Later this month, the Newport Beach Film Festival will include a documentary on Lonnie Frisbee, a charismatic figure who helped shape the early Jesus Movement. Frisbee, who died in 1993, remains largely unknown beyond veterans and scholars of the Jesus Movement, Southern California division. The film Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher suggests that he was ostracized because he was covertly homosexual and died of AIDS.
Matt Coker of the Orange County Weekly wrote an informative feature story last month about Frisbee and the film's director, David Di Sabatino. Much of the story centers on Frisbee's formative relationship with pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel and with the late John Wimber, primary founder of Vineyard Fellowship.
Some representative paragraphs:
Now comes Di Sabatino's one-hour, 45-minute documentary -- filled with rare footage, an amazing soundtrack and more revelations than you can fit in, well, the Book of [Revelation] -- to set the record straight. Frisbee should be remembered not as the ultimate sinner, the filmmaker believes, but rather the modern-day equivalent of flawed biblical figures such as Samson, King David or John the Baptist. Or Robert Duvall's preacher in The Apostle.
Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher shows a nationally recognized theologian admitting that -- without a doubt -- Frisbee was at the root of the mammoth growth of two of the largest evangelical Christian denominations to emerge in the past 30 years. [Ken] Gulliksen, the Vineyard co-founder, and other insiders appear onscreen to confirm that Frisbee has been unjustly written out of Calvary's and Vineyard's church histories.
"I think when we go to heaven, Lonnie won't be the one who was held to account," says David Owen, pastor of Malibu Christian Center. "We are going to be held to account for the way we treated a brother."
. . . Di Sabatino has received confirmation that Chuck and Kay Smith have seen Frisbee and responded favorably. But others around the Calvary leader have blasted the film that Di Sabatino -- who swears he's "not anti-Calvary or anti-Vineyard" -- poured $20,000 of his life savings in to making. One pastor has accused the filmmaker of glorifying homosexuality, while another is spreading rumors that Di Sabatino is gay ("I am not gay," he informs. "I wish I dressed that well, though"). He finds it ironic that so-called Christians are giving him the same type of un-Christian business they heaped on Frisbee. "People seem to forget that the underlying biblical message is that we're all bastards," Di Sabatino says, "but God loves us anyway."
Meanwhile, some of Lonnie's friends and family wish the filmmaker had cut out the gay stuff altogether. That's not the Lonnie they knew: they insist he never had gay sex after converting to Christianity, and they are especially upset the film includes comments from evangelical-author-turned-gay-Christian activist Mel White and Metropolitan Community Church founder Bishop Troy Perry. The last thing Frisbee would have wanted, these friends say, was to be propped up as a gay Christian martyr.
But Di Sabatino, who at this writing has screened Frisbee only three times, including a Feb. 10 showing to 450 people at an Anaheim biker church, has been pleasantly surprised the overall feedback has been positive. "My phone has been ringing off the hook," he said. "People are really moved by it." He says someone claiming to be from Hollywood approached him about turning Frisbee's life story into a feature film. The Passion of the Hippie, anyone?
Tip of the beret: Apologia Report.