Jim Jones and the People's Temple
Reverend Jim Jones was the charismatic leader of the Peoples Temple, a religious organization that hit its stride in the mid-1970s. Jones and his Temple are best known for the mass murder/suicide that was executed Guyana in 1978. Over 900 people drank cyanide-laced Kool Aid at Jones’ command, an action that Jones referred to as “revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world” (Stept). Someone watching Jones at work gathering followers for the Temple and spreading the Temple’s vision would never have been able to envision the ultimate end of Jones’ reign. In the early 1970s, Jones was working on changing the world.
His goal was simple; he believed in equality for all. However basic in words, this vision was powerful and Jones’ passion behind it was infectious. He was a servant of the people, and he was able to offer anything to anyone who needed it, which resulted in a large and varied Temple. He also showed himself to be a competent leader. All of these qualities showed Jones’ promise as an excellent leader. Unfortunately, Jones’ weak ethics and woeful conflict resolution resulted in his downfall, and ultimate death.
Jim Jones had a progressive vision for the future. He believed that everyone deserved equal rights, regardless of color, gender, age, or ability. He believed that socialism was the answer, and his church meetings were highly focused on politics. His vision was centered around the colony of Jonestown, 4000 acres of land in Guyana that was officially known as the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. Jonestown was a vision of paradise, and of the perfect self-sufficient utopia. Jonestown would offer everyone the opportunity and resources to achieve amazing things. Jim believed that it was in Jonestown that his utopian socialist society would flourish, and his followers were in full agreement.
Jones involved many of his members through servant leadership. Hue Fortson, a former Temple member, quoted Jones as saying "If you see me as your friend, I'll be your friend. As you see me as your father, I'll be your father. If you see me as your savior, I'll be your savior. If you see me as your God, I'll be your God" (qtd. in Stept). This quote from Jim is an excellent example of his unique brand of servant leadership.
Jim operated with a “root of unconditional love” (Kappa 92), and seemingly had the ability to offer anything to anyone, regardless of background. He had food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and love for those who had none. He very sincerely promised equality for everyone; he believed that everyone was equal regardless of color, economic status, age, ability, or gender.
Jim also held a liberating vision, that of Jonestown, which allowed his followers to become invested and involved in Jim’s mission. Jim saw the importance of developing Jonestown not only as a place, but also as a community, and he promoted Jonestown as a place where people would be able to grow spiritually and socially by working together.
Jim was also adept at using persuasion, but not in the traditional context. Isabel Lopez defines persuasion as a means of helping people keep hope, and empowering people to achieve what they need in order to become better people (Kappa 94). Jones’ efforts helped drug addicts get clean, helped get people out of gangs and prostitution, and overall empowered people to better their lives. Former Temple member Vernon Gosney was struggling emotionally and spiritually when he made the decision to move to Jonestown, and felt that "whatever [he] was lacking in [him]self would be instilled in [him] by living in Jonestown" (Sherman).
Thanks to Jones’ servant leadership, he was able to attract a large and very diverse following. While typical cult leaders preyed on the weak or vulnerable, Jones stands apart in that he also attracted many strong, independent people who were hungry to...
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