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Peoples Temple was the religious community whose leader was Jim Jones. This organization provoked the interest when its 900 participants died in a massive act of murder-suicide. Jim Jones created the movement in the 1950s as an independent community in Indianapolis. One should say that the man dreamt of practicing the ideals of a just society that could overcome the evils of poverty and racism. Consequently, his church attracted mostly African Americans who faced the similar problems. It is evident that Peoples Temple led to the tragedy of many people which means that its ideology was a cult, and Jim Jones was its evil leader. As a result, the following research paper intends to explore the entity of the movement, its history, ideology, and tragedy.
The History of Peoples Temple
Peoples Temple was a new church founded by Jim Jones in 1955 (Kilduff and Tracy 30). At first, it was a Christian church, but later, he got disappointed with God and his inability to change the situation with inequality and poverty. It means that the man did not believe in the Lord anymore. The movement was growing very quickly as its philosophy encouraged caring for the elderly and maintaining a social service. The full name of that community was the Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, and it spread the idea of racial equality and combination of Christian ideals with socialist politics. At first, the organization operated in Indiana. However, in the 1970s, it moved to California (Beck 2). It was the peak of its development as it collaborated with left-wing political figures and consisted of 20,000 members (Caplin 1).
Jim Jones as a leader of Peoples Temple was a cult personality. Although he was the founder of that community and supporter of racial equality, he was unpopular because of the mass murder-suicide of the members of the organization, the ordering of four additional followers’ deaths, and the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan. Additionally, Jim Jones was a controversial personality as he did not believe in God. As to his wife, she did not support his opinion and wanted the divorce. However, soon she got poisoned. Moreover, Jim Jones was known for homosexual relations in spite of his banning of sex between Temple members. Furthermore, he was engaged in sexual intercourse with both males and females. Thus, it is evident that the man was not an exemplary leader as he imposed his ideas and rules on other people violating them himself.
One can name 1955 a symbolic year as the emergence of Peoples Temple meant the reevaluation of Christian values and such social problems as racism, poverty, and inequality (Milmon 30). Being utopian and social change church movement, the organization could bring benefits to its members. However, the activity of its leader and his reputation darkened the image of that community as the religious one. Peoples Temple oriented on New Christian Movement and Eclectic Pentecostal Protestant Organization (Caplin 2). It is evident that Peoples Temple wanted to accomplish the social goals, but they failed to do this.
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Jim Jones as a Leader of Peoples Temple
Jim Jones was born in Crete, Indiana. His family was not united and happy as his father had little interest in him as he had physical disabilities, and his mother worked at a variety of jobs. It means that Jim Jones felt the lack of their love and attention. It is evident that his childhood was difficult and full of challenges. For years, his neighbor often took him to visit the church. Consequently, the interest in religion had been developing since he was a small boy. His overpowering religious zest made him dislike many typical teenage activities like dancing, drinking, and sports supposing them sinful. Another factor that influenced Jim Jones as a personality was the divorce of his parents. As a result, his dream was to create a happy family.
Jones started his church after the years of struggling to find his way because he believed that he could bring about some changes in the community. Moreover, the church where he was a student pastor did not share his ideals and beliefs. Jim Jones was interested in racially integrated services, and he wanted to realize them with the modeling of his vision of the church. Thus, the principles of Peoples Temple referred to the interests of Jim Jones and his small leadership corps. Moreover, they were based on the power of socialism and atheistic ideals. All in all, the belief system of the movement consisted of utopianism, communism, socialism, the Christian Social Gospel, and Pentecostalism. It is obvious that the ideas of the organization represented the eclectic mix of practices that intended to end the capitalistic world. One should say that the doctrines of Peoples Temple were from the prophetic texts of the Bible and encouraged the social justice. Furthermore, such themes of the Black Church as judgment, justice, freedom, and liberation were essential for Peoples Temple as well (Moore 17). However, the opponents of Peoples Temple considered it a radical dualism and catastrophic millennial group.
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As for the followers, Jim Jones recruited people using his charismatic leadership and the power of influence. Moreover, he was a master manipulator who promised equality, physical healing, social justice, and alternatives to traditional religion. One should say that the man created a large African American community imposing on them his values and interests. He was an open ministry that appealed to people who underwent racial discrimination and poverty (Scheeres 16). Jim Jones managed to control them, changing Peoples Temple from the religious establishment into the social one.
The Tragedy of Peoples Temple
It is evident that Peoples Temple could bring many benefits to the communities of Indiana and California although they did not follow their hearts and souls but the cult leader Jim Jones. First, the movement united African American people and reinforced the necessity of finding the solutions to such problems as racial discrimination and poverty. Second, they helped poor citizens, especially homeless, drug addicts, and racial minorities. The organization was interested in the social changes in the Indiana and Californian communities. Unfortunately, Jim Jones brought those benefits only initially (Beck 1).
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Speaking about the membership, people had to share Jones’ ideas to join Peoples Temple. At first, his beliefs and desire for social changes attracted them but soon they understood that they were utopian and wanted to leave. However, Jim Jones did not allow it doing this via blackmail and threats. Furthermore, he could humiliate those individuals involving other members of the community. Moreover, the members of the organization were cut off from their families and the rest of the world. They had to give up their previous life to join Peoples Temple becoming strange and alien to their relatives and friends if their values contradicted the ideas of the movement. In return, they received the promises about the better life, social justice, equality, and overcoming of racial discrimination (Moore 17).
The problem and tragedy of Peoples Temple lies in the absence of equality within the organization itself. Jim Jones was an absolute leader who supposed other members should sacrifice their families and lives for the sake of the public justice. Moreover, the man used sex to control other participants and made himself the principal object of people’s sexual desire. At one point, Jones moved his flock to Guyana to demonstrate the power of him as a leader and the strengths of Peoples Temple (Wessinger 10). Thus, it is evident that he had a total control as he made other people commit the mass suicide. Additionally, there were many cases of abuse within the organization, and Jim Jones was their key initiator. He made the members get married, break the partnerships and separated families. Parents could easily kill their children. Moreover, he forced men and women to have sex with him. To sum up, Jones encouraged the participants of Peoples Temple to commit suicides and abuse other people (Moore 10).
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Individuals committed suicide voluntarily, and the witnesses stated that they wanted to die. Jim Jones persuaded them that going it was a sacrifice for the sake of social justice and equality. Physical torture, mental torture, corporal punishment, and verbal abuse were the usual things for Peoples Temple. Consequently, mass suicide was only the result of the total power of its leader (Scheeres 10).
In conclusion, one should say that the history of Peoples Temple shows that social movement cannot be based on the authoritative power, combination of religion and politics, and sacrificing. The movement was the example of totalistic control and violence that won the negative reputation and led to many deaths and much cruelty. Jim Jones as a leader of the church was an authoritative and tyrannical person who felt the satisfaction from other people’s deaths and abuse. He considered himself a religious and political personality. However, his name evoked only the thought about Guyana Tragedy caused by him and his ideas. The tragedy of Peoples Temple was in the addiction to Jones’ ideology and inability to understand the falsity of his beliefs. It is evident that Guyana Tragedy did not bring the promised freedom and justice as it was the way of acting of sick and tyrannical individual.