteries, nor gamble or bet. Finally, they were to oppose war and violence of any kind.[38] Infractions of any of these rules were considered as sins for members of the Peace Mission.

Peoples Temple was formed by a man who proclaimed himself the true successor to the cause of Father Divine, and whose immediate audience of recruits were also inner city Blacks. The difference was that his largest core of support came from inner cities of the West Coast – Los Angeles and San Francisco – during the 1960s and 1970s, instead of the East Coast cities during the 1930s and 1940s that Divine had drawn from. Nevertheless, both men attracted people whose profile and background exhibited a similar range of psychological and trans-generational negative behavioral tendencies, who also were regular members of religious faiths, whether orthodox Christian churches or Black cults and sects of their day – including, for Peoples Temple, former members of the Peace Mission – and whose working histories were similar, even if divided by a generation. Like Father Divine, Jim Jones made broad admonitions to discourage smoking and drinking, and to promote positive personal and work behaviors.

Their own perspectives for their spiritual roles were similar as well. Father Divine‘s 1936 Righteous Government Platform proclaimed: “I AM here for the common people. For the masses collectively and universally I stand.”[39] Father Jones declared to his followers that he was their socialist worker God, and thus was there for the common people. The difference was more in language and tone. Jones employed a much coarser vocabulary and confrontational approach with his followers than Father Divine or his Peace Mission had ever dared to publically go.[40]

This was especially true after the Temple’s migration to Guyana. Tapes recovered in Jonestown after the tragedy reveal more vulgarity and sexual references in conversation, not only by Jones but also by his followers.[41]

While in Guyana, Jones also initially loosened some of the other more long held Peace Mission type restrictions on the personal deportment of his followers, but pulled back sharply when, in his view, their collective and individual behavior began to deteriorate.[42] One person he did not rein in, however, was himself.

The Cause: The elimination of the concept of Race and Gender

The atheistic gods all saw one purpose in exercising their paranormal powers and implementing their truth: they sought to realize the race less utopia as the ultimate reality. This was their Cause.[43]

For the followers of Fathers Jehovia, Divine and Jones, the concepts of God and Jesus, as embodied in their respective Divine leader, informed them in theological ways with far-reaching political implications. They understood their respective leader to be the embodied paradigm of universal divine mind or of universal consciousness, and that they, as followers had no individuality as a people of separate races or as separate genders. More profoundly, they accepted  that the very concept of being separate races and different genders – although experienced in the mortal version as real – was actually an illusion of the lower and slower vibration of tangibility or mortality, that is, the limit of the physical. This in turn led them to believe that once they united Divine mind and mortal body in true alignment, they would be able to pick up or lay down mortal versions of themselves at will and to command the lower vibrations – the physical laws – of the universe. Because of their achieved proper alignment, they would be able to mentally ascend into or merge with their true, higher selves as part of a single, universal tapestry or mind – known as the archetype – beyond the mortal plane of existence even while mired on the earth plane in physical bodies .

The ultimate goal of both the leader and the led in all three groups, then, was this transcendence of the mortal plane, to be more like God or the Divine Principle, thus enabling them to bring into reality – or to realize – a utopia on earth in the here and now.

In striving to do just that, this unique metaphysical, heterodox New Thought movement as expressed in these three groups, was at constant war with the insidious marks of mortality, such as differences in skin color and gender.

For them this was their duty, their Divine cause as heterodox New Thought warriors and conquerors of the physical, lower vibrations of mortality : To make the reality of their higher selves – a raceless, classless utopia of total equality among human beings – manifest to all and thus fundamentally and universally provide the spark to change the entire consciousness of humanity.

Conclusion: To Live and Die for the Cause.

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today”
Lyrics to the song “Imagine” by John Lennon[44]

The Cause of the heterodox metaphysical New Thought movement examined in this article was to manifest utopia, a world of racial and gender equality in the here and now material world. Accomplishing this cause necessarily included a frontal assault on the false and mortal concept of separate genders and races, and racism itself. The Cause thus had a clear spiritual, practicable and tangible objective.

