Jim Jones Cult Wiki: What Was the Peoples Temple?

In 1978, a mass tragedy with major American connections occurred in Guyana. Want to know more? Read our Jim Jones cult wiki for information on Reverend Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, and the Jonestown Massacre.

The Peoples Temple was a Christian sect that gained popularity for its progressive ideas, advocating for civil rights and racial equality. But its charismatic leader, Jim Jones, had bigger plans for the church and wanted to create an egalitarian utopia. Roughly 1,000 members moved to Guyana in 1977. It was here, in the isolated jungles, that Jones honed his psychological mind control, and the Jim Jones cult was truly born. It died one year later when 918 people died in a mass-suicide event now known as the Jonestown Massacre. This Jim Jones cult Wiki page delves into the history of the Peoples Church and how Jim Jones got his followers to commit suicide.

The Peoples Temple

The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, better known as the Peoples Church, was founded by Jim Jones in 1955 in Indianapolis, Indiana as a branch of the Protestant Church of Christ Disciples.

Jim Jones

Reverend Jim Jones; Photo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7E3otRWOIM


Jones used the Peoples Temple to espouse his beliefs in Christianity, communism, and socialism. The progressive church promoted progressive ideas including civil rights and racial equality, as well as operated homes for the elderly and opened a soup kitchen, an orphanage, and provided services for the disabled.

To show he was committed to social equality, in 1960, Jim Jones and his wife Marceline adopted a black child; they were the first white couple in Indiana to ever do so. Eventually, the Jones family grew to include one biological child, one adopted white child, one black child, three Korean children, and one Native American child.

The year 1960 was also the year the Peoples Temple was accepted into the Disciples of Christ denomination. The denomination suited Jones, as it had a policy of local autonomy, something Jones craved. Even though Jones never attended seminary, he was ordained in 1964.

Jones knew the best way to get his church grow was to preach about integration. This belief helped him draw in most of the local African American population; at the time, integrated churches were unheard of, and the civil rights movement wasn’t in full swing for a number of years.

Reverend Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

Reverend Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple; Photo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7E3otRWOIM

In addition to desegregation, many joined the Peoples Temple because they were attracted to his message and method of teaching. Early versions of the Peoples Temple resembled Pentecostal services, full of energy. This would have been in sharp contrast to most stereotypical churches of the time.Even those who were critical of Jones at the time commented on how excited they were to find a lively, committed, and caring church.

As the church continued to grow, Jones started to further develop his ideas of communalism and socialism. Jones had for years maintained strong communist leanings, which, as the church’s leader, made it easy for him to get his followers to withdraw from society. The community shared everything from food and clothing to time, property, and money.

As a result, the church started to look more like a cult than religious group, whose members were cut off from their families and the rest of society. But the more successful the church became, the easier it was for Jones to convince his followers that his ideals were true.

In 1965, the slightly paranoid and drug addicted Jones moved his congregation from Indiana to Ukiah, California as it was considered one of the safest places in the U.S. in the event of a nuclear war. Eventually, Jones found the Redwood Valley area of California a little limiting, and in 1970, the Peoples Temple was holding services in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

By the spring of 1976, Jones was openly admitting that he was an Atheist. Marceline, his wife, said that Jones started a church not because of his faith, but because it was the best way for him to affect change through his Marxist ideals.

At its peak, Temple membership ballooned from several hundred to around 20,000 at the Peoples Temple in San Francisco. By this time, the congregation was entirely mixed. In fact, the population at Jonestown was 75% black, 20% white, and five percent Asian, Hispanic, and Native American.

By the late 70s though, the Peoples Temple was under increased scrutiny and being accused of financial fraud and physical abuse of its members. There had also been a large number of articles written by Lester Kinsolving, an ordained Episcopal priest and religion editor for the San Francisco Examiner that alleged the church was guilty of physical abuse and financial misdeeds. The articles also ridiculed Jones for making claims of divinity and his ability to raise the dead.

In 1977, Jones found out a new expose was going to be printed on him. The article included interviews with ex-members.

The night before the article was to be printed Jones and several hundred members of the Peoples Temple flew to Guyana and built the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project.


Jonestown, Guyana; Photo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7E3otRWOIM

Jim Jones’ Cult

How did Jim Jones’ cult begin? It’s been 40 years since the Jonestown Massacre and the debate rages on.

His ministry began innocently enough, when he accepted a position as a student pastor at Somerset Methodist Church in Indianapolis in June 1952. But he soon fell out of favor with the church over his radical beliefs on interracial worship and outreach. He soon resigned from his position.

A revolutionary for his time, Jones’ beliefs never really aligned with any church, so he started his own. It was with the Peoples Temple that Jones was able to preach his Marxist ideals and attempt to control his followers by separating them from their family and friends, taking their money and property away, and making threats.

