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#47 / Jonestown Theology: Lenten Explorations in the Valley of Death

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Wikimedia / Nancy Wong

Wikimedia / Nancy Wong

God is never lost. In the midst of great evil, God is there. I have long wondered how Jonestown fits into such ideas. In the 1970s, Rev. Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple founded the settlement in the jungles of Guyana. After a few years of communal living, Jones led his followers to commit a mass suicide/murder that left over 900 people dead. The last words the community ever heard were recorded. Jones’ words are beyond disturbing. Evil resonates with every syllable. Even in the midst of such, I refuse to believe that God was absent during such terror. Lent is a time to look for God in death. To honor the victims of Jonestown, I’ve decided to seek God in the last words they heard in the order that they would have heard them.  In those evil words of death, may there also be something for us. These devotions should never be mistaken for an apologetic for Jim Jones or anything he stood for. This is a search for God.

 

“We win, we win when we go down.” -Jim Jones

 

Throughout his time in San Francisco, Jim Jones presided over a whole host of social ministries. From drug rehab to food distribution to a variety of other ministries, Jones ministered to the surrounding community. By the time Jones arrived at Jonestown, power and control were solidified as his only concern. As Jones’ health declined, he wanted the community to decline with him. When they didn’t seem to be declining fast enough, Jones decided they should die together. How does one get from social ministry to mass killing? Definitions are important. So often, words are the difference between life and death. Down is about serving the least of these…not yourself. If down had been about the least of these, no one would have died.

Amen.

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