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.