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Peoples Temple

Peoples Temple

A congregation led by Pastor Jim Jones. It fell victim to a massive murder-suicide in November 1978. In the wake of the tragedy, the Peoples Temple has become a symbol of the dangers of cults and Jones the model of the evil, manipulative cult leader. The Peoples Temple was for the last 15 years of its existence a part of the Christian church (Disciples of Christ), a large mainstream Christian denomination. In the 1960s it was hailed by liberal Protestants for its social activism. Within the loose structure of the Christian church, however, it developed a unique internal life.

The Peoples Temple was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1955 by a youthful Jim Jones as an independent congregation. He eventually brought the congregation into fellowship with the Disciples of Christ and he was ordained as a minister in that church in 1965. The next year he led most of the congregation's members to Ukiah, California, and once settled the group began to take on the elements of its unusual life. Although Jones was white, his efforts at recruiting were focused in the African American community, and the great majority of members were black. Worship services took on the free style of black Holiness churches.

Jones had been deeply influenced by his perception of black religious leader Father Divine, both in his ability to build an interracial community and in his godlike status. At one point he even attempted to merge his efforts with those of Divine's Peace Mission. Jones also came to see himself as possessing some of the godlike abilities claimed by Divine. This new self-perception was also influenced by Jones's experience among Brazilian Spiritists, and he was seen by followers as a prophet and miracle worker. Not only could he heal, but there were a number of cases of reported resurrection from the dead. Church services came to feature psychic readings and healings by Jones. Equally strong in Jones were the Marxist leanings underlying his social idealism.

By 1972 the Peoples Temple had grown to include several congregations, with groups in San Francisco and Los Angeles joining the older groups in Indianapolis and Ukiah. That same year Jones leased land in the South American nation of Guyana and the temple initiated an agricultural colony. The colony prospered and in 1977 Jones and a number of the members moved there. Eventually approximately one thousand members resided at Jonestown, as the colony was named. Jones's move to Guyana coincided with a rising criticism of the church by former members (including accusations of violence directed toward some) and the prospect of several very negative media reports on the temple.

By this time a variety of government investigations had been launched into temple activities, including its use of the welfare checks received by many of the members. In the midst of the ongoing controversy, Congressman Leo J. Ryan went to Guyana to see the colony, claiming he was interested because many of its residents had formerly lived in his district. After what had been to all outward appearances a cordial visit, Ryan and his party were murdered as they were about to board an airplane to return to the United States. Within hours most of the temple members were dead; some committed suicide, but many were murdered. Very few survived to tell what had happened.

In the wake of the tragedy, the U.S. Congress conducted an extensive investigation. Unfortunately, though a lengthy report was issued, the mass of materials, including the files of the various government investigations of the temple, have never been made public, and the truth of what actually occurred at Jonestown remains shrouded in mystery. Substantive revelations of what occurred there will likely be made when those files become available. In the meantime, completely distancing herself from the standard anticult rhetoric concerning the temple, Patricia Ryan, Ryan's daughter, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, claiming that it was in large part responsible for her father's death.

Sources:

Hall, John R. Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1987.

Klineman, George, and Sherman Butler. The Cult That Died. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1980.

Melton, J. Gordon, ed. The Peoples Temple and Jim Jones: Broadening Our Perspectives. New York: Garland, 1990.

Moore, Rebecca, ed. New Religious Movements, Mass Suicide, and Peoples Temple: Scholarly Perspectives on a Tragedy. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989.

Reiterman, Tom. Raven. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1982.

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Jones, Jim (1931-1978)

Jones, Jim (1931-1978)

Founder of the Peoples Temple 900, whose members died in a massive murder-suicide in 1978. Jones was for many years an honored pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) before his career ended in controversy and death.

Jones was born May 31, 1931, in Lynn, Indiana. As a young man he became the pastor of a Methodist church but could not meet the Methodist standards for a minister. He left in 1954 to found an independent congregation in Indianapolis to further his vision of a church that could overcome racial barriers. He was impressed with the accomplishments of Father Divine, and he modeled his own church, which he called the Peoples Temple, on Father Divine's Peace Mission Movement. In the mid-1960s he had a vision of a nuclear holocaust and moved the congregation to Ukiah, California, which he believed would be a relatively safe location. In the meantime, he and the congregation had become affiliated with the Disciples of Christ.