The objective of the leaders of all three groups in the Cause was the exact same: To divinely align heaven and earth into a physically manifested utopia, in the here and now, through the respective spiritual power of their divine minds through the groups of heterodox New Thought awareness that they had founded. In this version of reality – in the utopian state of the universal mind called Righteousness or Divine Socialism – there were no rich, nor poor, nor hierarchal sexes or races.[45] To manifest this reality was ultimately why these respective leaders had come and why the followers who had recognized them had heeded their call.

For those true believers in this heterodox, metaphysical New Thought school, they were far from marginal people. Gathered around their Atheistic Gods, they were people at the very center, not at the margins, of reality.

Fully aware that they were at the very center of reality and with absolute belief in the certainty of this ultimate reality, the believers lived, died and – in some instances – killed or committed mass suicide in that reality. In so doing, the believers were certain that whatever they did for “God” was for the ultimate good of the cause and thus for all.[46]

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Chandler, David. Who are the Quakers.

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Cult Awareness and Information Library, “The Theology Of Jim Jones” [Editor’s note: The URL once associated with this article was no longer functional in 2018].

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Hunt, John W. (aka John the Revelator), “Father Divine,” Our World, August 1949, 8-15.

Klippenstein, Kristian. Peoples Temple As Christian History: A Corrective Interpretation.

McKelway, St. Clair and A.J. Liebling. “Who Is This King of Glory?” New Yorker, June 1936. Reprinted in St. Clair McKelway, Reporting at Wit’s End: Tales from the New Yorker. New York: Bloomsbury US, 2010, 80-122.

Quinn, D.J. New Thought.

Sweet, Carol (aka Ruth Boaz). “Life with Father Divine” and “My THIRTY YEARS with FATHER DIVINE.” Ebony Vol. 20, Issue 7, May 1965, 88.

Wise, David. A True Follower of This Activist Christian Ministry.

Yates, Bonnie, The Nursery & West House: Tracing the Path of Barbiturates in Jonestown.

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Allen, Norm R. Jr. African American Humanism. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Book, 1991.

Chidester, David. Salvation and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown. Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1988. Revised ed. titled Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple and Jonestown, 2003.

Feinsod, Ethan. Awake in a Nightmare: Jonestown the Only Eyewitness Account. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1981.

Harris, Sara. Father Divine: Holy Husband. New York: Doubleday Publishing Company, 1953.

Landing, James E. Black Judaism. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2002.

Payne, Wardell J. Directory of African American Religious Bodies: A Compendium by the Howard University School of Divinity. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1995.

Murphy, Larry G., J. Gordon Melton & Gary L. Ward. Encyclopedia of African American Religions. New York: Routledge Publishing, 1993.

Pumphrey, R. Mack. False Messiah: The Ministry of Father Divine and the Influences of New Thought Theology on the Ministry of Father Divine. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2007.

Simpson, George Eaton. Black Religions in the New World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Watts, Jill. God, Harlem, U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995.

Weisbrot, Robert. Father Divine. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

West, Cornel, and Eddie S. Glaude Jr. African American Religious Thought: An Anthology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

White, Mel. Deceived. Old Tappan, N.J.: Spire Books, 1979.

Wilmore, Gayraud S. Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998.

 

Booklets

Faithful Mary. “God”: He’s Just a Natural Man. Philadelphia: Universal Light, 1937.

White, Ronald M. New Thought Influences On Father Divine, 1980.

 

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atheism.about.com

beliefnet.com

caic.org.au

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empowernetwork.com

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infiniteplaythemovie.com

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jstor.org

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mind-your-reality.com

oldlandmark.wordpress.com

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YouTube. What Is New Thought? – The first 15 minutes

 

Notes 

[1] The words of Samuel Morris as Father Jehovia circa 1907 as quoted in Sara Harris, Father Divine: Holy Husband (New York: Doubleday Publishing Company, 1953), 14.

[2] The words of George Baker Jr. as Father Divine circa 1930s as quoted in Robert Weisbrot, Father Divine (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), 33.

[3] The words of Jim Jones as Father Jones in Q 1059 (Part 1).

What this researcher finds indicative of her thesis that these three men comprise one leadership is that each attributed quote, recorded decades apart, could be randomly interchanged among them and still be appropriately descriptive of their individual and separate theological stances and sentiment.

[4] See Addendum #1.

