On November 18, 1978, 909 members of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple killed themselves in the Guyanese jungle. They had established themselves there to pursue Jones’ communist-socialist dream, which became a nightmare.
The People’s Temple started out as the People’s Christian Temple. However, the “Christian” facade was soon laid aside as the Temple grew to thousands. Slowly, Jones revealed his true self-identity:
- What you need to believe in is what you can see…If you need me to be your God, I’ll be your God.”
However, evil often comes in the form of the good and moral. Jones boasted that he had created four state-of-the-art senior homes. He had adopted inter-racial children, and the first black child in Indiana. He received everyone as an equal. He repeatedly proclaimed that all were one big family. Members would sell everything they had and the People’s Temple would take care of all their needs.
There was much good, but, not far from the surface, the evil lurked. Jones declared that many of the Temple members were:
- Hung up on the Bible…[It has] held Black people down for centuries.
At this, he threw the Bible down to the ground.
Temple members would work 20 hours a day. Some stayed up for days. Others felt guilty if they attempted to sleep through the night. Sleep-deprivation became the norm. Reports of Jones’ sexual appetite for both men and women became know. He even prevented members from speaking to one another.
Nevertheless, these inconsistencies were overlooked. Members would say:
- He really understood [the Black plight].
- Every person felt they had a purpose there…Something bigger than themselves.
- They had life; they had soul; they had power. We were alive in those services.
The footage of the members celebrating and worshipping testifies in favor of their “alive-ness.” Thousands were attracted, even as the focus began to shift to a Jones-worship. About him, people would say, “He has power!” In the midst of healing services, he’d tell his multi-racial “family” to look towards him. Many regarded him as a miracle-worker and a healer.
Nevertheless, some began to sense that there was something wrong but felt that it was too late to escape. The Temple had become their home, their family. Sometimes, it was the threats and intimidation that kept members from leaving, until they finally found their “liberation” through mass suicide.
Evil is alluring. It dresses itself in the clothing of righteousness. It must do so, or no one would be seduced by it. Paul had warned the Corinthian church:
- Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Cor. 11:14-15)
How then can anyone tell the difference between true goodness and its copy? One Facebook blogger responded:
- I guess I better stay away from beautiful, ethical stuff.
I responded that we must be careful and discerning. Jesus taught:
- "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-17)
Jones’ inconsistencies had been apparent from almost the start. However, he and his Temple family were very attractive and inviting. When we are so in need of friendship, family, and moral involvement, we are willing to overlook the shadows.
However, this should not only be a lesson for seekers. It must also be a lesson for the church. What Jones had done with racial reconciliation had been radical, while we had been neglectful and sometimes even worse. Instead, we are supposed to be the example for the world, as Jesus proclaimed:
- "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:13-15)
However, we have largely failed in this. No wonder people have left our churches for cults and defective off-shoots like the Emergent Church! Lord have mercy!
Jesus left us with this mandate. (It also served as His prayer – John 17:21):
- "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)
How can people know that Jesus is the Way when we remain divided – racially and interpersonally? How can we stop the rupturing of the church if we fail to humble ourselves before our Lord’s instructions?
Oh Lord, come to our aid. We have failed to love as we ought. We have failed to forgive as we ought. We haven’t poured ourselves out for others as You have done for us. Empower us Lord. Pour out Your Holy Spirit upon us that others might know the truth about You. You alone are our hope!