Lonnie Frisbee and the Jesus Revolution
This 2023 film familiarizes audiences with Calvary Chapel history. But what went on behind the scenes?
I recently saw a Christian film that changed the way I saw the church I grew up in. Growing up, I didn’t hear much about the history of Calvary Chapels. I just knew that they sprung up across the nation like chain restaurants or, rather, chain churches and that they focused on current events and cultural trends.
The film Jesus Revolution (2023) sheds light on Lonnie Frisbee, one of the founders of the Calvary Chapel movement. Having a striking resemblance to White Jesus in hippie attire, Frisbee wrote books and music about his faith. His unconventional ways subverted 1960 America’s expectations of church and it shows in the film.
Director Brett McCorkle made the “conscious decision” to omit references to Frisbee’s sexuality to avoid diverting focus towards the “mercurial artist” and away from the overall movement and spirit of the era. McCorkle also wanted audiences to meet Frisbee where he was rather than trying to capture his overall life and legacy.
Some people may even feel that the inclusion of Frisbee is controversial regardless of any references to his sexuality. Due to his background and sexuality, many Christians tried to distance themselves from Lonnie Frisbee and even went as far as reprinting literature without his name on it. Deplatformed in 1970, Lonnie Frisbee’s name faded into obscurity only to be reintroduced in 2023.
To be honest, I don’t know how others will react to this film, but I personally think it’s a nice break from overly preachy Christian films. Jesus Revolution feels more like a film set in recent history than a sermon. The cultural context of 1960s America create a setting fraught with cultural schisms and political unrest. This set the stage for the creation of a church that seemed to meet people where they were rather than forcing expectations of what Christians should be upon its congregants.
My main concern with this film is that some viewers will come away with the impression that Calvary Chapels are more tolerant and progressive than they really are. Chuck Smith Jr., the son of Chuck Smith Sr., said that the way his father’s homophobia was a stark contrast to his otherwise welcoming approach to theology and pastoring. The younger Chuck Smith likened his father’s relationship with Lonnie Frisbee to that of a father who rejected his son.
Calvary Chapels may have been revolutionary during their time with a casual dress code and a racially integrated congregation, but I can personally attest that they are not as welcoming as they appear. Lonnie Frisbee rejected his sexuality and still faced homophobia in the movement he started. Chuck Smith Sr. called Frisbee’s sexuality “the final affront against God” while his son and namesake accepted them.