While watching a new documentary on there Mass Murder/Suicide that took place 40 years ago at Jonestown, Guyana (Jim Jones, The Peoples Temple) I was surprised by some of the new revelations and statements that were made. I have spent countless hours studying ministries that eventually morph into cults. I want to understand why, how, and what were the thoughts of those who were involved. Whether it’s from the leaders or followers…I believe that if we take the time to listen we can learn what to look for and how not to go down this path again. Cults are nothing new as there have been many throughout the history of mankind. Many start with good intentions, but easily become blurred along the way. Often with power and control., there comes a shift and what once started with the correct intentions, now has become something very toxic and dangerous. Whether it is some like David Koresh, who knew the Bible so well that he was able to quote entire books of the Bible without missing a single word, or someone like Jim Jones who had the charisma and leadership ability to integrate congregations during a era of intense separation due to the color of man’s skin…Men and Women can easily be swayed by what seems right in a fashion that they are unable to recognize error simply by failing to pay attention to discernment. We can easily reject discernment with the idea that we are being judgmental towards a leader or ministry. And like so many documentaries before I find myself asking if it could happen again. With this in mind I want to share three statements made…
“He would create enemies to bind his followers closer.” — Jim Jones, Jr. (Son of Jim Jones)
It shocked me to hear this simply because I am currently seeing this happen in many circles of Christianity. Often people come and go in our lives. Many will declare that they will be with you for the rest of their lives. Rarely do they stay committed. Whether it’s the result of offense, hurt, transition, sickness, job change, etc…There are many different reasons why people come and go. Some are handled very poorly, while others are handled with sincerity. Whether they stay or go really isn’t the issue. The issue is whether they have the ability to go freely. Sadly there are leaders, churches, ministries, followers, disciples, etc., who are instilling fear as a tactic to keep individuals in a place of false loyalty. The moment that an individual (or family) leaves, they are immediately bombarded as evil. They are presented to everyone else as an enemy of the leader, pastor, church, network, etc.. When an individual walks away (for whatever reason), they are immediately labeled as an enemy which now creates a label produced by fear. Before too long people are afraid to speak up about something that could potentially be wrong. This fear keeps people hindered in their ability to discern from right and error. If you speak out, you could be labeled an enemy of the camp.
“The constant message of Jim Jones was, if you’re not with us, you are against us.” — Stephan Jones (Son of Jim Jones)
We often ask ourselves (when hearing from former followers involved in cults), “how did you tolerate this?”. We ask the typical questions, but rarely do we consider the mental pressure that followers had to endure. Think about being involved with a ministry that the leader constantly pounded into your mind that if you are not 100% with us, you are 100% against us. Truth is, it is happening all the time. There are many leaders, ministries, churches, fellowships, networks, etc.. abusing their platform with another level of fear by convincing you that if you walk away, if you disagree, if you don’t fully follow…you are against us. We have to see that the threat isn’t in not being with us, but the real threat is being against us. This is where fear is implemented. How could you question the leader or ministry? How could you go against what God is doing through a certain individual?
“Because loyalty was the greatest value within the People’s Temple, defection was the greatest sin.” — Mary McCormick Maaga (Author, Hearing the Voices of Jonestown)
There is a multitude of different questions and answers, but like so many before Jim Jones, and sadly many afterward…they will use a manipulative tactic to keep their followers in line. It will usually come at the cost of loyalty. Loyalty is a key word that is being used by many before and will be used again. How loyal are you? Where does your loyalty lie? Today we are seeing this happen along with a key word, Covenant. When people walk in a different path, they are quickly labeled as disloyal and a covenant breaker. There is a fear that is constantly being created that will forever be on the identity of the individual who will walk away. With this fear, many individuals are able to create a format that keeps others in a place where discernment won’t be implemented due to the idea of being judgmental. It has worked for many leaders before and will work for others that come and go along the way.
Could it Happen Again?
The historian Lord Acton, expressed in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
This is not written to call any particular man/woman, ministry, church, fellowship, and/or network out. I have NO intention of accusing anyone of being a cult and/or cult leader. The purpose is to remind Born-Again Believers to pay attention to Holy Spirit Discernment. The world that we currently live in has so many Believers rejecting discernment out of fear of being judgmental. If you question something or someone, many are quick to throw “judge not” out there, in which we soon begin to tell the voice of discernment to be quiet. We don’t want to be the person labeled as disloyal, a covenant breaker, or an enemy. We desperately want to maintain peace that we fail to adhere to what Holy Spirit could be alarming us to. The purpose of this is not to encourage anyone to go around accusing Pastors, Apostles, Prophets, Ministries, Churches, Networks, etc. (of being a cult). I am encouraging you to pay attention to Holy Spirit. If you are involved with a ministry that Holy Spirit is alerting you to error you need to have the boldness and courage to learn to walk away. Whether they call you can enemy, disloyal, or whatever…Holy Spirit is speaking to you because of the relationship that you have with the Father. There are some today that have embraced a wrong mentality without recognizing how dangerously close they are from going into a realm that few ever get back from.
We often learn looking back rather than learning in the moment. Many discover the ability to miss it because you were so close to what is occurring. It’s not an excuse, it’s just reality. Years ago the Shepherding Movement started with pure intentions, but there would be certain individuals who took advantage of certain opportunities and easily manipulated others. This is not to say the the Shepherding Movement was a cult like the Branch Davidian’s or The People’s Temple. It’s a simple reminder that even with the best of intentions in the original format, over time there can be abuse from leaders, churches, ministries, networks, fellowships, etc.. It can easily happen without the above mentioned identities being an actual cult. The demonic influence begins to sway these individuals and they will either feed the demonic spirit or repent for their unrighteousness.
Unfortunately the spirit that is often behind many of the most infamous cults in history is still a very active demonic spirit upon the earth today. There may be individuals that you currently can think of that are not running a cult, but are embracing the mentality that is often discovered in many cults. This is why it is so important that we learn to pray for our leaders more than ever. The demonic spirit realm can easily corrupt men and women of God before they recognize how far they have gone. We can’t write these individuals off, but when we recognize what could actually be happening, we need to press in more than ever with prayer for them. We can’t afford another Jonestown.
Could it happen again…Absolutely. Is it happening again…I pray daily that it is not. Discernment: Without it, You are at Risk. It’s why we must learn to listen to Holy Spirit! Ephesians 4:14 (NLT)–“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.”