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The People’s Temple

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In November of 1978, the world was shocked at the news of over 900 people all committing suicide in a Guyana, a country on the northern coast of South America. But why did these people kill themselves? What lead these 918 Americans to move to Guyana and what provoked them to take their own lives?It all started in 1955 when Jim Jones, a young pastor, started to gain a reputation as a healer and evangelist and began to share them in his home in Indiana. He believed that Jesus was too commercialized. He felt that Christianity had drifted too far from what it was meant to be. In his mind he was only reforming Christianity back to the most pure form. He developed his own church called The People’s Temple. In the early 1970’s, Jones moved his church to California to promote it, because Indiana was not very welcoming to these new beliefs, like racial integrated services.

Once established in California, The People’s Temple was founded on a hypocritical foundation that Jones himself did not uphold. For example, he discouraged sexual or romantic relationships, while he personally had numerous adulterous affairs with members of the congregation. Jones even fathered a son with a church staff member, while he attempted to break down the familial bonds within the church claiming he would be the “father of all”. Months later, the media caught onto this new religion and Lester Kinsolving, a reporter, wrote a critical article in the newspaper bashing and slandering the crookedness of The People’s Temple. With all of this bad publicity, the church had no choice but to move to a new location. They debated between Canada, the Caribbean, and Guyana, but they ultimately chose Guyana because they did not like the American government and wanted to get as far as they could from it. Additionally, Guyana was a newly formed nation which made Jones feel that he could convert Guyanese people more easily.

In the 1970’s hundreds of people moved to The People’s Temple’s new city called, Jonestown. They spent their days working twelve hour shifts, and they had “White Night” rehearsals every few nights. The White Night was the day that Jones planned for in case anyone tired to take control of the city. On these nights the officials would vote for one of four things; run into the jungle, escape and go to the Soviet Union, fight the intruder, or all commit mass suicide. There was at least two nights that these officials selected to commit suicide. On those chosen nights, everyone, men, women, and children, in camp would lineup and wait to receive a cup of red liquid. The leaders told them that the drink was poison and they drank it anyway. On the practice nights, after they realized they weren’t going to die, they would be informed that it was just a loyalty test to make sure they would actually be willing to drink the poison.

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