Father Jehovia’s Fairmount Avenue Sect (1898?- 1912?)
“[Samuel] Morris (Father Jehovia) …taught that hell was non existent … that heaven was not in the sky, but within the body of each person; each person was the temple of the living God; that all persons had God within … That (inner) spirit… once nourished… grew and increased, filling the entire consciousness, eliminating all sin, all sickness, all disease.[i]
The founder this New Thought school is Samuel Morris (1868-1935?) in his guise as Father Jehovia, the leader of the Fairmount Avenue metaphysical class.
Mission:[ii] The mission of the Fairmount Avenue Sect was to spread the truth of Father Jehovia as the ultimate expression of God in the father ship degree, to teach and realize that heaven was not in the sky, that each person was the temple of the living God, that all persons had God within. More pragmatically, the mission was to found, sustain and maintain a utopian community based on this realization.
Structure: A house commune was built around the physical person and teachings of Father Jehovia.
Leadership: The leadership of the sect consisted of Father Jehovia who embodied the highest level of God and those individuals most attuned with him.
Duties: To gather individual members who would recognize Father Jehovia’s divinity and use him as guide for their own ascension as they found, sustained and maintained a utopian community based on this realization.
Powers: The members in Father Jehovia’s Fairmount Avenue sect believed that their leader embodied the highest level of truth Principle and God and thus had mastery over all the mental and physical aspects of matter. The also believed that they as students would ascend and gain the same powers based on this realization.
The Peace Mission Movement
“[Father Divine] Taught…that all persons had God within ….That (inner) spirit…once nourished…grew and increased, filling the entire consciousness, eliminating all sin, all sickness and all disease.”
The International Peace Mission Movement of Father Divine was the utopian successor group to the Fairmount Avenue sect through the ongoing ministry of its founder, Father Divine.[iii]
The Peace Mission’s Mission:[iv] To spread the truth of Father Divine as the ultimate expression of God in the father ship degree, that heaven was not in the sky, that each person was the temple of the living God, and that all persons had God within and to found, sustain and maintain a utopian community based on this realization.
The Peace Mission had several independent but associated Circle and Mission Churches with their various boards, residential extensions and associated businesses all recognizing the divinity of Father Divine and adhering to his teachings.
As was the case with the Fairmount Avenue Sect, an extended house commune was built around the physical person and teachings of Father Divine.
The Peace Mission’s leadership was formed by several member-elected independent but associated Circle and Mission Churches with their various boards, residential extension and associated business leaders and associates all of whom were co-workers with Father Divine until his death, and then of his widow, Mother Divine, who recognize the divinity of Father Divine and adhere to his teachings.
Essence: The leadership of the International Peace Mission Movement consisted of Father Divine who embodied the highest level of God and those individuals most attuned with him. These were known as his secretarial staff and his angels. After the death of Father Divine, paramount leadership passed to his widow, Mother Divine.
The Peace Mission’s Duties consisted of actions that would produce the results of its mission: To build, sustain and maintain a community, built around the mind of the leader, Father Divine, and occupy physical jurisdictions composing a material and literal utopia on earth in real time.
The Peace Mission’s Metaphysical Powers: The members in The International Peace Mission Movement believe that their founding leader, Father Divine, embodied the highest level of truth Principle and God and thus had mastery over all the mental and physical aspects of matter, and that they as students will ascend and gain the same powers based on this realization.
“[Jim Jones]…taught that hell was non existent … that … Each person was the temple of the living God; that all persons had God within.”
Peoples Temple Christian church was founded by the Rev. Jim Jones (1931-1978) in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1956, who led the group until it and to a cataclysmic end in Guyana in 1978.[v]
The Peoples Temple Mission was to spread the truth based on the teachings of Jim Jones as the ultimate reality of life and politics, that heaven was not in the sky, that all persons had God within and that each person was the temple of the living God. To realize this mission, followers were to create, sustain and maintain a utopian community based on this realization through Jim Jones as leader, teacher and guide.
The Peoples Temple structure was as an independent Christian congregation within the larger Disciples of Christ denomination with an active overseas agricultural mission. As with the groups of Fathers Jehovia and Divine before his, the essence of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple was an extended house commune built around his physical person and teachings.
Peoples Temple was led by Jim Jones as pastor of the church. He was assisted by his wife, associate pastors, a secretarial board and a Planning Commission.
The Peoples Temple’s duties consisted of actions that would produce the results of its leading mind, Jim Jones: To build, sustain and maintain a community, built around the teachings and philosophies of the leader and to create and occupy physical jurisdictions composing a material and literal utopia on earth based on his vision.
The members of Peoples Temple believed that Jim Jones embodied the highest level of truth, Principle and God and was thus clairvoyant and in sync mentally and physically with the higher plane of existence which allowed him to heal and raise the dead to life.
[i] James E. Landing, Black Judaism (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2002), 146.
Samuel Morris’ independent ministry resulted in the formation of the Fairmount Avenue sect around 1898 and was centered in the segregated Black community of Baltimore, Maryland.
Although no extant primary source documents exits on Father Jehovia’s Fairmount Avenue sect much can be extrapolated from secondary sources and the subsequent careers of his two most historically prominent and known disciples, George Baker Jr. as Father Divine and George Hickerson as Bishop St. John the Divine or Bishop St. John de Vine.
