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Why Members of The Peoples Temple Committed Suicide



Why Members of The Peoples Temple Committed Suicide

What was Going on in America in the 1970s?

The 70s proved to be a tumultuous time for the U.S. The country had to grapple with civil rights movements and the cold war in what looked like a continuation of the hard times of the 60s. Among the marginalized communities, the desire and fight to achieve equality and be heard were never-ending while Americans joined in demonstrations against Vietnam.

A notable course of social upheaval in this decade was the conservative backlash which created animosity among social classes. Many Americans, especially the poor and blacks, were constantly protesting social injustices, preceding from the earlier decades. With assassinations of transformative leaders including Malcom X, Martin Luther and J.F Kennedy, most social classes to which they represented resorted to activism in a bid to revolt such injustices. Meanwhile, the working class and most whites had become sick of government interference in a bid to protect the poor and blacks at the expense of taxpayers (Nelson Jr., 2006).

So Many People Hungry for Religious Answers

The social differences had dissected the nation into groups of significance, and even more worryingly, spurred hatred between the American citizens. Discrimination was so evident that in many states, the blacks and whites, working class and peasants did not tag along. As a result, the social upheaval had felt much hopeless.

Divine intervention would prove to be timely for a society so hopeless. The Peoples Temple was just the presentation of what many people desired. It was an embodiment of hope. A church that equaled both whites and blacks, made people from a diverse social background feel special. Religion was going to bring a people so divided together. People were not going to feel indifferent or mistreated because of their social differences as long there was a religious set up. The preachers were very heartwarming and openly condemned discrimination and social inequality. Many were united.

Religion was not just going to give hope to the highly divided nation, but also give direction to the many individuals who were fighting hedonistic pleasures. People who had questions regarding their life purpose or also struggling with worldly pleasures.  Stanley Clayton, for instance, admits to fighting drugs and alcoholism, which looked like a hopeless course, a question in his life that was answered when he came to The Peoples Temple (Nelson Jr., 2006).

How A Single Man Convinced Hundreds to Commit Suicide

The Peoples Temple grew at a considerably fast rate. Many people who felt the need for love, peace, and harmony among citizens of all race, culture, class or color, sought solace in The Peoples Temple. It was loved by many because it was an embodiment of unity. Jimmy Jones openly criticized the inequalities of the society, thereby winning the hearts of many. Indeed, such was a time when a church where the true church was that which appreciated both blacks and white. A white preacher openly condemning social inequality against black citizens was likely to boast many followers in such times.

With a significant number of followers, Jimmy Jones used a strategic step by step indoctrination which involved radicalizing them into accepting erroneous beliefs. It was so strategic that perhaps, not many would resist at the end of the church’s course. as many streamed it into the figure of unity, the preacher fed them with what they wanted to hear. They sang songs of praises, did their duties together, acknowledged the need for equality and grew up in love. The preacher, Jimmy, was strong, powerful and firm with persuasive if not authoritative skills. As far as they were concerned, he had healed them of their ailments, they had seen him perform miracles.

He taught them doctrines which were not Christian-like. Asking them to believe in themselves and not a supreme being that they do not see (God). Asking them to see him as their God might have gone overboard, but it was a success in convincing the religiously thirsty folks that he was their only visible hope and glory. He promised to find solutions for their troubles, including moving to Russia in the midst of persistent civil strife, a move that won him a fatherly if not godly position. Jimmy Jones had succeeded in building his loyal base among the followers to the extent they did not realize how erroneous and misleading he had become. Unknown to them, they had gotten themselves into a system which encouraged homosexuality, drug abuse, bigamy, infidelity, fornication and individual supremacy, all of which have no biblical foundation. Therefore, in over two decades, what once stood as a temple of hope, could no longer acclaim the stature of a church. Many were misled to believe that it was.

The first loyalty test of giving the congregation poison on New Year’s Eve even got Jim’s followers more into following him. He did not allow them to talk about or condemn church activities, otherwise, such a person would be viewed as a peace inhibitor. In the end, they got so involved that there was actually no way out. Therefore, when the final test came, it was easy to convince them. They had grown to view Jimmy as a person so significant and supreme to their lives that they would not cast doubts to his assertions.  His activities in the past three decades had prepared them for this and when he asked them to commit suicide, many of the followers were on his side (Nelson Jr., 2006).

Peoples’ Temple, A Part of the Religious Cultural Trend

Most people, group of individuals or communities still consider themselves marginalized in the present-day society. Discrimination based on religion, race, sex, transgender, and color are realities that people still grapple with today. As a result, many tend to go to a religious system where they will feel more appreciated and accommodated. The society is there for such people and they will always find what they want. Churches have come up over the past decades, which openly embrace LGBT rights and such have even put together gay couples in the name of marriage. These religious institutions have won the hearts of many pro LGBT activists. Other churches have openly criticized white discrimination against blacks and thus suited black population. On a bigger picture, there is great division in the name of religion: the Islam and the Christians. Some Islamic sects have been indoctrinated into believing that the killing of non-Muslims is a heroic act rewarded in heaven. This has left many nations in disarray, in an attempt to curb enormous acts of terrorism emanating from misleading religious beliefs (Nelson Jr., 2006).

People are ready to believe and their willingness to give in to someone more supreme makes them susceptible of falling into the wrong sect or religion.


Nelson Jr., S. (2006). Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. Firelight Media: Firelight Media.