Nothing has gripped the souls of Americans like the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The devastation of what happened that day has changed not just America, but the whole world, in ways unimagined before that fateful day…
It is hard to envision the world recovering from the long-lasting ripple effects of that day. The course of history has been set in a direction of bloodshed, violence, and insecurity that seems irreversible. Did you ever wonder what the Black Box would reveal about what happened on those planes before they crashed? Maybe if we knew, we could prevent a tragedy like that from ever happening again.
In the early Seventies, another tragedy occurred in America. It didn’t get the same media attention as 9/11, but its consequences were perhaps even more devastating. It was the crash of what seemed to be a truly radical movement, one that promised to bring peace to the earth. But like a flawed airplane rolling down the runway, it was doomed before it could even lift off the ground.
People have wondered for 35 years what happened to the Jesus Movement and whether there would ever be answers to help us understand its tragic demise. It has taken a long time to sort out the wreckage, but now we are beginning to grasp the magnitude of what the black box reveals. One thing has become painfully clear: unbeknownst to the sincere radicals on the plane, there were hijackers on board!
There has been a masterful conspiracy to cover up the real cause of the crash. Some “experts” even claim that the crash never happened, and that the Jesus Movement actually brought tremendous revival to this country. But what does the evidence reveal? Who was on board disguised as a passenger, but whose motive was to hijack the plane? Were there any warning signs? Where were the pilots and those assigned to protect the safety of the passengers?
Without understanding the contents of the black box, the theories about the cause of the crash are mere speculation. The black box can tell us very clearly what failed and why the Jesus Movement never really got off the ground. Was it a malfunction of one of the flight systems or a departure from the flight plan? What it might reveal could be shocking, stunning… and until we grasp the truth of its incriminating contents, we cannot be set free to embrace the radical truth.
Catastrophic crashes make us insecure, afraid to trust, especially when we don’t know the cause. But if we can know the cause, then perhaps, through God’s wisdom and understanding, we can find the courage to get on a plane again, and finally make it to that ultimate destination our souls long for.
Let’s take a look at some of the facts leading up to the crash. The flight of the Jesus Movement started out as a spontaneous, grass-roots desire to find radical answers to the problems facing a young, hopeful generation. The survivors of the crash of the ’60s Movement were badly injured in their souls and disillusioned by their counter-cultural experiences. But they were still looking for a solution that worked in a world full of hatred, greed, and injustice. They turned to the “Radical of Radicals” to find the answers to their questions about the meaning of life, the meaning of love, and understanding of the world’s perplexing problems. They finally found their answer in Jesus!
A lot of hippies used to read the Bible. They knew there had to be a spiritual aspect to their lives, and that life must mean more than just material comfort and sensual pleasure. Cat Stevens wrote Morning Is Broken about the dawning of creation from the words of an old Episcopal hymn. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young told us very plainly that we “got to get back to the Garden” to get the life we wanted on earth. Sex, drugs, and rock & roll didn’t get us there, but some were still determined to find true love that would inspire them to really share everything and put an end to the economic injustice they hated in society. They read in the Bible that the first disciples lived together and shared everything they had to meet the needs of their brothers. They knew love meant caring and sharing all you had, but who could get them there besides Jesus who lived His life as an example for us all to follow? This was the heart of those first hopeful ones who boarded the plane called “The Jesus Movement.”
These ex-hippies started giving their lives to Jesus and proudly took on the name “Jesus Freaks.” Little one-house communes started springing up everywhere, starting in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Within a short time, a number of independent communes had sprung up all across North America. By 1971, there were over 3000 of them. These Jesus Freaks wanted life, not doctrine! They knew that if you wanted a better world, you had to live differently from the people who were running the world and were making it a sorry place to live. They had a radical heart. They weren’t afraid to abandon the status quo and take on a life of sharing. The way they saw it, they had nothing left to lose. If Jesus wasn’t the answer, there wasn’t an answer.
Underground Jesus newspapers sprang up all over California and then across the country. These “Jesus Freaks” were not afraid to use the rock & roll music of their generation to proclaim their radical message of the love of Christ, which they saw as the heart of their movement. But even in those early days, the hijackers were beginning to formulate their plans for this movement. They disdained their “devil music” and their long hair, but they saw great potential to convert the naïve ones into their own way of thinking.
Leaders from established denominations of Christianity began to recognize the hunger for direction and leadership in the disillusioned hippies. They saw the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley as an avenue to draw them back into the fold of organized religion. They set aside their three-piece suits and donned more casual attire, slipping in among the Jesus Freaks to bring their gospel to the masses. They even brought some of the hippies into their camp, promising them the radical life of love that Jesus taught. These hip-talking young evangelists1 were the ones they would send out on the front line to reach out to young people on college campuses, city streets, coffee houses, and public beaches.
