So apparently today is the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. I don’t normally post press releases to my blog. In fact, I don’t think I ever have. But something struck me about this one – I guess my sick sense of humor more than anything, contrasting the Jonestown Massacre with ‘Church as a Safe Place’ (which I’ve heard is, in fact, an excellent book). Like “Hey, honey, why don’t we check out that People’s Temple this Sunday? That Reverend Jones is such a powerful speaker!” Safe Church FAIL!
ANYway, here’s the press release…some good thoughts for today…
Church as a Safe Place authors comment on the 30th Anniversary of Jonestown Massacre
Today, November 18, 2008, marks the 30th Anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. Religious leader Jim Jones, founder of the Peoples Temple, promised his followers a safe place, a utopia in the jungles of Guyana. However, soon after their settlement was established, rumors of human rights abuse made their way back to California, where many of the almost 1000 inhabitants had migrated from in order to escape media scrutiny of their group.
During a visit by a delegation led by California Congressman Leo Ryan, Jones and members of the group felt threatened by the investigation along with the fact that some of the members had requested the delegation’s help to leave the camp. As Ryan’s delegation and the defecting members were boarding planes on an air strip preparing to leave, a group from the Temple’s security forces gunned down and killed several of the passengers, including Ryan. Following the air strip shootings, Jones led over 900 members of his group in a mass suicide.
“The Jonestown massacre is one of the worst cases of abuse in any religious setting in the 20th century. What is particularly tragic is that trust was breached on a huge scale, allowing one dying man to abuse 900 by taking their lives with him,” states Peter Holmes, author of Church as a Safe Place.
In their new book, Church as a Safe Place, authors Peter R. Holmes and Susan B. Williams expose the truth about abuse in the church, challenging churches to be the safe places God has created them to be. People come to church looking for a haven from this abuse. Unfortunately, they often discover that the church isn’t so different from the rest of the world, after all.
Many ask what exactly does abuse in the church look like? Holmes and Williams contend that “abuse” includes the many different ways people mistreat each other and create an environment that makes people feel unsafe and uncomfortable. It can happen when church leaders become “Messiah figures” and misuse their power or when a church member lashes out at someone else in anger—even when portions of Scripture or the use of the phrase “It’s God’s will” are used to inflict additional pain on someone who is already suffering.
“Many aspects of the Jonestown massacre, continue to be tragic. What is still unclear is what drove these 900 people to follow their leader, to suicide. Of all things the most unthinkable is that some of these people believed in what they were doing,” co-author Dr. Susan B. Williams explains. “When people become unsafe they create unsafe environments, and before long the shared dynamic they create builds a self-perpetuating deception with the power to gently entrap many.”
Holmes adds, “Many people thought they had found paradise, following their leader to Guyana. What proved most tragic was that not all found it was paradise, so when they tried to leave found themselves trapped in a deadly cult. Human need remains the same, for us to be safe people so we can create safe places.”
Church as a Safe Place (Authentic Media) takes a comprehensive approach to confronting, resolving, and minimizing abuse in the church. Drawing from both Scripture and their many years in therapeutic church ministry, the authors have set up a framework for dealing with complaints of abuse in the church and taking steps to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place. The handbook includes many specific suggestions for handling difficult situations and covers topics ranging from the proper protocol for individual counseling sessions to the correct use of confidentiality. The authors also devote a chapter to resisting the blame culture, a natural response many feel when they begin to recognize that they have been mistreated.
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Of course, it could all be a massive conspiracy.