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Other essays were written specifically for this book. The various chapters thus bring together reflections on the Peoples Temple that span a twenty-five year time period. Contributors include African-American Studies specialists such as Milmon Harrison and Mary Sawyer as well as Religious Studies faculty including C. Eric Lincoln, Lawrence Mamiya, and Anthony Pinn. The book also includes chapters by Black pastors such as Muhammed Isaiah Kenyatta andj. Alfred Smith, Jr. Most of the writers attempt to revise the often-accepted view that the Peoples Temple was controlled by Jim Jones and other European-American leaders who exerted extensive charismatic control over a generally compliant and/or brainwashed African-American majority. This black majority (representing 67% of the population, for example, at Jonestown) was comprised of people who came predominately from the working classes of the southern United States and included twice as many women as men.
The Peoples Temple was a racially mixed and substantially black religious society within which—the writers contend—African-Americans had tremendous influence. The editors contend that this influence has been downplayed by most academics who have written about the Peoples Temple, largely because scholars tend to identify the Peoples Temple as a "New Religious Movement" and to operate within the theoretical framework within which such groups are customarily analyzed.

The writers do acknowledge that most leaders of the Peoples Temple at the highest levels were European-American. But they do not believe that this phenomenon automatically disempowered African-American members. In the Guyana outpost, for example, many of the key leadership positions were held by African-Americans.
More importantly, many of the contributors to this volume believe that it is absolutely necessary to evaluate Jones as a church leader from the perspective of the African-American religious community. The editors, for example, note that Jones and the Peoples Temple "emulated Black Church culture in style and form and, to some extent, in substance" (Janzen 294-297). As Rebecca Moore writes in a chapter entitled "Demographics and the Black Religious Culture," we don't have to go to the jungle to see a similar dynamic between pastor and people, preacher and congregation. The isolation in Guyana prevented critical reflection on the process of audience corruption; nonetheless the pattern of congregational elevation of the pastor, the cult of personality)' . . . continues to exist in the twenty-first century' in black churches in the San Francisco Bay Area, and indeed in many churches throughout the nation. (Chapman N4C450)
African American culture and idiosyncratic understandings of the Christian faith-as well as distinctive worship practices-influenced not only Jones himself but the entire Peoples Temple movement, from the roles played by ministers and other church personnel to an emphasis on social justice and humanitarian efforts-^what Lincoln and Mamiya describe as "this-worldly activism" (Battle 391-393). It is suggested that charismatic expressions of the faith, in particular, show a strong African-American influence on the Peoples Temple.
Smith goes so far as to suggest that the Peoples Temple presented a prophetic critique of Bay Area African-American Christianity in general. He notes that "the 1970s were a dark age for the Black Church in San Francisco. Most churches had become little more than social clubs, where chicken dinners and raffle dockets were the only activities on the agenda" (Baker-Fletcher B353). Harrison writes that "Jones learned to speak the symbolic and religious language of black Americans quite ...Show more


Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America is an important collection of essays dealing with the impact of the African-American community on the Peoples Temple religious group. Some of the articles were published previously…
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Black Religion
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