Jesus Revolution: The Worst Kind of Christian Propaganda Film

Jesus Revolution: The Worst Kind of Christian Propaganda Film February 28, 2023

IMAGE: Jesus Revolution Film

Let’s be honest. Conservative Christianity isn’t known for producing great works of art. Especially when it comes to film.

We’ve had to hide our faces in shame and squirm in our seats over everything from those youth-group fear-mongering rapture horror flicks like Thief In The Night and the Left Behind films, to the easy-answer, “Just-become-a-Christian-and-watch-your-problems-disappear” plotlines in straight-to-DVD schlock like Fireproof and God’s Not Dead. 

But this latest film – Jesus Revolution – takes things just a little too far.

Why? Because whereas those other cringey flicks were made up stories designed to make Christians feel better, Jesus Revolution rewrites history and reimagines actual events through the vanity lens of an Evangelical dream world.

The producers of this fantasy film fail to mention that Lonnie Frisbee – the hippie Jesus Freak who single-handedly ignited the movement that gave birth to both the Calvary Chapel empire led by Pastor Chuck Smith and the worldwide Vineyard Church movement led by Pastor John Wimber – was gay and died of AIDs in 1993.

The truth about Lonnie is completely obscured in this happy-smiley feel-good Christian movie mythology. There is no mention of the fact that Lonnie joined the Laguna Beach gay underground scene at 15. Or that his conversion experience came after a soul-searching LSD acid-trip session. Or that he continued to have sexual encounters with several men throughout his ministry years.

The film also fails to mention that, after Lonnie had spawned both their respective church empires, both Smith and Wimber excommunicated him from their churches and publicly humiliated him for engaging in homosexual activity before, during and after the events described in the Jesus Revolution film.

For those who are actually curious about the real and not-so-nice story of Lonnie Frisbee told by his wife, and many of his closest friends, let me recommend the excellent documentary, Lonnie Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher

If you watch that documentary, you’ll come away with a much more human and sincerely sympathetic view of Lonnie Frisbee’s life.

Yes, he struggled to find his identity as a gay man in an Evangelical Christian world, and, like many gay men and women today, he was constantly reminded that who he was on the inside was evil, dirty, sinful and an abomination to the God he loved with all of his heart.

Lonnie was celebrated for his gifts but shunned and shamed for his natural desire to love and be loved by other men. So, to stay in the good graces of the gatekeepers of Christianity, he denied being gay and continued to teach that homosexuality was a sin right up until his dying day, which is quite heartbreaking for those who are gay or queer or trans or otherwise not heteronormative.

Not that I expected the film to mention these things. Because Christian propaganda films like this are more interested in perpetuating their religious fantasy version of reality than on creating films of any actual depth or substance.

But, you should know that Church leaders like Chuck Smith exploited Lonnie’s talents without paying him. You should know that John Wimber stole his Power Healing teachings and published books based on his insights without crediting him, or compensating him.

And now, years later, leaders in the very same Calvary Chapel movement have found yet another way to make money on this poor young man’s name without telling the whole truth.

And why won’t they tell us the whole truth? Because that would spoil their religious fantasy version of reality.

See, if the people paying money to come see this film knew that Lonnie was gay, they wouldn’t buy an entire row of seats and invite their co-workers to a showing. If people actually knew that Chuck Smith exploited Lonnie and then shut him out of the mega-church he helped to build, they wouldn’t keep spreading those links on Facebook and Twitter about how Kelsey Grammer cried on that morning talk show.

To me, this is no different than how Disney whitewashed the exploitation of author P.L. Travers by Walt Disney in the film Saving Mr. Banks. It’s a beautiful story about how the wise and kindly Walt Disney [played perfectly by America’s most lovable male actor, Tom Hanks] carefully and patiently convinces Travers to trust him with her beloved book – Mary Poppins – to create the classic film of the same name.

It’s especially lovely as long as you don’t actually look up the true story and find out that Disney and Travers never saw eye to eye on the film and that he lied to her throughout the entire production. She, in fact, hated the final product and wasn’t even invited to the premiere of the film, although she did end up attending after she demanded to be included on the guest list. The two of them never liked each other and, contrary to what was portrayed in the film, Disney never travelled to England and never sought her permission to make changes to her story.

Kinda changes your perspective once you know the entire story, right?

And that’s how I feel about Jesus Revolution.

It’s the Disney-version of a man’s life who was humiliated and exploited by the people he helped to make rich and famous, produced by those who want to perpetuate their mythological version of the story, without any mention of how these Christian pastors who benefited the most from Lonnie’s ministry were the first ones to condemn and reject him when he needed them most.

I’d rather remember Lonnie for the man he was: a young gay man who loved Jesus and wanted to heal people and remind them of how much God loved them right where they were. Whether they were hippies, or barefoot, or strung out, or gay or bisexual, or rich or poor, God’s love was forever poured on each and every one of them.

People like Smith and Wimber and other pastors at the time did their best to mold Lonnie into their own image. Sadly, in many ways, they succeeded. But, in the end, he died alone and rejected by those same leaders who had no room in their hearts for a gay man who loved Jesus.

Based on the version of his story now playing in cinemas around the country, it seems like not much has changed.


Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” His latest book, SOLA MYSTERIUM: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everything is available now on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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