How Lonnie Frisbee, the Gay Evangelist Who Sparked the Jesus Movement, Died of AIDS

Lonnie Frisbee was a charismatic evangelist who had a significant impact on the Jesus movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. He was known for his hippie appearance, his prophetic gifts, and his powerful ministry that drew thousands of young people to Christ. He was also a closeted gay man who struggled with his sexuality and faced rejection from the churches he helped to grow. In this article, we will explore how Lonnie Frisbee died of AIDS and how his legacy has been largely erased from evangelical history.

The Early Life and Ministry of Lonnie Frisbee

Lonnie Frisbee was born in 1949 in Costa Mesa, California. He grew up in a dysfunctional family and was sexually abused as a child. He developed an interest in art, music, and dancing, and ran away from home several times. He became involved in the hippie subculture and experimented with drugs and sex.

In 1967, he had a dramatic conversion experience on a mountain where he claimed to have seen a vision of Jesus. He joined a Christian commune called the House of Miracles, where he met his future wife Connie Bremer. He began to preach the gospel to other hippies and perform miracles of healing and deliverance. He also co-founded Shiloh Youth Revival Centers, one of the largest and longest-lasting Jesus People communal groups.

Frisbee’s ministry caught the attention of Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. Smith invited Frisbee to speak at his church and witnessed a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thousands of young people came to hear Frisbee’s message and experienced baptism in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and other spiritual gifts. Frisbee became a key figure in the growth of Calvary Chapel and its network of churches.

The Controversy and Exclusion of Lonnie Frisbee

Despite his popularity and success, Frisbee had a dark secret: he was gay. He had been sexually active with men before and during his marriage to Connie, who divorced him in 1973. He tried to suppress his homosexual desires and sought counseling and deliverance, but he could not change his orientation. He continued to have sexual relationships with men, some of whom were also involved in ministry.

Frisbee’s homosexuality eventually became known to Smith and other church leaders, who confronted him and removed him from leadership positions. They also tried to cover up his involvement in the history of Calvary Chapel and downplay his role in the Jesus movement. Frisbee felt betrayed and hurt by the church that he had served so faithfully.

In 1977, Frisbee met John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Movement, another influential evangelical denomination that emphasized signs and wonders. Wimber invited Frisbee to speak at his church and saw similar results as Smith had seen: a revival of spiritual gifts and conversions among young people. Frisbee became a catalyst for the Vineyard Movement’s expansion and influence.

However, history repeated itself when Wimber also discovered Frisbee’s homosexuality and dismissed him from ministry. Wimber also tried to erase Frisbee’s contribution to the Vineyard Movement and distance himself from him. Frisbee felt abandoned and disillusioned by another church that he had helped to grow.

The Death and Legacy of Lonnie Frisbee

In 1987, Frisbee was diagnosed with AIDS, which was widely stigmatized at the time as a gay disease. He suffered from various complications associated with the disease, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, and a brain tumor. He died on March 12, 1993 at the age of 43.

Frisbee’s funeral service was attended by hundreds of people who loved and respected him for his ministry. However, some of his former colleagues, such as Smith and Wimber, took the opportunity to criticize him for his homosexuality and imply that he had wasted his potential. They also continued to ignore or deny his impact on their churches and movements.

Frisbee’s story was largely forgotten or distorted by evangelical history until 2005, when a documentary film called Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher was released. The film featured interviews with Frisbee’s friends, family, ex-wife, and former associates, as well as archival footage of his ministry. The film revealed the truth about Frisbee’s life, ministry, sexuality, struggles, death, and legacy.

The film sparked a renewed interest in Frisbee’s story among Christians who admired him for his faithfulness to God despite his personal challenges. It also challenged Christians to reconsider their views on homosexuality and their treatment of gay people in the church. It also inspired some churches to acknowledge and honor Frisbee’s role in their history and to apologize for their rejection of him.

Frisbee’s story is a tragic but inspiring example of how God can use anyone, regardless of their flaws, to advance his kingdom. It is also a cautionary tale of how the church can fail to love and accept those who are different from them. Frisbee’s story reminds us that God’s grace is bigger than our sin, and that his love is stronger than our hate.

Doms Desk

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