I used to think that part of my disfunction as a Christian leader was because I never really had a constructive mentoring relationship with my pastor(s). When working on my Master’s degree at Pepperdine I wrote an essay positing that I never had that kind of relationship with my dad and he’d never had a real mentoring relationship himself. I now think that I actually lucked out after learning about Lonnie Frisbee, a young hippy preacher who played a pivotal role in the Jesus Movement in Southern California in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Frisbee was mentored and then apparently discarded by two of the most influential West Coast pastors, who founded their own powerful branches of the movement. Looking at how Frisbee was used, I don’t feel so bad about flying under the mentoring radar.
I was there in 1974 when the “Jesus Movement” hit Southern California. I heard about Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel, the first of Frisbee’s two mentors. But by the time I was old enough to venture to Costa Mesa the scene had changed and I was busy learning from the Jesuits and Catholic Charismatics at Loyola Marymount University in West Los Angeles.
It would be another 30-year, while I was playing with a worship band in Long Beach, when I began to hear the stories about a non-conventional personality who had been there in the beginning. A friend talked about this crazy guy who led huge revival meetings in Long Beach, but then faded from history. I didn’t think much about the stories until I happened across the documentary, Frisbee: The Life And Death Of A Hippie Preacher, on PBS one late night many years later.
My friend was right: Frisbee was one unconventional dude… but then it was the late 60s/70s, a most unconventional time. I’m reminded of the child’s book, The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola, when I think about Frisbee’s story. I can tell you that nothing is as clean or perfect as the church folks would want you to believe. However one might feel about miracles and whether God did miracles through Frisbee, I have no doubts that Chuck Smith or John Wimber (the second pastor to “employ” Frisbee) or Frisbee himself believe that God was using Frisbee to so “something great” through him. That Smith and Wimber made a calculated choice to use Frisbee’s anointing to promote their ministries was also pretty obvious. Alas, unlike The Clown of God, this one is a tragic story, one by which it would seem that God anointed a young man to do something miraculous, but a young man with the one flaw that traditional Christianity and his mentors could not accept. Lonnie Frisbee was gay.
Chuck Smith one time said from the pulpit that maybe God left the fossil record to fool scientists and the like. I rejected that notion because it would make God out to be a deliberate deceiver. That the pride of men can allow for us to be deceived or more often to deceive ourselves is one thing, but for God to deliberately do such a thing kind of goes against the notion that God is the embodiment of Truth. But then given the contradictory elements of this sad take, maybe God is a trickster, like Anansi in the West African tales. I mean, He picked a young man to do great things, but then to confound those who would naturally recognize Frisbee’s anointing He complicated the story by selecting a young man who was physically attracted to other young men. Here was someone who spread the New Testament grace of God’s forgiveness and then, in a very Old Testament manner, was struck down much too young by AIDs. So sad. Even at his funeral, the Trickster might have transpired to show that the mentors didn’t get it, when Chuck Smith spoke and equated Frisbee with the Old Testament story of Samson, lamenting that Frisbee could have done so much more if he had just not given in to his homosexuality. Smith and Wimber and others wanted to be a part of what God seemed to have done through Frisbee but they tired and then dismissed the man when they couldn’t control him.
And then to add insult to injury, Frisbee’s role in the early Calvary Chapel and Vineyard Church movements was either minimized or almost completely missing (In The Radical Middle Frisbee is mentioned by name by the author, but when he quotes Wimber Frisbee is referred to as “the young preacher”). Let’s just say that I attended various Calvary Chapels and Vineyard Churches for over twenty-year but had never heard Frisbee’s story until the mid-2000s from my worship leader/buddy. Not good. So, for all of my prior whining, I’m glad that I wasn’t mentored in that fashion and that I had to make my way in the world, learning what I could without someone’s restrictive and destructive theology limiting my explorations. Lonnie Frisbee, Hippie Preacher, RIP.
- Lonnie Frisbee Project, http://www.lonniefrisbee.com/ retrieved on 11/1/4/2011
- Lonnie Frisbee, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonnie_Frisbee retrieved 11/14/2011
- video: Frisbee – The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher Trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jv3O8SseOio retrieved 11/14/2011
- John Wimber, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wimber retrieved 11/14/2011.
- Chuck Smith, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Smith_(pastor) retrieved 11/14/2011.
- image: Vineyard Long Beach worship team, by Joe Bustillos, circa January 2006
- amazon link: The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola
- amazon link: The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard by Bill Jackson