Recently, I caught up with Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie, best known for playing Jesus in the hit Gospels-based TV series The Chosen, to discuss his new role in the film Jesus Revolution, hitting theaters on Feb. 24.
What is Jesus Revolution About?
Kelsey Grammer stars in this latest fact-inspired entry from the Erwin Brothers (I Can Only Imagine, I Still Believe, American Underdog) as Chuck Smith, an Evangelical pastor in Orange County, California, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He’s introduced to Lonnie Frisbee (Roumie), a charismatic hippie preacher.
Frisbee transforms Smith’s ministry, which opens its doors to the disaffected young people who became the core of the Jesus Movement (the participants were often called Jesus People or Jesus Freaks).
Joel Courtney co-stars as young Greg Laurie, who’s drawn into Smith and Frisbee’s orbit and has a religious awakening. Laurie became a pastor and wrote the 2018 book Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today, on which the film is based.
The Connection Between Jonathan Roumie and Lonnie Frisbee
Frankly, to me, the most interesting person in the film is Frisbee, especially when I learned more about him — including the large parts of his life that don’t appear in Jesus Revolution.
As Roumie says in one part of our interview, seen in the video below, this isn’t Frisbee’s movie — it’s really about Smith and Laurie. But Roumie still felt a powerful connection to Frisbee, who died of AIDS in 1993 at the age of 43, and he has some amazing stories to tell.
There also just might be a little something at the end for fans of The Chosen.
Who Was the Real Lonnie Frisbee?
In 2005, OC Weekly did a comprehensive portrait of Frisbee. He was a seminal figure in the origins of more than one ecstatic Pentecostal group. But, his star faded when word got around that, while he was preaching, he was also leading an active homosexual life.
The OC Weekly story quotes journalist and filmmaker David Di Sabatino. He produced a 2005 documentary on Frisbee called Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher (available to rent on Amazon Prime Video).
“People go away reeling,” Di Sabatino says. “They are blown away by Lonnie. The sexual stuff, if you can get over that lump, you just see a human being who God used. God uses anybody who steps up to the table, and Lonnie was a man open to God working through him. That’s why he’s a hero.”
Lonnie Frisbee Was Laid to Rest in What Is Now a Catholic Cathedral
In the interview, I talk to Roumie about Frisbee’s memorial service, which was held at Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.
Bought by the Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011, the glass-walled building was extensively renovated to make it suitable for Catholic worship. It’s now known as Christ Cathedral.
Here’s the actual 1993 memorial service:
As Roumie points out, Frisbee is still there, in a grave on the Cathedral campus.
Who Should See Jesus Revolution?
To start with, anyone who enjoys Jonathan Roumie’s work on The Chosen will probably get a kick out of seeing him in a new light.
While Roumie sports the hair and beard he also wears as Jesus in The Chosen (although, he did tell me a few months back that he grew his hair even longer for the film), he is an actor.
How Roumie plays Lonnie is different from how he plays Jesus. Obviously, he doesn’t have the accent he does in the TV series, but Roumie also brings a different voice and physicality to this role.
As for my fellow Catholics, it is a peek into another iteration of Christianity that they might not be familiar with, and a bit of history.
Roumie and I discuss that in the interview, as his work on The Chosen, created by Evangelical Dallas Jenkins, and Jesus Revolution, have led him into Evangelical circles and events he might not have been involved with otherwise.
A Bit of a Jesus Revolution Is Going on Today
Considering there’s been large youth revival happening in recent days in the chapel at Kentucky’s Asbury University, a Christian institution founded in the Methodist Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, Jesus Revolution may seem more relevant today than even a few months ago.
Local Catholics are also taking notice of what’s going on at Asbury. From OSV News (via Detroit Catholic):
“It’s almost like a wellspring,” said Father Norman Fischer, pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and chaplain at Lexington Catholic High School. “You just know right away that God is there.”
Since Feb. 8, a routine morning chapel gathering at Asbury University — a Christian liberal arts university located in Wilmore, Kentucky — has blossomed into a round-the-clock session of prayer, praise, worship and testimonials.
Here’s a peek at Jesus Revolution, from the Erwins’ Kingdom Story Company, part of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group:
Image: Jonathan Roumie, ‘Jesus Revolution’/Roumie Image: Kate O’Hare YouTube screenshot: ‘Jesus Revolution’ poster: Courtesy Lionsgate
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