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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 80, Spring 1999

Misremembering Jonestown

Timothy Stoen’s Latest Self Promotion
“Remembering Jonestown” is an article by Christine Gardner in the 15
January 1999 issue of Christianity Today. It features Tim Stoen’s revised
version of his role in the Peoples Temple cult and its massacre. This is
how the article begins:

On November 18, 1978, Tim Stoen and his wife, Grace, sat anxiously in the
Guyanese capital of Georgetown, waiting for the right time to return to the
jungles of Jonestown to try to reclaim their only child, six-year-old John
Victor. Then they heard the news: Jim Jones had led more than 900 of his
Peoples Temple followers–including their son–in a mass murder-suicide.

Jonestown residents had been forced to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. “It
was the most miserable night of my life,” Tim Stoen, now 60, recalls.

A 1960 Wheaton College alumnus, Stoen had been an active member of First
Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, California, when he met Jim Jones in 1967.
Jones’s concern for the poor and minorities impressed Stoen, an idealistic
civil-rights lawyer. He joined the Peoples Temple in 1969 and became
Jones’s attorney.

In 1977, Stoen moved to Jonestown, the Peoples Temple commune that had
migrated from the San Francisco area, to raise his son in the socialist
utopia. Because of his high position in the commune, Stoen was allowed to
leave on a trip to the United States. He thought his son would be well
cared for at the commune during his absence. But through media accounts, he
came to realize the warped nature of Jones’s plans.

The article ends this way:

Tim Stoen and his wife divorced a year after their son died at Jonestown.
For years, Stoen lived in fear of being killed by an angry Peoples Temple
member. He wrestled with Jones’s final words blaming him for the tragedy.
But he eventually faced those who accused him of causing the massacre and
learned the power of forgiveness. In 1991, he recommitted his life to
Christ. “When you screw up, your life’s not over,” Stoen says. “Recognize
that you have a loving God that loves you.”

Kathryn Lindskoog sent the following letter to the editors:
Because the deceptive People’s Temple cult exploited human gullibility,
it’s ironic that human gullibility was apparently exploited in the
preparation of your well-intentioned account of the Jonestown tragedy,
“Remembering Jonestown” (January 15). Thorough research presents a very
different perspective on Timothy Stoen’s co-leader status in the cult, the
secret exodus to Guyana, the abduction of the son he shared from birth with
Jim Jones, and the massacre. For a starter, I recommend 54-page chapter 18
of Mark Lane’s Strongest Poison, titled “Timothy Stoen.” I also recommend
Tim Reiterman’s Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His
People. And for anyone who is interested in even more truth, I recommend
the videotaped lecture that Mr. Stoen delivered in January 1993, in which
he radically contradicts your account of why his son perished.

Longtime readers of Legacy may recall Tim Stoen’s first appearance on
these pages in Issue 63, reporting his 2 December 1994 Fax to Questar
DISTRIBUTED….to alert you that numerous communications about my clients
in the aforesaid book so that you will immediately cease and desist further
publication over the weekend. Until such time as you have the actual list
of false communications, you are recklessly assuming the risk of reckless
disregard of the truth by making statements about [Stanley Mattson and his
foundation].” Needless to say, there was no libel, but the threat of a
nuisance suit worked. (When he tried the same bluff later on Hope
Publishing House, it didn’t work at all.) Kathryn Lindskoog’s detailed
chronogy of Stoen’s bizarre career appeared in Legacy 64. Stoen somehow
arranged for a two-page spread portraying himself as an innocent cult
victim in the 7 April 1997 issue of Newsweek (pp. 44-45).