In California, Jones became a social activist and was well known for his support of liberal social and political causes. He extended his work to Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he built predominantly African American congregations. Leadership, however, tended to fall into the hands of the minority white members. Worship followed a style common to the black community, with a gospel choir, spirited preaching, and reports of miracle healings. According to reports, Jones became increasingly autocratic in his leadership, and as he became frustrated at the lack of visible effects of his efforts to end racism, he began to lean increasingly toward Marxism.

In 1973 he founded a rural agricultural colony in the largely Marxist country of Guyana. Through the mid-1970s, as the colony seemed to prosper, there were an increasing number of rumors and accusations concerning irregularities at the temple, including charges of violence against former members and temple critics. In 1977, just before the appearance of an exposé article in New West magazine, Jones and many of his followers migrated to the colony, which had been named Jonestown.

Jones responded to the accusations with heightened paranoia. During this time he was also seeking a solution to the problem of financing his following and placing his followers in a harmonious environment. He explored a number of possibilities, including "revolutionary suicide,"suicide committed in furtherance of a moral cause. During the Vietnam War, for example, several Buddhist monks killed themselves in protest of the war. Jones's situation was different, however, in that he was attempting to gain the entire community's acceptance of the idea.

In November 1978 California Congressman Leo Ryan made a visit to Guyana to observe life at Jonestown. For reasons still not well understood, immediately after he left and was preparing to return to the United States, a group of temple members attacked and killed him and his party. A short time later, most of the residents at Jonestownapproximately 900 men, women, and childreneither committed suicide or were murdered. Jim Jones died on November 18, 1978 from a gunshot wound.

Understanding the tragedy of Jonestown has been hindered by the confiscation and storage under lock and key of the many records concerning the investigation of the temple and Ryan's death. The lack of information has allowed a wide range of speculation about what occurred. Jonestown has since become a popular example of the pitfalls of unapproved religious groups, or cults.

Sources:

Hall, John R. Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1987.

Melton, J. Gordon, ed. The Peoples Temple and Jim Jones: Broadening Our Perspectives. New York: Garland, 1990.

Moore, Rebecca, ed. New Religious Movements, Mass Suicide, and Peoples Temple: Scholarly Perspectives on a Tragedy. New York: Edwin Mellen, 1989.

Reiterman, Tom. Raven. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1982.

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Jones, Jim

Jim Jones, 1931–78, American religious leader, b. Lynn, Indiana. An influential Indianapolis preacher from the 1950s and onetime head of the city's Human Rights Commission, Jones formed the racially integrated People's Temple (1955), which he eventually moved to Ukiah, Calif. (1967), and then San Francisco (1971). In 1976 he was appointed head of the San Francisco Housing Authority, but the following year, after he became the subject of criminal investigations, particularly regarding alleged diversion of church donations to his personal use, Jones and about 1,000 followers relocated to a commune (Jonestown) that he established in Guyana. In Nov., 1978, U.S. Congressman Leo J. Ryan and four others were killed by cult members as they were leaving after an investigatory visit. The following day, Jones orchestrated the mass suicide of 912 followers, who were compelled to drink cyanide-laced punch. Jones died the same day of a bullet wound to the head.

See studies by K. Levi, ed. (1982), J. M. Weightman (1984), D. Chidester (1988), and J. Scheeres (2011).

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Peoples Temple

Peoples' Temple. Movement founded by the Reverend Jim Jones, a Christian socialist, in Indianapolis during the early 1950s. Having moved to California in 1965, Jones then established Jonestown, Guyana (1977). The Jones-town tragedy occurred in Nov. 1978, when 913 followers and Jones himself died, a sizeable number by drinking cyanide-laced ‘Flavor-Aid’ (the remainder were murdered). The tragedy was triggered by an investigation by Congressman Les Ryan and a party of journalists, seen as demonic agents.

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"Peoples Temple." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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People's Temple

People's Temple: see Jones, Jim.

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