The Jesus People Movement
America in the 1960s was a war-torn and racially-divided battlefield of free-expression, idealism, puritanism and radicalism. It was, in a very real sense, a graveyard for the same. It was a time of "spirituality" seekers, and an early leap into eternity for the many who couldn't resist the enticements of "instant gratification". It was a time when burgeoning communication technology met the baby-boomers on a social level. A single poet could sing to millions at the same time; and news of space, of war, of race and of a growing "generation gap" reached the youngest and the oldest of Americans on a nightly basis.
It was both the age of innocence and the dawning of a new age. If there was ever truly a "generation gap" in the fully-expanded America, the 1960s was the best example. Youth was socially equated with rebellion; age was a universal symbol of intolerance; peace was a vapor; free-love was a term that purchased temporary pleasure; gender and race were fighting words. Families were divided brothers from brothers, sisters from sisters and parents from children. Within the family unit there was instability; and within society there was chaos. Amidst the turmoil, and within the confines of its most strict 1960s definition, a "true awakening" was brewing in America; and it would continue to spread around the globe to the present day. It was a spiritual revival that would eventually lead to a collective movement of youth and families toward faith in the deity of Jesus of Nazareth.
Could He be...?
Revival of spiritual commitment and focus has swept through society in America and other countries from time to time. Renewed interest in the existence of God has left definite markers along the path of time that have clearly changed the face and direction of individuals, families and communities. In England John Wesley taught a philosophy based on returning to pure Christianity of biblical truths and the teachings of Christ. In pre-revolution America Wesley's teaching led to a "great awakening" among the colonies which birthed the political unity responsible for separation from England. In a similar way events during the period of American expansion, civil war and abolition were influenced by the spiritual revivalism taught by evangelist Charles Finney. Dwight L. Moody and others gave post-civil war America spiritual direction, and influenced the exposition of the Bible as it is currently done in evangelical Christian churches. During this time a movement toward missionary fields was emphasized, and "preaching the Gospel to all nations" was stressed, as it is in the Bible, as the great commission of the Christian faith.
Back to the 60s
In the rapidly changing and developing American society of 1900 to 1950 the "great commission", though taught and stressed by bible teachers and evangelists, was in a back seat to societal and political stress. Industrialization and technology had taken families from farm fields to factories, and from interdependence to distrust. World War II was a great triumph for the United States, but the years following were years of social unrest and political strife.
When the 1960s hit the U.S. and the assassination of President Kennedy marked a turning point in national identity, families were held loosely together. The aforementioned "generation gap" had placed battle-lines within homes all across the country. Political and religious ideologies were set opposite one another in a powerful and changing America. Public schools were reaching away from creationism and family-based community education; and moving toward a secular world view and government-ruled education. Caught in the middle were the youth who saw a watered-down version of faith within the home, and a growing community of young people reaching out and inviting them to turn away from the limitations of society to bring about the changes they longed for in society. Soon the hippie counter-culture would draw great numbers of young people in the United States and other countries. Many embraced the use of psychedelic drugs. Music festivals and protest rallies featured music and speeches promoting what some called the "transcendental experience" of drug use and sex without restraint or inhibition.
From this tumultuous season of change rose an astonishingly polar-opposite reaction to the avalanche of youth who were "turning on, tuning in and dropping out", as drug use advocate Timothy Leary described it. From the psychedelic spiral of the hippie counter-culture grew another culture that has become a tree so firmly rooted in its origins of faith, that people world-wide are touched by its influence several decades after its beginning.
In a small Orange County California community, a Bible preacher by the name of Charles W. Smith responded to the perceived need of a growing number of youth in the hippie lifestyle. They had no direction. Their decisions, actions and habits were self destructive. It became clear, first to Smith's wife, that some of these same young people were walking the street in front of their home, and that their own children would be affected in some way by the lifestyle these "lost" hippies demonstrated. The Smith's were soon ministering to these youths by meeting their immediate physical needs of food and shelter (first within their own home), and also by preaching the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ to them. The hippie conversions to Christianity quickly outnumbered the many who had already turned to eastern mysticism and other influences. These youthful converts were charismatic and outspoken. Their individual and sometimes mass-conversions and baptisms were widely publicized, which served to increase their influence over others.
The west coast music culture was also touched early during this rise of the "Jesus People" in Southern California. Many of these hippies were once attending concerts where the audience and the musicians were equally "stoned" on acid or mushrooms. Now hundreds and even thousands of them were "turning on" to God, the Bible and the life of Jesus. Christian rock concerts and music festivals began to draw large crowds, and notable musicians, whom themselves had had conversion experiences were headlining. Music in Christian churches world-wide would be influenced by this movement; and "Pastor Chuck" Smith's Calvary Chapel in Orange County California would seed a family of churches around the globe. Maranatha! Music was founded in the midst of the Orange County Jesus People Movement; and has expanded Christian music alternatives for music lovers and musicians alike.
The Jesus People Today
From the late 1960s through the 1970s and 1980s the Jesus People movement would directly and indirectly affect the lives of tens of thousands of people locally in Southern California, and at least hundreds of thousands nationally and world-wide. The conversion stories range from the quiet singular experiences of lost and wandering individuals to the family, group and mass conversions associated with large evangelical events. Baptisms abounded in small church ceremonies, and full-emersion group baptisms in the California surf. Some testimonies relate a radical change from immorality, drug use, crime and near-death. Others relate the release from an inner struggle with depression, spirituality and faith. Dramatic or not, the conversion experiences that changed the lives of hippies in the United States have changed lives and Christian churches around the world. Individuals have been re-born, and families have been restored.
Generations have followed the original movement, and many Jesus People are now grandparents (or greater). Wars come and go; drug use and immorality and violence continue to be problems in society. These things we'll always have with us. The protests, the "sit-ins", the festivals and the "love-ins" of the 1960s didn't change society enough to free us from them. The Jesus People movement may have been the most unexpected and effectual spin-off of the psychedelic '60s. The influence of the movement continues to expand through the lives it first directly altered, and through the lives that those lives have reached out to.