I have been aware of Jim Jones’s connection to the Message and William Branham since I was a young person. Sometime in the early 1990s, our pastor Raymond Jackson shared with us his knowledge of Jim Jones during a church service. He was prompted to give us the explanation by some material that had recently been published on the subject and he wanted to make sure we knew the truth.
I am writing this article primarily because some leaders in the Message have not been honest about Jim Jones and his connections to William Branham and the Message. I want to share my personal knowledge of the extent of Jim Jones’s connections to William Branham and the Message.
What We Were Told
Jim Jones is from Indiana and had grown up attending pentecostal churches. It is only natural that he would have heard of or been around the revivals of Indiana’s greatest pentecostal preacher of the era. It can be easy to dismiss Jim Jones’s connection to William Branham as something insignificant, and that is exactly what our pastor did. I did the same thing. But was that true?
Contrary to what we were led to believe, their connection was not insignificant. Raymond Jackson had personally attended revival meetings led by William Branham and Jim Jones in the 1950s and shared with us some details from those meetings. Jim Jones and William Branham had campaigned together quite extensively between 1955 and 1957. Raymond Jackson explained to us that Jim Jones was a scarecrow, and God had placed scarecrows around the Message because there was true seed that needed to be protected.
Looking back now, I realize that is among the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. But as a young person I thought it was an excellent answer.
In the years when I began to have concerns about the direction my Message church was taking, the connection to Jim Jones started to return to my memory and concern me. The way Jim Jones’s followers became completely brainwashed and allowed him to lead them all to destruction was frightening. There were many abuses going on around me in the Message, but it seemed like people were just oblivious to what was happening. It was reminiscent of Peoples Temple. The people just followed along and seemed to not notice what was happening, even when people were dying. Our faith and good nature was being hijacked in various ways, people were being abused, and some were being injured and dying as a result. But somehow nobody seemed to even recognize what was happening. It was like they were brainwashed.
At one point I started to run the numbers. I realized that the death rate in our church was exponentially higher than normal. In America, the death rate is about 1.2 per 1000 people each year. In our church, the death rate in a normal year was 20 per 1000. In the final two years I was there, things had worsened and our death rate was about 40 per 1000. We had about 20 funerals at that time. Our death rate was about expotentially higher than normal. No one seemed to even realize it, let alone consider the possibility that there was a pattern of abuse going on that was causing that.
Gradually, I came to form the opinion that a number of fatalities had been caused by the practices of a Message minister. But no one seemed to even notice that he was guilty, or that what was happening was anything but normal. I became very concerned. What was happening was not normal. I increasingly investigated Jim Jones to figure out how he did it, and what he had in common with the Message.
What They Didn’t Tell us
I was very shocked to learn that Jim Jones was much closer to us than I ever realized. Raymond Jackson had left out a lot of details when he shared his story with us. Jim Jones lived in Bloomington Indiana when he attended University – very near a Message church I was familiar with. In talking with some old timers, I was able to confirm Jim Jones had briefly attended the Bloomington Full Gospel Tabernacle when he lived there as a teenager – a church I had visited many times. A former pastor of the Bloomington church explained to me that the Full Gospel Tabernacle was located in a storefront in downtown Bloomington at the time. The church has since relocated to a different facility in Bloomington.
Shockingly, the minister who I considered responsible for multiple deaths in our church came from the same church Jim Jones had attended. I wonder why no one wanted to tell us that?
One time, the pastor of our Jeffersonville church told me privately that the same minister had brought the devil to us from Bloomington. In investigating Jim Jones, I came to fully understand what he meant.
It is likely that Jim Jones was already aware of who William Branham was before attending the Bloomington church. There is evidence that Jim Jones might have been at a Branham revivals as early as 1947, according to his biographies. In any case, we can know that Jim Jones became fully aware of William Branham at the Bloomington church and was subsequently in attendance at multiple Branham revival meetings. Somewhere along the way, Jim Jones impressed William Branham and his associates and he was invited to start touring and preaching with the Branham campaign.
Jim Jones was a Message Preacher in the 1950s
We know exactly when this started. Jim Jones introduction letters to William Branham have been preserved and are available online. These letters were retrieved from a public archive of the personal correspondence of various Pentecostal ministers.
Jim Jones began touring with William Branham and holding joint appearances about three years after attending the Bloomington Full Gospel Tabernacle. It was in this period of time when Raymond Jackson attended Jim Jones’s joint conventions with William Branham.