Both the initiating core theological and structural features later exhibited by both the Peace Mission and Peoples Temple are present in this historically obscure but centrally important metaphysical class.
Although he acted in the role of a religious leader to the tiny coterie of all Black followers he had gathered, Father Jehovia never sought to get a formal or system recognized clerical stature by going to some form of divinity school and becoming an authorized cleric even though that was the practice within the established and formal denomination that he had left to found his own movement. Nor did he seek to structure his own small following in any formal church structural way. His founding and enduring template was the informal house church or commune.
His practice was being the ultimate metaphysical New thought theoretician, leader and guru of a tightly nit, high intensity commune, or class of students, in various stages of discovering their true divine selves through him. Having left it behind in his own ascension, the formal church and its normative structures had no interest or utility for him. He was about the business of creating a utopian heaven of his own mind and in his own way.
So very entrenched in his own utopian project, Father Jehovia seems to have thoroughly rejected the formal church in his new role as God’s human embodied avatar. So much so, that it appears in historical retrospect, that his class apparently imploded because of the contradiction between those who joined it and were trying to emulate his example and those who joined but also wanted to do so while retaining or reemploying some aspects of the familiar church structure that they had recently left behind.
The fact that Father Jehovia’s leading class dissident, George Hickerson, was called Bishop and later founded a class of his own, which he called a church would indicate that the above assessment of the nature and cause of the dissidence was so.
[ii] In writing on the mission’s of the Fairmount Ave, Peace Mission and Peoples Temple Churches or individual groups, the researcher is referring to the mission of that group in its macro or broadest sense, in the context of its place as an individual class in the overall metaphysical New Thought school in which it is classified, in this paper, and not to the individual mission of any such individual Church or Temple as a chartered organization with a specific documented and written mission statement.
[iii] George Baker Jr. in his guise as deputy to Father Jehovia with the title of the Messenger and “God in the son ship degree” was converted to the Fairmount Avenue sect from a storefront Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. He moved into Father Jehovia’s commune where, apparently enthralled by his new guru, he rapidly imbibed the new teachings and totally discarded, forever, his previous mortal life as George Baker Jr.
[iv] Peace Mission stages of development: The Peace Mission’s first stage consisted of a proto Peace Mission movement (1912-1931) based on the ministry of George Baker Jr. first as The Messenger of Father Jehovia as God the Father and his teachings, than as God, the son of Father Jehovia and then later, while affiliated with Bishop St John the Divine’s Church of the Living God in New York, he took the name and self proclaimed title of Reverend Major Jealous Devine.
The proto Peace Mission began out of Baker’s missionary tour in the Deep South. He and his numerically tiny, all Black, following transferred their mission to New York City, New York State at the beginning of World War 1. At wars end the small commune transferred itself to a New York City suburb on Long Island were it remained a tiny house cult in the approximate pattern of the original Fairmount Avenue sect for almost a decade. The second phase (1932-1941) began with the adoption of the title “Father Divine” for the leader and the name “Peace Mission Movement” by the group for the ministry, after a series of highly publicized run in with the police. This second phase marks the zenith of Baker’s movement when it became well known in the media for hosting enormous free banquets for the public in the midst of the Great depression, marching with the Communist Party USA for peace and socialism and challenging the prevailing white racist status quo.
During this phase the cult went from its all Black origins and its inner city Harlem base to become an interracial movement with an international membership on 5 continents. It also bought land in upstate New York on which to plant and form a series of rural utopian communities collectively called the Promised Land.
Its third phase is divided into two parts, Part one (1942- 1965) and Part two (1966 – ) which is continuing. The third phase, part one, consist of the beginnings of the long, slow decline of the Peace Mission. It was characterized by the Mission leaving its New York City core and relocating to Philadelphia and the subsequent loss of momentum and members as it formalized itself into Churches with orders within the churches and the expansion of the celibate rule to all members as opposed to just members in group extensions and communes. This phase ends with the death of Baker – Father Divine – in 1965. The third phase, part two, continues the long, slow decline of the Peace Mission. It is characterized by the post-1965 rise of his successor, Baker’s widow, Mother Divine, to the leadership of the Movement and the eventual selling off of much of the Peace Missions’ iconic landmarks and possessions accumulated during its earlier zenith years. In the first half of the 21 century, in which the movement becomes 100 years old, the ultimate demise of the movement, appears immanent.
[v] Peoples Temple went through several stages. Its first stage consisted of a following of the Rev Jim Jones as an anti racist fundamentalist, charismatic Christian preacher in the Midwest through, first the Methodist and various Pentecostal sects, then through to the Disciples of Christ Christian Church and his initial forays into the Caribbean and South America to find a suitable location for an overseas extension for his group (1953-1964).
The next phase (1965-1971) begins with the transfer of the Peoples Temple congregation from the Midwest to rural California. Here Peoples Temple consolidated its second tier leadership and set its sights on growth and consolidation in the inner city neighborhoods of the San Francisco bay area.
Its third phase is divided into two parts, 1972-1977 and 1978. The period of 1972-1977 marked its California inner city zenith, characterized by increasing political power within San Francisco politics and the controversies that arose because of that increasing power and finally to the third phase, second-and final-part, 1978 which marked the Peoples Temple tragic terminus at Jonestown, Guyana