Friday, March 6, 2009

Deception & safety-utopias without Jesus Christ


Just a few years before I began working with Apologetics Resource Center a horrendous event occurred, the Jonestown massacre in the jungles of Guyana. Reverend Jim Jones, ordained in the Disciples of Christ, led nearly a thousand people to commit suicide.

For years to come that event would shape the thinking of most who ministered to those involved in cults and new religions. A kind of urgent concern about how people could be deceived and led into all kinds of tragic actions shaped our thinking about new religions.

As the years have changed some of that kind of thinking has also changed. Now, groups are rarely called cults. Nonetheless there are religious groups who sociologically treat people in ways that are cultic. I have never backed off from the realization that some leaders, even pastors who at least pretend to be Christian, are capable of manipulating people and causing a great deal of hurt. But it generally happens because of false or atheistic teaching (yes in a Christian church) combined with a supreme ego.

This all came to mind as I was reading an article in Touchstone, a Christian journal. I generally read the journal for its articles on literature as seen from a Christian perspective. But this time it was a different kind of article that caught my attention. “The Cup of the Lord: Reflections on the Difference between Martyrdom & Suicide Thirty Years after Jonestown,” by Patrick Mahaney Clark, is an excellent article.

Clark compares the leadership of Jim Jones with the leadership of St. Charles Lwanga the saint who lead the “Christian martyrs of Uganda in the nineteenth century.” He compares the differences between the suicidal deaths of Jonestown and the deaths imposed on the Uganda martyrs.

First Clark looks at Jones and his ideology referring to 1 Cor 10:21, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too: You cannot have a part in both the Lord’s Table and the table of demons.”

Jones began his ministry as an independent and went on to join a denomination. While Jones had a passion for helping those who were racially oppressed his concerns were not connected to any Christian beliefs. He always held Marxist and atheist views. He despised Christianity and the Bible. Clark quotes Jones saying to his church members:

“Why are there hungry children if there is a god? What’s your god ever done? Two out of three babies in the world are hungry….He never heard your prayers. He never gave you food. He never gave you a bed. He never gave you a home. The only happiness you ever found was with me.”

Clark points out that Jones created the world he wanted the people to live in, and when he died he insisted it be by his own hands and that all of his followers experience his death, including over two hundred children. This was, as Clark points out, demonic.

On the other hand, as Clark puts it, the martyrs of Uganda died as friends united to Jesus Christ. They were given a choice by their ruler, who wanted to use them sexually but was prevented because of their Christianity, to either refuse Christianity or be burned to death. They were a community of friends who had already learned to give themselves up to Christ and each other.

Clark shows how Jones abandoned all Christian community as he moved his people further and further away from any hope but his own utopian endeavors.


As I began to explore this subject more memories returned. I had forgotten how Jones’ attempt’s to build utopias in California under the guise of Christianity had attracted political leaders in San Francisco and elsewhere.

They could not have known about Jones’ drug use, his separation of families, his sexual atrocities. his brutalities; those are often not revealed in the midst of tight-knit communities. But many did hear of his call for utopian communities. Many heard of his atheism, his rejection of a personal God, and even his push for communism.

National leaders as varied as Rosalynn Carter and Walter Mondale befriended him. Carter on issues connected with Cuba. California political friends included Willie Brown, George Moscone and Harvey Milk. One person,
Mary R. Sawyer involved in the People’s Temple in the Bay Area, recalls a message written to Jones by Harvey Milk. “Rev Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave.”

Even after Jones took his followers to Guyana, Milk, still disbelieving anything bad about Jones, appealed to President Carter to intervene in a case where a mother was desperately trying to get her son home to the United States. The little boy was to die with the other children in the jungles of Guyana.

The demonic happens when dreams of paradise are only connected to human enterprise and imagination, minus the redemptive purposes of Jesus Christ. We are all subject to deception and both impressive and insignificant anti-Christs move through history all the time prowling for the souls of humanity.

Drinking the cup of Christ among friends is the only safety.


12 comments:

timeforthetruth said...

Thank you Viola. This is a fascinating link between one of the newer popularized heroes of the left and Jim Jones. This is quite informative.

Adel Thalos
Snellville, GA

Viola Larson said...

Adel,
I didn't start out to make the connections I made because I didn't know about them. I was just going to do a review of the article in Touchstone.

But I knew that Clark had not put in the information about Jones being a Disciples of Christ minister so I went looking for that information to confirm it.

I knew that Jones was politically accepted in the Bay area, I just didn't remember what his connections were. I was surprised to say the least. So my posting took a turn. But my real concern here was that progressive political leaders were buying into something horrible because all they saw was an activist like themselves.

And Milk, even after reading in the newspaper a well researched story about the People's Temple still refused to accept that Jones was a very evil man. The article was in fact the reason that Jones took his followers to Guyana.

timeforthetruth said...