Peoples Temple

The Peoples Temple; Photo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7E3otRWOIM

Despite this, some still saw Jones as a divine prophet sent by God. He preached about communalism and a new society, how there would be famine and race wars, and how the Peoples Temple provided his followers an escape from these evils.

In a nutshell, Jones created a world of horror that could only be escaped with the help of the Peoples Temple and his guidance. And his disenfranchised followers were both devoted to him and willing to do anything for him.

Like any cult, Jones used mind control techniques on his followers. Dissenters were shunned and there were allegations of physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Jones would also publicly humiliate members who challenged him.

Jim would disgrace someone in front of the whole church, then put his arms around the person and say, “I realize that you went through a lot, but it was for the cause. Father loves you and you’re a stronger person now. I can trust you more now that you’ve gone through and accepted this discipline.”

To prove his divine nature, he would stage fraudulent “psychic healings,” removing phony tumors, looking through people’s garbage for information to reveal in his psychic readings, and drugging his followers to make it look as though he was raising the dead.

Amidst the adulation, Jones became increasingly narcissistic and claimed he was the reincarnation of Vladmir Lenin and Jesus Christ. In the end, he no longer believed in a cause, just himself.

In Guyana, with no one to challenge him, Jim Jones took his control over the congregation to a whole new level. There are stories about Jones commanding his followers to remove their clothing and box fellow members, pitting a young person with an elderly person. He even forced one man to perform a homosexual act in front of his girlfriend and would beat people with paddles.

Punishment and discipline were part of daily life at Peoples Temple and in Jonestown. You could be reprimanded for trying to escape, having unauthorized sex, and not working with a happy heart. For the first offense, followers were assigned laborious jobs and working long days. If this didn’t change your attitude, you could be put into an “extended care”-type hospital ward, where you were kept under sedation.

Most famously though, Jim Jones could trust loyalty by conducting practice run suicide sessions called “White Nights.”

If Jones sensed there was a crisis in Jonestown he would sound an alarm and the entire community would come together to resist an imminent attack. It was then that Jones would hand out what he told people was deadly poison which they needed to drink to “prevent the torture of babies and children.”

Only after they’d consumed the poison would Jones explain they weren’t going to die; it was all just a test of loyalty.

It’s easy to see that his followers lived in a constant state of panic, fear, and paranoia

Also Read:

Maria Katsaris: A Believer and Leader in Jonestown

Annie Moore: Jim Jones Insider and Supporter of the Peoples Temple

The Jonestown Massacre

In 1977 and 1978, Jim Jones’ mental and physical health deteriorated. He was using large amounts of drugs, like amphetamines and Percodan, to get through his daily life. In Jonestown, it was noted that his speech was slurred and he exhibited increasingly erratic behavior and rambling speeches.

Not surprisingly, a group of former Temple members and concerned relatives of current members convinced California Congressman Leo J. Ryan to investigate the settlement in person. They told Ryan that members were being mistreated and held against their will.

On November 17, 1978, Ryan, accompanied by two Congressional staffers, nine journalists, and 18 relatives of Jonestown residents, arrived in Guyana. That night, during a big dinner and dance at the pavilion, a member secretly handed one of the NBC crewmembers a note with the names of a few people who wanted to leave.

The next day, November 18, 1978, Ryan said he would take anyone who wanted to leave back to the U.S. Followers, though, were afraid of how Jones would react; only a few people accepted Ryan’s offer.

A truck left for the airstrip with Ryan’s entourage and members on board. Ryan stayed behind the make sure no one else wanted to leave. It was then that a follower of Jim Jones attacked Ryan with a knife. Ryan survived the incident, but it became clear that he wasn’t safe there; he joined the truck and left Jonestown.

The group made it to the airport safely, but the planes weren’t ready to leave. As they waited, two vehicles pulled up and members of the Peoples Temple jumped out and started shooting. Five people were killed on the tarmac, including Congressman Ryan, photographer Greg Robinson of the San Francisco Examiner, cameraman Bob Brown and reporter Don Harris from NBC, and Temple defector Patricia Parks. Many others were seriously injured.

Back in Jonestown, Jim ordered everyone to the pavilion. He told them that Ryan’s group had been attacked and because of the attack, Jonestown wasn’t safe. Once word got back to the U.S. that members of Jonestown had killed a Congressman and four others, the compound would be under attack.

The only way out was to commit the “revolutionary act” of suicide. Apparently, only one person spoke out against the idea, but the rest of the group shut her down.

Children were the first to die. Then the adults drank the cyanide-laced fruit juice while armed guards watched. Those that didn’t want to die were held down and injected in their armpits with needles filled with potassium cyanide. Later reports said that at least 70 people were injected from behind.

Jonestown Massacre

The aftermath of the Jonestown Massacre; Photo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7E3otRWOIM

In the end, 909 members of Jonestown died of cyanide poisoning. A few managed to escape. Jim Jones died of a gunshot wound to the head, but no one knows if it was suicide or murder.