‘Jesus Revolution’ Tells a Revolutionary Tale

The Jesus Revolution, a book by Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn, comes billed as “the remarkable true story of the Jesus Movement, an extraordinary time of mass revival, renewal, and reconciliation.” As the “Jesus Revolution” movie shows, that extraordinary time followed another religious movement, headed by a different brand of evangelist. 

Timothy Leary taught at UC Berkeley, directed psychological research at the Kaiser Foundation, and joined the Harvard faculty in 1959. The next year, Leary began experimenting with psychedelic drugs, which brought about a conversion of sorts. He wanted everybody to have it. 

Leary promoted personal salvation based on lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD, a synthetic chemical made from a substance found in ergot, a fungus that infects rye. In 1966, Leary founded the League of Spiritual Discovery (LSD), incorporated as a religious institution in New York State. 

In “Jesus Revolution,” Steve Hanks (“JailBait”) plays Leary, whose slogan—reportedly a suggestion of Marshall McLuhan—was “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” By 1967, thousands were taking it literally and heading for California, where the magical mystery tour was waiting to take them away. It did, big time, and viewers might benefit from more detail. 

People wore T-shirts reading “Better Living Through Chemistry,” and  “There is No Hope Without Dope.” Shirts and posters bore the profile of the Zig Zag man, prompting people to “roll another one, just like the other one.”  Twitter would not have worked in the ’60s because people would have found the hashtags and smoked them. 

Dropouts would “puff the magic dragon” and connect with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the girl with kaleidoscope eyes. LSD came branded as Orange Wedge, Blue Cheer, Mellow Yellow and such. It was sometimes bundled with other exotic substances, and the product was beyond FDA jurisdiction. No refunds for bad trips, and there were plenty. 

“I got high,” as Small Faces said in “Itchycoo Park,” and “it’s all too beautiful.” As many learned by experience, it couldn’t last. As David Clayton-Thomas of Blood Sweat and Tears explained, “what goes up, must come down.” By 1968, and even before, many of the beautiful people were walking around, as John Kay of Steppenwolf said, “with tombstones in their eyes.” The people of the Jesus movement sought them out, but not just as an audience for preaching. 

A network of communes called the House of Miracles gave drug culture dropouts a place to stay. The unofficial minister of the communes was Orange County minister Chuck Smith, played by “Cheers” veteran Kelsey Grammer. Jonathan Roumie (“The Chosen”) plays hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee, a key figure in the movement.  

Lonnie has a theatrical side that disturbs some of Chuck’s church members. On the other hand, he brings in many from the streets. The ministry grows by leaps and bounds, with Lonnie conducting mass baptisms at Pirate’s Cove. Young Greg Laurie (John Courtney) eventually takes the plunge and soon becomes immersed in the ministry.

Greg meets Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow) also involved with the growing church, but her parents look askance at his career possibilities as a preacher in the style of Lonnie Frisbee. Viewers don’t learn much about Lonnie’s wife Connie, once involved with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. 

As Jay Stevens explains in Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, the Brotherhood types “were probably the best dope smugglers in America” and “replaced Owsley [Stanley] as the best-known distributor of LSD.” The Brotherhood operated a commune in the desert and the Mystic Arts World shop in Laguna Beach. The Brotherhood saturated Orange County with LSD plus ample supplies of hashish and marijuana. 

Like many others, Connie required divine intervention to get out, and she became adept at explaining the Christian gospel to those with stars or tombstones in their eyes. In similar style, Greg grows in the faith and expands his role as a preacher. Young people come from far and wide to hear him, and get baptized at Pirate’s Cove. The Jesus Revolution winds up on the cover of Time Magazine and the rest is history, not all of it covered in the film. 

Timothy Leary got busted for drugs but in 1970 the Weather Underground broke him out of the California Men’s Colony, a prison in San Luis Obispo. The wanted man fled to Algeria, where Eldridge Cleaver and other Black Panthers had taken refuge. Leary moved on to Switzerland and Afghanistan, where he was captured and returned stateside.  In 1976, Governor Jerry Brown released the LSD prophet, who passed away in 1996

The House of Miracles communes expanded into the Shiloh Youth Revival Centers in the Pacific Northwest. Some communards moved on to more conventional churches and lifestyles while others went their own way. So it has been down through the ages. 

In 1973 Lonnie and Connie Frisbee parted company and Lonnie died in 1993. Chuck Smith, a mainstay in the Calvary Chapel churches, passed away in 2013. Greg Laurie and others continue to this day, preaching to millions. That recalls a back story going on long before the 60s. 

As the late Paul Johnson noted in Modern Times, religion failed to disappear as prophesied. Communist regimes still persecute the church and in America, government agencies are following suit.  

The FBI raid against the Houck family, and the ensuing trial, Bruce Thornton explains, “demonstrate how many ‘public servants’ in our federal agencies have an animus against Christians, a peculiarity given that the DOJ and other agencies are so vigorous in protecting Muslims from alleged Islamophobic persecution. Christophobia, on the other hand, apparently is okay, and Christians’ First Amendment rights can be violated to serve partisan political agendas.” 

The Judeo-Christian belief that God created human beings male and female is now held to be an attack on the gender radicals. As Dave Chappelle has noted, the “alphabet people” are a protected class. And so on. 

In these oppressive conditions, it is something of a miracle that “Jesus Revolution” got made. The big screen is still available for stories long forgotten, or that people never knew in the first place.  

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: IMDb