Jim Jones and the People’s Temple

Chapter 37 from Kent’s Memoirs of a Jesus Freak

Another spiritual leader also had many people fooled about the

real nature of his group besides David Berg and the Children of

God. It has been argued long and hard about which was more

damaging to the Jesus People Movement. My opinion is that the COG

caused the most damage, since the Jones’ business collapsed so completely

and was so utterly discredited, any trouble instigated by them

disappeared rather quickly. And it must be made clear, despite confusion

to the contrary—Jim Jones and The People’s Temple had absolutely

no connection with the JPM.

Jim Jones did not impact my ministry in Marin County until

1972, the year Church of the Open Door was established. We were

a non-denominational, charismatic church built on the ministry

foundation several of us had established in Marin’s towns. I became

aware of Jones from articles in the San Francisco Chronicle, since he

had involved himself in San Francisco politics, a very strange creature

during that period.

Jones began sending buses to our parking lot at Carpenter’s Hall

in San Rafael on Sunday mornings, in order to transport anyone wanting

to come to his services in San Francisco instead of ours. This tactic

revealed Jones’ arrogant and aggressive nature. At first, I did nothing

to stop this tactic, but after hearing reports of what was taking place

at the meetings, I decided to visit The People’s Temple myself and

attended at least two of their services.1

1 I later climbed on board the bus when it pulled into the parking lot and

literally threatened the driver with bodily harm if he ever showed up again. No bus

ever came back, and I am thankful for that to this day, without apology.

What I recount now may seem rather strange; however, many

other people witnessed what I experienced, and over an extended

period of time. Here is what happened: (1) Angel’s wings (or so it was

said) brushed over me; (2) My up-stretched hand was clasped as in

a handshake that could be felt but not seen; (3) I smelled a pleasant

aroma, which Jim Jones called “the sweet savor of the Lord,” wafting

through the air; and (4) Drops of oil fell on my Bible held open on my

lap. In addition, there was a young black girl from Oakland, maybe

aged thirteen, who stood in front of the congregation while the “stigmata”

appeared on her hands and ankles—the places where the

Roman soldiers pounded the nails into Jesus’ body—and blood, or so

it seemed, soaked through her dress at the point where the spear of

the Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side.

After this I understood the attraction; there was a powerful

presence in Jim Jones’ meetings. Despite the spiritual nature of the

meetings, and the enthusiasm, the clapping, dancing, and exuberant

singing, I heard no gospel preached or Bible taught. Oddly, it was also

not the kind of service I would describe as either Pentecostal or charismatic.

After my visits to the People’s Temple, I addressed the San Rafael

Church and made it very clear that it was the devil at work in Jones’

services and definitely not the Spirit of God. The miracles, I declared,

were counterfeit, however real, and the whole purpose was to deceive

and confuse the faithful. I warned as sternly as I could that no one

should attend his services.

When the Jonestown tragedy in Guiana became known to the

world, and for some months after that, I officiated at funerals for some

of those who died at Jonestown. It was then that I was able to make

sense and be certain of what had happened: there was at work at The

People’s Temple the same force at work with David Moses Berg and

COG—a demonic power able to seduce and deceive through counterfeit

signs and wonders. I had felt that same power on the morning

when Ed Sweeney had to pull me away from being drawn into the

COG while listening to a member’s pitch. It was that same pull I had

experienced during the Kirtans at the Hare Krishna temple in 1967.

Now I had seen it at work at The People’s Temple.

A Failure to Discern

I learned a lesson: not all that is spiritual is of the Spirit of God.

Due to the charismatic orientation embraced by most of the Jesus

People, we were not able to grasp this. This failure was likely the

most damaging aspect of the JPM, contributing to its dark side. We

simply did not know that prophecy, healings, and miracles could be

of a devilish origin. I am still working through aspects of this in my

current spiritual walk. I don’t want to assign all signs and wonders to

the nether regions, because I think that during times of awakening,

there are exceptional Holy Spirit gifts given that authentically result

in glory to God. Let me be clear, however, that none of what I experienced

during the Hindu services, or encountered with the young

man on the porch of the former French Embassy in Atlanta, or saw

firsthand at the People’s Temple in San Francisco had anything to do

with the Spirit of God.

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