Recently I watched a few documentaries about Jim Jones, an American cult leader and Jonestown the commune he built in Guyana, South America. While reading the comments section there were many who referred to these cult members as “stupid”, “morons”, “idiots” and other mean insults about intelligence. With regards to the followers of Jim Jones, I couldn’t help but see them as people who had hopes and dreams, a sense of community, compassion, and a desire for justice.
I don’t think people who join cults lack intelligence. I always warn people that it doesn’t take much of a leap to go from being a mainstream Christian to being a cult member. Why do we see cult followers as people who are uneducated? Remember that Christianity is a religion whose followers believe and teach that Jesus was a man who was also simultaneously divine (Luke 1: 26-38). We are also taught that he died a violent death, yet three days later he came back to life mended and healed enough to be able to walk around for 40 days before ascending to heaven (Acts 1:9-11). During the days after his resurrection he also had the ability to teleport himself to pay a visit to the disciples (John 20:24-29). He even regained his appetite (Luke 24:40-42).
While listening to first hand accounts from those who managed to leave or survive Jim Jone’s church community, the People’s Temple, they were drawn to him and his congregation because they felt accepted. Some of these followers were marginalized by society due to skin colour, socio-economic status, disability, and poverty. Others were doing well in life, but wanted to be part of a community where people were equal and all were accepted. Some of these followers left mainstream churches because they were not able to find acceptance and hope from their faith community. This is disappointing because the church is supposed to be a place where people aren’t discriminated against or marginalized.
Christianity teaches us that we are right and all others are wrong. We have all the answers to the worlds problems. And we worship the only one true God. This is similar to the mindset of cult members. The way that people look at cults are sometimes the same way that people look at Christians.
As a Christian I don’t believe I am in a cult, but as some anti-cult activists say, “People who are in cults don’t know they are in a cult.” I trust that the Anglican Communion of which I am a part of is legitimate as are many other Christian denominations. My only caution to other Christians is to be careful not to judge others who are drawn to cults. They, like us, are or were seeking something they don’t have. Some seek community, friendship, acceptance, stability, order, and people who they share common values with. Abuse can take place within all religious and spiritual groups; we have no idea what happens in secret within our own faith communities.
Those at Jonestown (914 in total) lost their lives in a mass suicide-murder at the hands of a man who was mentally ill, dishonest, and paranoid due to drug use. He and his leadership team took advantage of these people by offering them what they desperately wanted in life and weren’t able to find elsewhere. These were not stupid people, these were people with deep unmet needs that the mainstream Christian Church weren’t willing to offer them.