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#5 / 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.

 

“The worldly kingdom suffers violence and the violence is triggered by force.” -Jim Jones

 

Through his use of Matthew 11:12, Jones seeks to convince his people that outside violence is all around them. Throughout the existence of the community, Jones had used real or imagined threats of violence to control the people. In the final hours, Jones is trying to convince the people that they are the primary victims of violence. What is left out, is that many in the community had just participated in a massacre. Regardless of what he said, there is no question that Jones was the ultimate perpetuator of violence. Jones constantly used his power to divide and destroy. That is not to say that outside forces didn’t direct violence at the community. Regardless, violence is evil no matter what direction it comes from. Violence is a futile pursuit. In Jonestown we see the forgone futile conclusion, violence births violence until there is no one left to perpetuate violence. The mass suicide/killing at Jonestown was a result of an addiction to violence…violence against the other and violence against the self. Violence was created until violence was complete. While there are many lessons from Jonestown that are very complex, one is not. If we are to experience any wholeness in this life, we must kill violence before violence kills us.

 

Amen.

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