The Gay Subtext of Jesus Revolution

The Gay Subtext of Jesus Revolution February 25, 2023

“Jesus Revolution is really about the Queer community,” I whispered to my wife as we watched the film last night. “Yesterday’s hippies are today’s LGBTQIA+ folks.” Today, I learned I was more right than I knew. Read more to find the gay subtext of Jesus Revolution…

The Gay Subtext of Jesus Revolution. Hippies outside a large gathering tent
Image by cafevalentine from Pixabay

Hippies for Jesus

Ostensibly, the 2023 Lionsgate movie is about the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. It features the dynamics between Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel, and a young Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship. The movie also highlights the eccentric evangelist Lonnie Frisbee, a powerful minister who looked like Jesus and performed “signs and wonders” during church services. The movie also includes the music of Love Song, a hippies-for-Jesus band that revolutionized the way a generation worshipped.


Jesus Revolution – A Moon Landing Event

On the surface, the film is about Chuck Smith, a conservative pastor who learns to embrace hippies and love them for who they are. He meets opposition from his stodgy church that judgmentally seeks to keep the hippies out. Eventually, Smith’s display of love convinces some of his church members to embrace the hippies who soon outnumber the long-time parishioners. Others choose to leave because they can’t accept the changes that the hippies bring. They can’t accept the “hippie lifestyle.” But the Holy Spirit is moving, ushering in a revolution in which all sorts of people are welcomed into the Church. And not only are hippies welcomed into the Church—they are invited to transform it.

The Jesus Movement was one that changed Christianity—and its effects can be felt in the Church more than fifty years later. One scene in the movie depicts the main characters glued to the TV as they watch Neil Armstrong’s lunar landing. The juxtaposition implies that the Jesus Revolution was a similar moonshot event: a small step for Chuck Smith, a giant leap for the Church.


But Jesus Revolution Wasn’t Just About Hippies.

I didn’t get very far into the movie before I realized the gay subtext of Jesus Revolution. The most interesting character is Lonnie Frisbee, founder of the Vineyard Movement. The film’s director was careful to depict the Christlike image of this evangelist, with his unconditional love and miracles. But the Christian film was also careful not to offend its audience and so failed to mention how Frisbee struggled with his gay identity. Frisbee preached in an era and church setting that would have rejected him if his secret had been known. Frisbee died of AIDS in 1993, after years of trying to conceal his sexual orientation. One article says that Frisbee’s identity was a “bit of an open secret in the church community.” But if it had been widely known, it would have given a different meaning to the term, “Jesus freak.”


The Gay Subtext of Jesus Revolution

Jesus Revolution was an amazing movie about accepting all kinds of people into the Church. It was about not asking them to change who they are but embracing diversity. It depicted the Church throwing its arms around passionate people who have a different perspective. When I saw the movie, I was impressed with the way the director took a true story about the Church welcoming hippies, and used it as a metaphor for the Church’s need to offer the same open arms to LGBTQIA+ folks. To me, the connection was obvious. One movie quote said it all: “God is saving the hippies and it’s blowing everybody’s mind because nobody thought the hippies could be saved!”

A Parable About Openness

In the theater, before I did my research, I thought how wonderful it was that directors Brent McCorckle and Jon Erwin had created such a parable to encourage the Church to embrace everybody. When I found out that Frisbee was gay, I was certain that this had been the movie’s intent! But as I considered the LGBTQIA+-condemning attitude of both the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard movements, I also had to grieve that Frisbee’s gay identity had to be an “open secret.”

The Church that had embraced Frisbee as a hippie would have rejected him as a completely open gay man. In the movie, Chuck Smith says, “Christianity is an invitation to the broken.” If the Church were to follow the example of the Jesus Movement and embrace people of all sorts, it would welcome the Queer community. This is a group of people whom the Church has broken with its judgment and rejection.

One reader has already commented, pointing out that Greg Laurie was one of the movie’s producers, and that he and Chuck Smith are definitely anti-gay. To this, I say that movies, like any work of art, often depict far more than their creators intended. Since Frisbee’s gay identity was never mentioned in the film, it seems clear that they meant to sweep it under the rug. I want to call attention to it. I even want to add that, without intending to do so, the moviemakers conveyed ideas that, carried to their logical extent, would lead to the Church’s full inclusion of LGBTQIQ+  folks.


Do We Need Another Jesus Revolution?

This is a question many are asking. With the Asbury Revival and He Gets Us movements, along with other Christian renewals happening around the world, we have to ask. Do we need another Jesus Revolution? Well, that depends on what’s meant by the question.


We Don’t Need Another Conservative Resurgence

If the question means, “Does today’s young generation need to mirror the revival that Boomers experienced in the 1970s?” then the answer is NO! While the Jesus People brought amazing openness to the Church, the materialism and nationalism of that generation also led to the consumer-driven commercialization of the Evangelical machine. When the hippies of the Jesus Movement grew up and became the leaders of society, this is what happened. They forgot their radical roots and became the social conservatives who elected Donald Trump. So no, we don’t need another Jesus Revolution, if by that we mean a revival of Evangelicalism, a conservative resurgence.


We Need Open Doors

But, if by the question we mean, “Do we need a fresh move of the Holy Spirit where the Church takes the next step in opening its doors to the marginalized LGBTQIA+ community,” then the answer is YES! We need another Jesus Revolution! In the book of Acts, Peter acted like a square when he rejected the invitation from the “dirty” Gentile Cornelius. He declared that he couldn’t possibly go to the house of an “unclean” person. So, God gave him a vision that turned his expectations upside down. He learned never to call anyone “unclean” whom God has declared to be clean.

This was a fresh message from the Holy Spirit at the time. We don’t even question it today—of course, Gentiles are acceptable to God! But for Peter’s day, it was radical! God is still speaking. A fresh wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing, declaring the Queer community acceptable to God. God is giving some of us a vision to welcome them with open arms. If this is what we mean by a new Jesus Revolution, then we need it like we need air.


An Open Door

In the film, Kelsey Grammer delivers a powerful performance as Chuck Smith. Speaking to his congregation, Smith declares that the Church’s door should be open to anyone—no matter what their background, no matter what they’ve done. The Church is not there to judge but to embrace. Smith says, “That door is open all the time. For you, any time of day. And if there are some who don’t like that, then that door is open for you, too. It works both ways.” (Watch the video clip here.)

I can only imagine what would happen if the same Church allowed itself to be transformed by hippies back in the 1970s would open its doors to full participation with the Queer community today. What if we paid attention to the gay subtext of Jesus Revolution? What if the new Jesus Movement were a move of the Spirit that taught us to actually follow Jesus—who throws his arms around folks of every race, nationality, language, gender identity, and sexual orientation? Maybe that’s what it really means to be called Jesus People.


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