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Peoples Temple Cult: Communal Living

Founded in 1955 by Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple Cult was a religious organization that captured the public’s eye for their later actions in Guyana. By the mid-1970s, the organization had spread to more than 12 locations in California with a headquarters established in San Francisco. In this article, you will learn more about what happened and other details concerning the group.

The Temple originated in Indiana during the 1950s, but relocated to Redwood Valley, California in the late 1960s after leader Jim Jones had a prophecy that an apocalypse would create a “socialist Eden on earth.”

Communal Living

Temple life in California consisted of living in communes, where members were under a stricter eye. This also allowed Jones to improve the financial situation of the cult. There was a process to living the communal life in San Francisco, especially if you were a member that had been elevated into the Temple’s central governing body , called the Planning Commission. The children of members were also raised in a communal way, even sometimes under the guardianship of others. The money saved from living communal was donated to the Temple.

Physical discipline was an important aspect of Temple life. Children who were disobedient were repeatedly paddled with a wood in front of Temple members. The practice soon transformed into “disciplinary boxing matches” that included a child being outmatched by one or more members. The practices of both being paddled and boxing affected adult Temple members.

When the Planning Commission attended meetings, they would sometimes last all night long. They often underwent long sessions of “catharsis” where some members were called “on the floor” to experience dissection of their character. Sometimes, members would accuse those “on the floor” of participating in activities that were forbidden. All the while, the member was not allowed to defend the accusations. During a dissection, a member might be chastised for wearing fashionable clothing.

San Francisco continued to grow as the headquarters of the Temple, as some members transferred their pieces of real estate to the church. The property was then transformed into communal living units that stretched across the Fillmore district in San Francisco. The possessions of communal members were also sold in two Temple-owned antique stores and at flea markets held on the weekends. Because the Temple was limited to the amount of space allotted to members, pets were executed and buried by a member of security.

Jones also safeguarded against members wanting to leave the compound. He asked the adults to sign papers admitting to committing crimes and other illegal acts. An example would be participating in terrorist acts or conspiring against the United States government. He threatened the members if they tried to leave the Temple, he would release the statements to the public.