[5] Neither the Black religious experience nor its expression in the US is monolithic. Although marginal, a variety of experience other than the mainline Protestant denominations, such as Methodism and the Anabaptist, are represented in the lives, actions and religious histories of African Americans.

While various strands of African indigenous and/or Black Theosophical, Gnostic, Islamic, Judaic and Humanist faiths have created, informed and impacted the Black religious margins in the US, what is of central focus and interest to this paper is the unique and heterodox brands of religious New Thought/Metaphysical teachings in Black communities that produced the individuals and their schools, like the Fairmount Avenue class of Father Jehovia in Baltimore, Maryland. In this tiny class, its students accepted as fact that the universal mind of the universe was contained and embodied in its leader Father Jehovia. It was from the remnants of Father Jehovia’s class that Father Divine and his Peace Mission eventually sprang. It was with concern over the ultimate fate and mission of Father Divine’s teachings and his Peace Mission that Jim Jones crafted his own Peoples Temple church to absorb and succeed them, and which profoundly shaped and guided him until the Temple’s horrific self-destruction at Jonestown in November 1978.

All of the above can be understood from the standpoint of the doctrine of the transmutation of the divine mind that arose in various times of organizational crises such as the 1912 implosion in Father Jehovia’s leadership of the Fairmount Avenue (See Addendum #1). For more on the Black American marginal religious heterodoxy milieu that eventually produced the heterodox New Thought metaphysical school from which the Peace Mission Movement and – ultimately – Peoples Temple would spring, see Larry G. Murphy, J. Gordon Melton and Gary L. Ward, Encyclopedia of African American Religions (New York: Routledge Publishing, 1993); Gayraud S. Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998); Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude Jr., African American Religious Thought: An Anthology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003); Wardell J. Payne, Directory of African American Religious Bodies: A Compendium by the Howard University School of Divinity (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1995), George Eaton Simpson, Black Religions in the New World (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007); Norm R. Allen, Jr., African American Humanism (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Book, 1991); and James E. Landing, Black Judaism (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2002).

Inside both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple, the core quest to bring about racial equality and social justice was simply referred to by the leaders and followers alike as “the Cause.” This was also reflected in the words of both Father Divine and Jim Jones that Universal brotherhood was their religion.

[6] The Father Jehovia story is addressed in works covering the origin of Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement. Father Divine and his movement have received much more attention over the years because of the scope, size and longevity of its influence, especially in major urban areas on the East Coast such as New York City and Philadelphia. Jim Jones and Peoples Temple also receives more attention than Father Jehovia for more immediate and cataclysmic reasons. This paper and the others associated with it by the author seek to underscore the connections between the groups.

[7] On the enslavement of Africans and African descendants in the US see Wikipedia, Slavery.

[8] Father Jehovia’s metaphysical class and its two offshoots, the classes of George Hickerson (as The Church of the Living God) and George Baker Jr. (as the Peace Mission Movement) were all Black initially due to location and to cultural and historical circumstances.

Rev. Jim Jones, the founder of Peoples Temple and the only White initiator of a class in this marginal metaphysical New Thought school, was the only leader in it to initially have an all-White base.

Nevertheless, interracial brotherhood was the ideal of all the groups, despite their individual and initial demographics.

[9] On the role of Christian churches in the cause to end slavery in the US see Christianity and Human Slavery, Religious Tolerance.

The role of the Black Church as well as some liberal, White protestant Christian churches in the struggle for racial equality and social justice in the US is extensive and well documented. Although a full examination of the phenomenon is outside of the scope of this paper, an understanding of the contextual terrain is key in fully comprehending Samuel Morris, George Baker Jr. and Jim Jones and how and why, they used the Christian church tradition as a place from which to organize, even as each rejected the normative Sky God of the Christian church tradition.

[10] Samuel Morris was born in and began his career as Father Jehovia in southern and eastern Pennsylvania. His disciple, George Baker Jr., was born in rural Maryland, and after a tumultuous career as Father Divine in New York City during the 1930s, relocated his Peace Mission Movement to southeastern Pennsylvania in 1942 where he died in 1965.

[11] On Quakers, see Beliefs of the Quakers, and David Chandler, Who are the Quakers. On Quakers and the struggle against White racism and for Black liberation, see “Friends (Quakers)” in Murphy et al., and in Wilmore.