Another frightening aspect about all of this is that the political & social left in San Francisco seems to have learned no lessons whatsoever through the Jim Jones case. That there is a connection between his left liberal views and subsequent events seems not to have registered. They just like Jones continue to work for a "liberal social utopia", while at the same time actively encouraging nearly every form of moral depravity.

timeforthetruth said...

Oops. I forgot.

Adel Thalos
Snellville, GA

Barb said...

I was thinking about Jones just the other day when some flippant blogger wrote something like "I'm not drinking your koolaid" or another wrote "you can drink ____'s koolaid if you want to". I wish this phrase had not become so overused and now meaningless. There is a big difference from liking a political idea and embracing the demonic.

Barb Murphy
Tracyton WA

Viola Larson said...

Adel,
I think there is a lot of confusion in people's minds here, and I have written about this before. The earlier liberals were generally very moral; they simply divorced the important teachings about Jesus Christ from their theology.

I believe that in SF you see the beginning of the more progressive thought of contemporary times. The denial of basic Christian beliefs is wedded to immorality because if the Bible has no authority then humans make the rules.

But the real problem in this area was the liberal failure to accept individual sinfulness. If humanity is not fallen you attempt to trust everyone.

I like what Bonhoeffer said about human relationships during those hard times. “Trust will always be one of the greatest, rarest, and happiest blessings of our life in community, though it can emerge only on the dark background of a necessary mistrust. We have learnt never to trust a scoundrel an inch, but to give ourselves to the trustworthy without reserve.”

Sacramento, Ca

Viola Larson said...

Barb,
I think you are right on two counts. Kool-Aid has perhaps become too much of a metaphor for accepting anything anyone says. In reality it was a horrible means of mass murder--men with guns kept those who didn't want to take the poison from escaping. If you listen to the tapes you will hear one very strong woman attempt very forcefully to turn Jones away from his intended act. But she was unable to persuade him.
And you are right there is a big difference between liking a political idea and embracing the demonic. But the truth is it was demonic words that some political people embraced. They may not have known about the abuse but they did know about the use of Christianity to preach communism. And it is well documented that Jones was preaching Marxism/communism. Not liberation theology but straight atheistic communism.
The lie, calling himself a minister and hating Christianity and the Bible, should have been a clue to his character

Sacramento, Ca

timeforthetruth said...

My bad, Viola. When I used the term "liberal", I did not mean so-called "Christian or theological liberal", rather I meant social liberalism, highlighted by some of the political leaders you referred to in your blog entry. I should have been more specific. I apologize.

Adel Thalos
Snellville, GA

Sam said...

"They just like Jones continue to work for a "liberal social utopia", while at the same time actively encouraging nearly every form of moral depravity."

Adel Thalos, what do you refer to? Isn't there a danger that by marginalizing segments of the population they will seek groups and leaders who promise them acceptance and safety. Are we not the guilty ones for rejecting them?

Very interesting blog Viola, thank you. Jonestown is one of those defining events in my life.

Sam Mack
Spring,Texas

Viola Larson said...

Hi Sam,
I read your Lenten prayer; I know our Father hears such prayers because of Jesus.

How was Jonestown a defining event for you, if you care to share?

Sacramento, Ca

Sam said...

"How was Jonestown a defining event for you, if you care to share?"

On one level, it was one of those events that I can remember where I was when I heard about it. I was in college and not too focused on what was happening in the world outside of my campus existence. It was shocking.

On a deeper level, it was my first look into what a cult was. I tried to understand how, seemingly rational human beings could be sucked into such a tragedy. I have always wondered if I could be controlled to that extent. I am a strong individual, I have always questioned everything, ask my mother. I assumed I couldn't be manipulated to that extent. I'm not so sure now. In my last church, I discovered that I can be manipulated and as a consequence behave in ways that I never would have imagined possible. It's frightening.

I guess we shouldn't judge because we don't know until we are faced with the same set of circumstances.

Sorry, this is bit long. That will teach you to ask!

Viola Larson said...

Sam thanks for answering. One of the books that people doing ministry to those caught in cults is Animal Farm.

I at one time had an anthropology teacher who taught a class on cults. For the last section of the class he stuck to Nazi Germany and showed us some of Hitler's propaganda films. That has shaped some of my thinking although the teacher was not any kind of a believer.
I always encouraged anyone coming out of such groups to help themselves by listening to the music they liked before they got involved and to read some books that they wanted to read simply for enjoyment.
I of course encouraged them to find a Church that truly taught the grace of Christ. But you can imagine how hard it is to hear the same scriptures that were preached as a way of manipulating you. Some people have trouble going back to Church and some people find churches or groups that are almost like the group.
A couple of good books by a friend of mine are, Recovering from Churches that Abuse and Churches that Abuse . Dr. Ronald M. Enroth is the author.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca