Today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Lonnie Frisbee. I have no doubt that many who are reading this have no idea who Lonnie Frisbee is because up until about a month ago I had no idea who he was either. I just kind of accidentally stumbled upon this guy, and after reading up on his life, I’m surprised I had never heard of him before. Frisbee was a controversial figure to say the least, but he was also one of the most important and influential figures that protestant christianity has seen in a long time.
Frisbee is seen by many as the match that lit the flame that was “The Jesus Movement” of the 1960’s and 70’s. This movement resulted in a massive explosion of Christianity that some have gone on to call the “4th Great Awakening.” Considering everything that was going on in the 60’s it is hard to believe that it actually succeeded as well as it did. Christianity was not something the revolutionary counter-culture of the 60’s was always often willing to embrace. Christianity was seen as the religion of “the man” and the moral police who wanted to kill free love. So what happened to change this?
One of the reason this movement succeeded was due to the “Jesus People’s” realness and the true compassion they showed towards others. In the last decade the term “Jesus Freak” became temporarily popular among the Christian youth of America because of a DC Talk song, but originally the term was used by the Jesus Movement as a means of turning the other cheek. They accepted the title that was meant to be an insult and made it their own, which is a lesson that I think a lot of moder churches can learn from.
The Jesus Movement really focused on community and often lead churches become communes in which communities lived and worked together in a form of communal hippy brotherhood. As strange as it may seem, these communes were often not unlike the first church depicted in Acts. This was very appealing to the youth of that era who were growing up in a time of racial, sexual, societal, and political revolution. The Jesus movement tended to sweep through “bad” parts of town and it was common place for “Jesus Freaks” to reach out to drug addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless (kind of like Jesus did).
This movement eventually faded alongside the revolutionary culture of the 60’s and 70’s and was all but dead by the time the 80’s rolled around. In spite of this the impact the movement left cannot be undersold. Thousands of people came to Christ as a result of the movement, some going on to become ministers and evangelists themselves. Contemporary christian music exists largely in part to this movement, and there are dozens of large churches today that can trace their roots back to the Jesus movement.
So how did this happen and what did Lonnie Frisbee have to do with it?
Well, Frisbee himself was a bit of a wreck. Like most people God uses to do big things, he was the last person you would expect. From early on Frisbee had it rough. H was sexually abused as a young child and as a youth he got involved in the drug culture. When he was 15 he became active in the gay underground scene and he began to actively embraced the free-love hippie attitude of the 60’s. As a part of his “spiritual quest” Frisbee would read the Bible while tripping on Acid and in a humorous twist of fait he came to the lord because of a married couple who found him rambling about UFO’s and Jesus on the side of the road. This broken human being would soon become the “spark” that started it all.
As fate would have it, Frisbee met Chuck Smith, a church planter. The only reason these two came into contact was because Smith had jokingly mentioned that he wanted to meet a hippy in real life. Not quite understanding the sarcasm of the statement, Smith’s daughter’s boyfriend brought home Frisbee. Before this chance meeting, Frisbee had been hitchhiking around the country so he could tell people about Jesus. He had just happened to be in Smith’s home town at just the right moment. To the surprise of many, Frisbee became a very effective minister for Smith’s church plant. This plant’s “hippy christianity” would eventually spread greater and further outward until it started a nation wide movement movement.
Frisbee was not the “head” of the Jesus movement (the movement surpassingly lacked a figure-head other than Christ himself) and he never claimed to be, but it can be said that if it had not been for this weird little hippy from Laguna Beach, the movement might not have ever happened. Frisbee was not one to take credit for anything, and he remained humble despite his sudden boom in popularity.
It would be nice if I could end the story here, but unfortunately the rest of Frisbee’s life was not easy. In the midst of the movement, Lonnie divorce his wife in 1973 after she had an affair with the head pastor of his church. Distraught, Frisbee left his Vineyard Church in Denver to pursue a life of ministry elsewhere. In the years that followed, Lonnie had a very difficult time dealing with his homosexual desires, that he had had since he first got involved in the homosexual scene of his youth. He was not shy about the fact that he viewed homosexuality as a sin, nor was he shy about admitting that he struggled with homosexual attraction throughout his life. While his candid admittance might seem like a good thing to us, who have seen so many ministers get outed on national TV after a lifetime of hiding, but unfortunately Lonnie was often condemned and persecuted for the attractions he had no control over. On one occasion he was quoted as saying that he had to stop mentioning his homosexual struggles in his testimony because people treated him like a leper once they knew he had same-sex tendencies. This self described “sinful attraction” was always be an obstacle for Lonnie, and as a result of his struggles he was regularly shunned from churches he helped start. Some churches would even go so far as to omitted Lonnie Frisbee from church records, as if to say he never existed.
Frisbee died of AIDS on this date in 1993 and his funeral depicted him as a man who loved Jesus but tragically fell victim to his own vices.
Any person could see that Lonnie Frisbee was not a perfect person, but he never claimed to be one either. He was honest almost to a fault and he never tried to be something he wasn’t. He struggled with drugs and sexual urges that he deemed sinful for most of his life, but he loved the Lord and he loved other people. Lonnie had a rough life, but because of this strange bisexual hippie from Laguna Beach, thousands (and possibly millions) of lives were changed and though the full extent of his impact will never be known, I feel confident that the kingdom of heaven is a little fuller because of this man.
So what can we learn from Lonnie Frisbee? I think the take away here is one that is found all throughout scripture, which is that God can (and does) use all people for his good. Abraham was too old, David was and adulterer, Noah got drunk, Moses couldn’t speak well, Jacob was a traitor, Peter had a big mouth, Jonah was a racist, Gideon doubted himself, Elijah was slow, the list goes on and on. The thing about all of the above people is that we don’t focus on their flaws, we focus on how God worked through them to do incredible things.
Lonnie Frisbee is not remembered very often, and when he is it is often with reluctance. No one wants to talk about the bisexual hippie preacher with a drug past who helped lead thousands to Christ. To admit that would be to admit that God used a gay hippie with a drug history, and we seem to prefer the idea that God only uses “good people” to do his work. I don’t want to make light of Lonnie’s sins, but if I were to be honest I think the church failed Lonnie more than Lonnie failed the church. Before he died, Lonnie made sure that it was known that he forgave all those who had ostracized him and shunned him in the past. Despite being mistreated and despised by the churches he helped found, he wanted it known that he forgave them.
I guess in closing I’d just like to say thanks Lonnie, for being real and for loving others even when you weren’t loved in return. I hope to see you on the other side some day.