Although an exhaustive comparison between the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the New Thought schools of Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones is beyond the scope of this paper, there are many points of theological convergence between their schools and Quakerism.

On the broad outline of Quaker theological axioms taken from the Wikipedia article on Quaker founder, George Fox:

  • Rituals can be safely ignored, as long as one experiences a true spiritual conversion;
  • The qualification for ministry is given by the Holy Spirit, not by ecclesiastical study. This implies that anyone has the right to minister, assuming the Spirit guides them, including women and children;
  • God “dwelleth in the hearts of his obedient people”: religious experience is not confined to a church building’ and that the founding Quaker would ‘just as soon worship in fields and orchards, believing that God’s presence could be felt anywhere;
  • God was within the faithful, believers could follow their own inner guide rather than rely on a strict reading of Scripture or the word of clerics.

Due to the inherent syncretism guiding the ideology and practice of the marginal heterodox New Thought schools of Fathers Jehovia, Divine and Jones, most of the above was consistent with much in their ministries.

Both Samuel Morris and George Baker Jr. may have been exposed to the Quakers and Quaker philosophy in the formative years of their religious lives, and the Quaker movement and philosophy echoed resoundingly throughout the subsequent theological careers of Father Divine and Jim Jones.

Just as interesting is the fact several members of a White Quaker family, the Laytons, left Quakerism to join Peoples Temple in the late 1960s: Debbie Layton Blakey was a financial secretary in the Temple leadership until her well-publicized defection from Jonestown in May 1978; her brother Larry Layton was married to Carolyn Moore Layton – another Temple leader – and he spent more than 20 years in prison for his role in the attack on Congressman Leo Ryan at the Port Kaituma airstrip; and their mother, Lisa Layton, died of natural causes in Jonestown before the tragedy of November 1978. None of the other three members of the Layton family joined Peoples Temple.

The Quaker 8 point star may have been an originating motif for a similar star that graced the fonts of Peoples Temple literature and magazines.

[12] On Methodism, see Wikipedia.

The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church is the largest Black church denomination in the US. On African American Methodism, see AME Church History – A Struggle Against Bigotry and Wikipedia.

On Methodism and the struggle against White racism and for Black liberation, see Murphy et al. and Wilmore.

Methodism, and a critique of it, is a strong thread running throughout the theological careers of Samuel Morris, George Baker Jr. and Jim Jones and his wife, Marceline Baldwin, all of whom had extensive backgrounds in various forms of American Methodism.

Two sisters in the Temple leadership also came from a Methodist background. Carolyn Moore Layton, the wife of Larry Layton, was a longtime mistress of Jim Jones and bore his son; and Ann Elizabeth Moore was a nurse who tended to Jones during his final year in Jonestown. They, like Marceline Jones, with whom they shared a similar religious background, would prove – also like Marceline Jones – loyal to Peoples Temple to the final end in Jonestown. The role of former Methodists – both Black and White – and former Quakers in the history of the movements led by Father Jehovia and Jim Jones would make a fascinating study.

[13] On the Underground Railroad see Wikipedia and encyclopedia.com.

This researcher understands the motif of the Underground Railroad during slavery of Africans in the US as descriptive of how Samuel Morris, George Baker Jr. and Jim Jones as separate individuals may have viewed the work that each was trying to accomplish for racial equality and social justice.

[14] On the Fairmount Avenue sect, see Jill Watts, God, Harlem, U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995), 27-31. The Church of the Living God and later the Peace Mission Movement were founded by George Hickerson (see Addendum #3) and George Baker Jr., respectively, both former high level lieutenants of Samuel Morris, Peoples Temple was created by Jim Jones, who was profoundly impacted by the works and legacy of George Baker Jr. as Father Divine. Jim Jones met Father Divine on several occasions and maintained a corresponding acquaintance with him up to Divine’s death in 1965. He also publically claimed the right to succeed him as the head of the Peace Mission Movement as early as 1958 – seven years before Divine’s death – but it wasn’t until the early 70s that the Temple leader made an unsuccessful bid the assume the leadership mantle.

[15] Watts, 27-31 and notes.

[16] On wandering teachers and Gurus in the Hindu, Sikh or Sufi tradition see Wikipedia.