A handwritten letter from Jim Jones to Earl Jackson was uncovered in recent years. The letter was wrote sometime before 1961. In the letter, Jones encouraged Bro. Jackson to accept “The Message”, which indicates that Jim Jones was himself a believer in The Message. Jones stated “I know there are things about The Message that you may not see but it is God.” (Jones capitalized the “T” and “M”.)
William Branham gave Jim Jones a prophetic endorsement
One thing Raymond Jackson didn’t tell us was that William Branham gave a prophecy to Jim Jones. The prophecy, which is on tape, records William Branham saying God was sending forth a great new ministry. According to many different sources, it was William Branham’s prophetic endorsement that really launched and popularized Jim Jones ministry.
After listening to William Branham’s prophetic blessing of Jim Jones, I was left wondering – how could a prophet with the gift of discernment endorse the biggest mass murderer in American history? His prophecy set something in motion that would lead to over 900 deaths. Clearly, WIlliam Branham’s prophecy was uninspired at best – evil at worst.
Jim Jones and my Message group
What shocked me even more was realizing just what happened when Jim Jones left Indiana – he moved to Ukiah, California. There was another Message church located in Ukiah that had been in fellowship with us for many years, and the church had been planted there by William Branham following campaign meetings in 1957. And Jim Jones was at those meetings with William Branham just outside of Ukiah in 1957.
It appeared that Jim Jones started out in a Bloomington Message church of our sect, moved to Indianapolis where he started his own Message-friendly church. While in Indianapolis, Jones’s church was visited by Raymond Jackson, William Branham, and other Message ministers during the 1950s. Then Jim Jones toured with William Branham and planted several churches, including a Message church in Ukiah in 1957. The Ukiah Message church planted by Jim Jones was also in our Message sect. And then Jim Jones moved to Ukiah himself in 1963.
Jim Jones was a Message preacher in the 1950s, and there are traces of his involvement in our sect of the Message to the present day. The Message fellowships of the 1950s were quite different than today. They were far more Pentecostal in their characteristics and more closely aligned to the Latter Rain movement.
After William Branham died in 1965, Jones began to promote himself as the new prophet and go in a different direction. His teachings diverged sharply from “Message” orthodoxy. It is a pattern Message believers are all too familiar with, because the pattern has repeated itself with dozens of men and dozens of groups. The prophet dies, and the next man proclaims himself the successor and starts a new sect that diverges on its own course.
Peoples Temple started out as a crazy Message-friendly church that went crazier after William Branham died. That realization is frightening. Peoples Temple represents the potential level of crazy a Message church can go to. The Message has no safeguards in place to protect against men like Jim Jones turning whole sects into crazy cults. It has happened over and over again, and Jim Jones is just the craziest example of all.
Even more frightening, it appeared Jim Jones was not merely connected to the Message, but of all the Message groups, he had been most closely connected to our specific sect of the Message. Jim Jones had personally attended or helped plant multiple of the churches in our Message sect. And multiple people I knew had been at Peoples Temple or in the joint Branham-Jones revivals.
The connections between Jim Jones and the Message multiplied as I investigated. As I interviewed people to ask my questions they shared stories of people who knew Jim Jones personally, stories of people who saw Jim Jones in their churches, stories of people who had listened to Jim Jones preach, and I even heard one second-hand story about a woman who said her whole family would have been in Jonestown in 1978, but at the last minute they decided not to go. That was how close Jim Jones was.
Was William Branham responsible for the thousand people murdered by Jim Jones? No, of course not. But he was certainly responsible for launching Jim Jones ministry in the 1950s, and our leaders are guilty of covering up and hiding how deeply connected Jim Jones was to the Message churches in Indiana.
Most troubling of all, we are left to wonder just how many of Jim Jones’s brainwashing and control tactics he learned in the Message? Are the same practices that gave Jim Jones so much control over his followers present in the Message where he got his start? It is my opinion that the same techniques used by Jim Jones for brainwashing and controlling people are present in the Message. Message people are are very trusting, submissive, and obedient to figures in ministry.
To a Message believer, it would be viewed as Satanically inspired to even consider the possibility that their minister is corrupt. I believe it is evident that their brainwashing has conditioned them to believe thoughts like that are the first step to hell. They will not permit themselves to even consider it a possibility that there is a pattern of dangerous behavior going on. It only takes one scary preacher to get his hands on the levers of power, and terrible abuses and disaster will follow.
It has happened many times before in The Message. It will happen again. And it is already happening right now in some places within the Message.
I fear for many Message churches. I have personally witnessed Message churches going down this same scary path.
Run for your life. Find safety in the arms of Jesus.
This article incorporates some documents first published on william-branham.org and jonestown.sdsu.edu.