Who Was Lonnie Frisbee?

Lonnie Frisbee

I’m not really old enough to remember it, but the “Jesus People” movement was a full-blown phenomenon in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. Centred mostly in northern California, hippies began getting into Jesus and these “Jesus Freaks” turned the established church on its ear. One of the most influential figures in this period was a young man with the unlikely name of Lonnie Frisbee. Lonnie’s ministry was influential in the foundation of two of evangelicalism’s biggest denominations. And yet, his name has disappeared from most accounts of the movement. Why? Because Lonnie was gay.

David di Sabatino has made a documentary film about Lonnie and it will be shown here in Toronto later this month as part of the Reel Heart Film Festival. I’m very interested in seeing it, but I do find one thing interesting. The director, who is an evangelical, talks about Lonnie’s homosexuality as a “struggle with sexual sin” and points to Lonnie as an example of a flawed prophet. Sadly, Lonnie died from AIDS in 1993, but I wonder what would have been the outcome if Lonnie had been able to embrace his sexuality and be accepted in the evangelical movement for what he was, without feeling like he had to live two separate lives.

Film critic Peter Chattaway conducted a lengthy interview with director di Sabatino back in April and the director says that Lonnie was raped as an eight-year-old child and that this might explain his fragmented identity, but I always find it funny that Christian people always need some “explanation” for someone’s sexuality. It’s more likely his fragmented identity was a result of not being able to tell people close to him about his homosexuality for fear of being denounced.

That being said, the film sounds like it genuinely tries to understand a complex individual, and I hope I’ll get to see it. It doesn’t hurt a bit that there are lots of Larry Norman songs in the soundtrack.

Note: Music was a huge factor in the Jesus People movement. Here’s a great site with lots of history on “Jesus Music”.

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