On Charismatic authority, see “Emotional Bonds Between Leaders and Followers “ in About Religion

[17] On Quakers, see note 10 above. On Shakers, see Wikipedia.

On the “indwelling spirit” or the “God within” in both Quaker and Shaker theology, see “History of the Shaker Movement” at rootsweb.com and note 10 above.

The concept of the “indwelling spirit” or the “God within” was fundamental to the movement theology that Father Jehovia extolled and which expressed itself in the successor movements of his Fairmount Avenue Sect led by Bishop St John the Divine, Father Divine and Jim Jones.

Interestingly, Samuel Morris’ seemingly novel introductory preaching and evangelistic style may have derived from the style of George Fox, the founder of the Quaker sect of Christianity. Like Fox, Samuel Morris allegedly was driven by an inner voice; like Fox, Morris began to preach publicly in marketplaces, fields, meeting halls and even sometimes in churches after the service, where – also like Fox – he would abruptly proclaim his utopian and heretically dissident message.

The decisive theological contrast between Fox’s indwelling spirit concept and Father Jehovia’s, Father Divine’s and Jim Jones’ is that Fox still believed that the indwelling spirit was an expression of the Sky God of normative Christianity, whereas the latter leaders vehemently dismissed that view.

[18] See Addendum #1.

[19] See Religion Facts, and Beliefnet.com.

[20] See http://thehomeoftruth.org/ (Editor’s note: This page opened to an unrelated subject in 2018).

[21] See Churches of Religious Science, the Unity Churches and the Churches of Divine Science.

[22] How the teachings of Father Jehovia, Father Divine and Jim Jones, as well as their careers and churches are intertwined, are further explored in several works by this researcher, whose complete collection of writings for this site may be found here.

[23] Samuel Morris as Father Jehovia left the African Methodist Episcopal Church to start his own, radical, heterodox New Thought congregation, class or school of belief, with himself as its center.

After a stint as a Baptist Sunday school teacher at the beginning of the 20th century, George Baker Jr. as Father Divine and as the bishop of his own movement organized his followers into formal Churches in 1941. Although he posited his churches were nondenominational and unorthodox, just what they were theologically speaking was left up to the interpretation of the viewer.

Jim Jones was ordained as a Christian minister in a several Protestant denominations, including Methodism, the Independent Assemblies of God, and the Disciples of Christ, Christian Church.

For more on the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ see Wikipedia.

What this researcher hopes to convey is that although all three men had roots in various forms of normative Christianity and at one time either headed or participated in normal Christian churches – and all three would continue to reference the Christian motif throughout their careers – all three were anything but “Christians,” as the word is commonly understood.

Father Divine suggested that the Peace Mission Movement was aligned with “True Americanism, Brotherhood, Christianity and true Judaism” (see Mother Divine, The Peace Mission Movement (New York: Anno Domini Father Divine Publications, 1982) pp. 24, 27); and Jim Jones described his Peoples Temple on numerous occasions as ”Pentecostal Socialist” (e.g., tape Q 1058-3). Nevertheless, this researcher believes that these three men were leaders in a heterodox, metaphysical New Thought subset of their own unique and profound creation, and as such were recognized and accepted as God (or the New Thought equivalent) in their three respective groups by those who believed in them.

[24] The following comparative between normative Christianity and orthodox New Thought is based on the article “New Thought vs Christianity – No Contest!” (Editor’s note: The URL listed with this article was defunct in 2018).

What this researcher is underscoring with these comparative contrasts between normative Christianity and orthodox New Thought is the unique nature of the teachings of the heterodox metaphysical New Thought school brought into being by Samuel Morris, George Baker Jr. and Jim Jones in their roles as Atheistic Gods. As a further, but pointed example, according to the Belief Net website, “New Thought worship is syncretic. In the spirit of the American transcendentalists, who influenced early New Thinkers, most churches borrow freely from Eastern religions.”

This syncretism or appropriation from eastern religions is apparent in the internal language, styles and group mores of both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple, where talk of planes of existence and ideas based on past lives and reincarnation were prevalent and axiomatic. As this Belief Net website adds: “Most believe that spiritual awareness of God’s omnipresence – that God is all and all are God – leads to personal and humanity’s salvation… One can be healed through New Thought practices, often with the assistance of New Thought practitioners. Licensed practitioners offer counsel on spiritual healing for problems of the mind and body.”