But as time went on, the subtle trappings of dead Christian religion encroached upon the hearts of these young people. In all this they didn’t see the beginnings of a plot to hijack the movement. Somehow these young people who saw so much didn’t see what was working in those from the Christian establishment to undermine their cause and rip the heart and soul out of it, taking full control for their own advantage and glory. They forgot that Jesus and His disciples were not trained in seminary, but were raised up outside the camp of the religious establishment of their day. Jesus didn’t look to the Pharisees and Sadducees to legitimize His movement. They must have lost sight of the fact that He was truly the radical of radicals, and His followers were just like Him!
Some of the more insightful leaders of the Jesus Movement could see it coming. Larry Norman was one of the most charismatic spokesmen for the fledgling movement. He wrote some of the most radical songs of the era, calling all believers to a more sincere walk with Christ. He was viewed as a renegade by most, but to many of the young enthusiastic Jesus Freaks he was the voice of their revolution. Norman saw the handwriting on the wall:
I don’t really enjoy saying things that I know I’m going to get shot down for. A long time ago I tried to warn people that Jesus movement was going to crumble if certain things continued to occur. But this was just shortly after it had begun, so of course people really didn’t want to hear anything that they considered ‘negative.’ Because of my close association with its origins, people assumed I would be quite enthusiastic about rushing it along into greater prominence, but I was concerned with it becoming exploited and co-opted by the middle class religious structure. That is exactly what happened, so I had to stand there and watch it die.2
Keith Green, a young hippie who was saved along with his wife Melody in the early days of the Jesus Movement, did an album called “No Compromise” at about the time he was being pressured to come under the umbrella of well-established Christian teachers. A number of influential Christian leaders were concerned that Keith wasn’t “grounded in the Word” and worried that he was becoming too radical. They were threatened by the fact that his message was attracting more and more of these young hippies. In many ways he succumbed to the pressure and compromised, coming under the sway of those men. Shortly afterwards his plane crashed, killing him and two of his children, sending shock waves through the movement, like the death of John F. Kennedy had done to an entire generation almost two decades before.
The Jesus People knew that they needed authority in their lives. They bore the scars in their souls of their rebellion against authority, both civil and moral. Most of them saw Jesus as their last hope of finding good authority from the true God that could lead them to a way of life based on the love of God poured out in the human heart. Many of the early Jesus Movement groups turned to Christian ministers for guidance and instruction. Some sought spiritual covering from established Evangelical associations. This is well documented in various histories of the Jesus Movement.3
What is not documented is the fact that these seemingly well-meaning Christian leaders were actually the hijackers of the Jesus Movement. Although most of the young converts wanted to find the vibrant communal life of the early church, there was no leadership raised up outside the camp of establishment Christianity to bring it about. Almost without exception, all of the groups were wooed back into the fold, trusting the leadership of men and women trained in the seminaries of Evangelical Christianity. This was their fatal flaw. They were destined, by the nature of the influence they came under, to conform to the status quo of Christianity, and thus disintegrate into the already-existing thousands of denominational churches. And whatever groups refused to be assimilated into mainstream Christianity, they branded as heretical cults.
The crucial moment of the takeover was perhaps the huge Explo ’72 festival in Dallas, Texas, referred to by some as the “Christian Woodstock.” That event was promoted by Billy Graham and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. These men were icons of Evangelical Christianity, which had nothing to offer that generation, but through Explo ’72 they wooed the unsuspecting passengers of the Jesus Movement into trusting their leadership. The result is clear. The hijackers successfully took the Jesus Movement off course.
The plane crashed almost without a sound. But we can see its wreckage strewn across the landscape of contemporary Christianity over the past 30 years. The mediocrity and hypocrisy that the Jesus Freaks hated in their youth is now being perpetuated by many of them to this day. These hippies, who had turned away from that same stale Christianity, which had offered nothing deeper than a seat on a pew, had now come full circle, back into the pews they had sat in with their parents when they were children. The rebellion of the ’60s was as much a reaction to a Christian religion that couldn’t save them as it was a reaction to the corporate greed that had robbed them of their parents and was destroying the earth. To that generation, Christianity and the beastly system were one and the same.
Those who have survived the fatal crashes of the ‘60s Movement or the Jesus Movement, or both, are certainly reluctant to get on another airplane. Our purpose is not to throw stones at the survivors, but to shed light on the mystery of why that once-vibrant and hopeful movement never got off the ground, for the sake of those who are still looking for the salvation of God and the establishing of His Kingdom here on the earth as it is in heaven.
We want to live a life together that bears the fruit of the Kingdom – an individual and corporate demonstration of love being perfected in unity in the wonderful environment of the common life that the love of Yahshua* in the human heart always produces. We desire to reach out to our reluctant and injured brothers and sisters in kindness and truth because we’ve been there.
Only one seed was preserved and survived the conspiracy that overthrew the Jesus Movement. Miraculously, we have been led out of the wreckage and are being bonded together into a dwelling place of the Most High, where we can finally experience the love and justice we have longed for. The dawning of a place to belong is appearing like the faint light in the early morning sky.