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Jesus Freaks, also known as the Jesus Movement, was a popular term for young people from the hippie movement who converted to Christianity during the late 1960s and early 1970s, but kept the external trappings of the hippie lifestyle. As many of these people did not feel welcome in the traditional churches of the era, they set out on their own to re-create what they thought the first century church was like. The result was a wide variety of practices and groups — some of them cultic, some of them rather evangelical or Pentecostal, some of them a Christianized version of hippie communal and back-to-the-land lifestyles, and some of them decidedly liberal Protestant.
The liberal Protestant aspects were influential in early 1970s popular culture in the United States, spawning such stage productions and films as Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, and a rash of pop songs about Jesus hitting the Billboard charts from 1970 to 1973.
The movement also became a notorious recruiting ground for cults, most notably the Children of God and the Unification Church, but also including lesser known cults such as Larry Hill's Church of the Risen Christ, which snagged some high-profile converts such as rock guitarist Glenn Schwartz (of the James Gang and Pacific Gas & Electric).
A number of coffeehouses, hippie Jesus festivals, and odd groups (not really cultish, but practicing communal living) such as Jesus People USA were part of the movement, and these more counterculture aspects tended to dominate the early movement.
Much of the movement, however, took off in a decidedly evangelical and Charismatic direction, and spawned new denominations such as the Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Fellowship. Bob Dylan's short lived conversion was in the Vineyard. Explo '72 was the largest of the Jesus Movement festivals, and its sponsorship by Bill Bright's Campus Crusade for Christ signified that the older evangelicals were coming around to accept the young converts. Christian rock music and contemporary "praise and worship" both originated in the Jesus Movement and later became widespread in American Christian culture as a whole. Also popular among the Jesus Freaks were apocalyptic films about the rapture and the "End Times", cheap productions such as A Thief in the Night, which have since become cult classics. As the 1970s ended, the whole stinking mess was absorbed wholesale into evangelical Christianity, where they keep company with televangelists, megachurches, and the religious right.
Some famous personalities associated with the movement
- Arthur Blessitt, who has been carrying a cross around the world since 1969, but still had time to father 6 children, many called Arthur. He has reportedly walked 41 323 miles and visited every major nation and quite a few minor ones, as well as Antarctica.
- Morris Cerullo, whose outreach-on-wheels to hippies dabbling in the occult was dubbed the "Witchmobile".
- Russell Doughten, the filmmaker responsible for inflicting A Thief in the Night and several equally bad "rapture films" on the world.
- Don Finto and his Belmont Church of Christ in Nashville. His focus is on converting the Jews.
- Lonnie Frisbee, one of the movement's more famous evangelists. A prolific evangelist of hippies, he was also secretly, um, into guys. This was eventually found out and he was ostracized by the churches he had been associated with. He died of AIDS in 1993.
- John Higgins and the Shiloh Youth Revival Centers, the largest of the Jesus Movement communes. Originally based in Costa Mesa, and later on a ranch in Oregon which dissolved in the late 1970s due to infighting and problems with the IRS.
- Larry Hill, a street preacher who convinced his converts to move onto an Ohio farm to practice survivalism in preparation for the "end times". A rather cultish group that fell apart around 1980 due to reports of abuse. Sponsored the "All Saved Freak Band", a rock group.
- Larry Norman, an early pioneer of Christian rock, and generally regarded as one of the better ones in terms of talent. He reportedly suffered mild brain damage in a mild plane crash in 1978, leaving him with problems concentrating, and performed for Jimmy Carter the following year. Norman died in 2008 after decades of heart problems and was the subject of an unauthorized 2008 documentary film Fallen Angel.
- Linda Meissner, founder of the Jesus People Army. She and much of her group later fell under the spell of the Children of God cult.
- Jim Palosaari, a former associate of Meissner who tried but failed to dissuade her from the Children of God. Went on to found Milwaukee Jesus People, which eventually became Chicago's Jesus People USA, and the Highway Missionary Society of Vancouver, B.C. Married 5 times and died in 2011.
- Bob and Gretchen Passantino, who later became best known for their work exposing cults and phonies within Christianity. Although Christians themselves, their work is respected and sometimes referenced by the skeptical movement; they were early and consistent critics of the Satanic Panic and related hysteria. Bob died in 2003.
- Duane Pederson, who published the Hollywood Free Paper. He later converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, becoming an archimandrite.
- Chuck Smith (1927-2013), pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California which later expanded into a denomination. He predicted the world would end by 1981 and blamed 9/11 on America's tolerance of homosexuality and abortion, despite the world having ended 20 years earlier.
- Jack Sparks and his group, the "Christian World Liberation Front". They later merged into Jon Braun and J.R. Ballew's group in Isla Vista which was stolen from a "Local Church" pastor known as Gene Edwards. Eventually they and Peter Gillquist formed the "New Covenant Apostolic Order". This group was sued by the Local Church in 1984. They settled out of court for an undisclosed sum after Jon Braun and Peter Gillquist repeatedly perjured themselves. After several name changes they became the "Evangelical Orthodox Church".
- Mike Warnke, the
ex-Satanist high priesthippie Christian comedian.
- The "Trust Jesus vandal" was probably a Jesus Freak, or at least cut from the same stuff.
- Rose McGowan, aka Paige from Charmed, was raised within Children of God communes in Europe by her parents. Years later, she described the group as cult-like in a Howard Stern interview, in particular being creeped out by their practice of "flirty fishing" (i.e. using hot chicks to recruit new male followers).
- Elbert Eugene Spriggs, whose Jesus Movement group in Chattanooga became the Twelve Tribes communities.