Both Father Divine and Jim Jones were revered by their followers for their healing abilities, even as each emphasized that their followers’ minds being healed was the true prerequisite for their bodies to be healed. They both posited that their healed followers, by staying true and one with the cause, could and would change the world for the better. Also of note from the Belief Net website: “Some New Thought practitioners believe the individual soul merges with the universal spirit after death. Others believe in continual rebirth as a gift from God so that all may become immortal, as was Jesus Christ, with each lifetime a preparation for the next life, until perfection is reached.” Both the Peace Mission in the late 1940s and Peoples Temple in the late 1960s presented similar teachings on this subject.

Jim Jones wrote in his pamphlet about his experience with the Peace Mission that one of his concerns with it was its teaching before 1955 that its faithful members would stay alive in the flesh. It was about that time that Jim Jones and Father Divine began an ongoing relationship that lasted 10 years up until Divine’s death in 1965. The last decade of Divine’s life was also characterized by his declining health and obvious signs of his impending mortality, and by Jim Jones openly campaigning to succeed him. Just what role Jim Jones played in getting the Peace Mission to revise its teachings on death and reincarnation during this period is not exactly known. The fact that it did indicates to this researcher that his role was significant.

Jones’ final speech on Q 042, the so-called Death tape, demonstrates one last time his belief in New Thought tenets. After reminding his followers of their communist credentials, he consoles them that, as they pass over, unresolved issues in this life would and could be repaired in the next life. During the same tape, Jones’ chief of security, Jim McElvane also interjects references to reincarnation and past lives.

Some six years earlier, a group of Temple apostates had bemoaned the Temple’s rhetorical socialism and declared, “We do not believe in God… or reincarnation” (The Eight Revolutionaries), thus underscoring the fundamental importance to Peoples Temple theology of the New Thought concepts of “God in a body” as well as of reincarnation. Despite not recognized as such, then, both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple were two separate churches in one heterodox New Thought school.

[25] According to New Thought writer, H. Emilie Cady in “God is Principle” (Lessons in Truth).

[26] Examples of these can be found at any Peace Mission website or by reading Peace Mission publications.

[27] See Mother Divine, 35.

[28] http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=14111.

[29] See The Living Word. A listing of books in the Jonestown library appears here.

[30] Jim Jones was an educated man, with degrees from Indiana University and Butler University. See Antoinette Pick-Jones, “Jim Jones and the History of Peoples Temple“. In the latter 1960s, he worked as a sixth-grade public school teacher and taught adult night classes on American History and Government.

[31] http://revq.empowernetwork.com/blog/new-thought-vs-christianity (Editor’s note: This URL was defunct in 2018).

[32] Little is documented on the inner workings of the tiny Fairmount Avenue sect of Father Jehovia. What can be inferred follows the 1912 leadership implosion that resulted in the apostasy of George Hickerson and the de facto separation from the group by George Baker Jr., each of whom went on to found their own churches. The subsequent disappearance of the tiny cult from the historical record, possibly as a result of the consequences of the 1912 implosion indicates that whatever corrective methodologies for dealing with disruptive behavior in the group was neither highly developed nor particularly effective.

[33] George Hickerson, on leaving the Fairmount Avenue Sect in 1912, traveled to New York City and founded the “Church of the Living God.” Given that his experiment was defunct by 1919, it would be safe to assume that despite his dispute with Father Jehovia, George Hickerson’s own attempt to form a school that more successfully employed behavior modification techniques itself failed.

[34] “Accenting the positive and eliminating the negative” was a well-known Father Divine/Peace Mission quip of the 1930s and 1940s that succinctly summed the group’s philosophy. The phrase was made even more popular in the broader culture by Johnny Mercer, who made it into a song in the 1940s. See Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.

