Jonestown and Lessons to Learn

“When you come to a fork in the road take it” Yogi Bera

Jonestown or the People’s Temple was the most notorious cult of all time.

It was evil through and through and ended in great tragedy. Could it have been avoided? Hard to say, but one man tried to help and he paid with his life.

Congressman Leo Ryan was part of a delegation to investigate Jonestown along with legal advisor Jackie Speier, who would survive and go on to a career in politics. Reporter Don Harris was slipped a note that was intended for Ryan that said, “Dear Congressman, Vernon Gosney, and Monica Bagby, please help us get out of Jonestown.”

Jackie Speier said this: “So, I was sitting in the back of the pavilion at a picnic table with the bench and both of us had been sitting back there and interviewing members of the People’s Temple who had family members back home and they wanted us to deliver letters or talk to their children or young adults and try and assess whether they were being held there against their will.”

Then Congressman Ryan addressing the group seemed to have the appearance that things were somewhat “okay” but that would change quickly. Here is a short video clip as he was addressing the People’s Temple.

Speier in an interview with Brian Lamb of C-Span had this to say: “That particular clip that you just showed, the pandemonium that kind of broke out in terms of fervor of the applause was unnatural, and it was alarming to me.” She went on to say that “it went on for an uncomfortable period of time.”

Once Ryan received the note he made an announcement that if others wanted to leave they would be allowing them to fly home. This is when things began to spin out of control for Jones. The departure or intended departure of some emboldened others and as others revealed that it wasn’t quite as great as it had previously appeared, many intended to leave. Jones, ordered the mass suicide and the murder of Ryan and those attempting to leave ensued.

And here is where I want to make my point. I don’t say every church has the potential to become a People’s Temple or end like Jonestown. There is a time to leave a church and the reactions from others and from leaders can tell you a great deal about how they view the topic. I’ve written extensively on the abusive church and most pointedly the topic of the “Painful Exit Process” many forks in the road take you back to exactly the same place. But to break free from abusive churches and cultic churches will take you back to Christ.

There is evil in the world and it often exists where it is described as religion.


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