[35] See specifically the writings of Peace Mission apostates and dissidents such as Viola Wilson (Faithful Mary), “God”: He’s Just a Natural Man (Philadelphia: Universal Light, 1937); John W. Hunt (John the Revelator) “Father Divine” (Our World, August 1949), 8-15; Hunt’s wife, Carol Sweet (Ruth Boaz), “Life with Father Divine” and “My THIRTY YEARS with FATHER DIVINE” (Ebony Vol. 20, Issue 7, May 1965), 88; the website of Tommy Garcia (Divine’s adopted son); the recorded words of counsel which Jim Jones gave to Valarie St John and Heavenly Love, two former Peace Mission members who became his followers, at Q 1021; and the May 1976 Journal of Edith Roller. It appears from the above that both Fathers Divine and Jones rationalized using sexual encounters with select followers, in this context, for both the followers’ – and the causes’ – own good.

[36] See Bonnie Yates, The Nursery and West House: Tracing the Path of Barbiturates in Jonestown.

[37] The basis of the confessional and catharsis practices in both the Peace Mission and People Temple seemed to be based on the scriptural premise found at James 5:16 of the Holy Bible: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”

Accounts and documentation on the extreme corrective behavioral modifications of Jim Jones, Peoples Temples and those specifically employed and amplified at Jonestown are replete and profuse in the literature on Peoples Temple, including “Inside Peoples Temple”, the August 1977 article by Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy in New West Magazine that triggered the Temple exodus from the US to Guyana.

Their inclusion in this paper is to demonstrate the contextual connections and the theological considerations and flow among the metaphysical, heterodox New Thought groups, the purpose being to illuminate how each separate but theologically-connected group grappled with control of its members in order to accomplish its mission.

Faced with the same ideological and theological mission and drawing from a similar constituency, Father Jehovia, George Hickerson (Bishop Saint John the Divine), Father Divine and Jim Jones faced similar issues in trying to maintain group cohesion, although Father Jehovia and George Hickerson seem to have been far less skilled than either Father Divine or Jim Jones. Yet it was the failures of both Father Jehovia and George Hickerson that would serve Father Divine as a template for the development of his own, very successful, mind control techniques. Jim Jones would go on to study Father Divine’s mind control techniques, and successfully apply them in his Peoples Temple.

[38] Mother Divine.

[39] See Father Divine, Righteous Government Convention, Libertynet.

[40] Quotes of Jim Jones: “You prayed to the Sky God and he never heard your prayers. You asked and begged and pleaded for help with your suffering, and He never gave you any food. He never provided a bed. He never gave you a home. But I, the socialist worker God, have given you all those things!” See, for example, Q 1059-3.

Although recognized as God by his followers – and even though he was an ordained minister in several Protestant denominations which conferred upon him the title of the title of Reverend – Jones often admonished his followers to simply call him Jim, especially during the Temple’s final year in Jonestown. See, for example, Q 279.

[41] A casual perusal of the sermons, addresses and casual conversations of Jim Jones on this website will quickly show the reader that this is so.

[42] The experience of Jonestown survivor Odell Rhodes is recounted in Ethan Feinsod, Awake in a Nightmare: Jonestown the Only Eyewitness Account (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1981), pp. 104, 112-113.

[43] There is much in the literature on both Father Divine and Jim Jones’ alleged divine or paranormal powers. While much of the Peace Mission literature is replete with apologia demonstrating its leader’s divine powers, much of the post-Jonestown analyses of Jim Jones have downplayed or dismissed testimonials to his paranormal abilities.

What is important to this study is the finding that a certain repertoire of the leaders’ divine, supernatural or paranormal powers – clairvoyance, the ability to predict the future, faith healings including the raising of the dead – was not only accepted by their followers, it was expected.

[44] Beloved by Jim Jones was the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, formerly of the Beatles, in 1971. Ironically, it would likely have been the thematic anthem for all three groups studied in this paper.

The lyrics of “Imagine” are here.

[45] The Peace Mission Movement used the term “righteousness” to describe this state of mind and its manifestation in the world. Peoples Temple used the phrase “Divine Socialism” to express the same thing.

[46] Given the volatile and controversial nature and stance of these heterodox New Thought schools, the view that “all things worked together for the ultimate good” was not shared by the vast majority of their non-believing contemporaries. In the instance of Peoples Temple – largely because of the ending at Jonestown – it is largely rejected by most, and will likely continue to be. A more balanced view of the legacy of these heterodox New Thought schools will be the subject of retrospectives by future generations.

Originally posted on October 30th, 2015.

Last modified on July 19th, 2019.
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