By Preston Shires
Baylor University Press
Religion / Socialissues
This afternoon I’m poking through Preston Shires’ new book Hippies of the Religious Right out on Baylor University. When the book was first described to me I found the idea intriguing. But then we didn’t really know what it was about. I thought that it would be a study of the Jesus Movement’s impact on the rise of the Religious Right. If that were the case, I worried that something really sinister would be uncovered. Could Chuck Smith have been working covertly for the CIA? No such luck. Instead the book is deeply disappointing in its use of parallelisms. The author strains to find similarities between prominent Evangelical namesakes and typical countercultural 60’s ways of being. Forinstance, Franklin Graham grew his hair out, rebelled against daddy, drank and did drugs. That made him a hippy. Then he converted. Now he’s on the Religious Right. Pat Robertson once sold everything he had in obedience to God. That ambivalence toward money was like the hippies. See? Same same!
“The idea that provisions would come one’s way without having to work for them in subservience to the technocracy was an idea shared by both sixties’ youth and certain biblically grounded Christians. Passing the hat and soliciting free-will donations were practices shared by both.” (p. 83)
Yeh, like I can see Pat getting a word from the Lord on the 700 Club in which he says, “There’s someone out there who can’t get to work because your car is broke down. The Lord says that provisions will come your way without having to work for them in subservience to the technocracy!” Not gonna happen. It doesn’t follow that because two humans (Timothy Leary and Pat Robertson) are fellow citizens of a country at the same time, and employ similar means to spread a message they care deeply about, that these men are similar enough to bear mentioning. But Shires does it:
“Evangelization, when one stops to consider it, is a pure form of activism. The evangelist is pitted against an opposing worldview, denouncing it, arguing for is own worldview, and boldly trying to pull people away from the opposing worldview one by one. Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Pat Robertson and Francis Schaeffer were all activists, and in this sense held something in common with the sixties’ activists, whether a Mario Savio leading the Free Speech Movement, a Tom Hayden writing the Port Huron Statement, or a Timothy Leary (who, incidentally, had visited Schaeffer’s L’Abri mission) advocating a drug-induced enlightenment: they all wanted to remake people’s minds and remake the world.” (pg. 87)
In chapter six Shires defines the Christian Counterculture, then in chapter seven he sets the Jesus Movement into the Christian Counterculture, then in 1976 with Jimmy Carter “The Evangelical Candidate” (chapter eight) he shows the disillusionment of the Christian Counterculture for Jimmy Carter’s “head melted with dialectical influence” on the abortion issue (p. 147). At this point I don’t understand why Shires doesn’t just come out and claim that the Jesus Movement had been completely co-opted philosophically by fundamentalism. Shires assumes that everyone identifying with the Jesus Movement was an astute student of Francis Schaeffer’s type of worldview studies. The reality was much less cut and dry.
If the Jesus Movement community library I was raised with is any indication, members benefited from a wide range of ecclesial and political reading sources that formed their thinking. I’m dissapointed by Preston Shires attempt to color history within his own heavy outline. The real story, whenever it gets told, I think will reveal a sort of tie-dyed explosion of creativity and boundariless Kingdom activity for the whole Church that moves beyond, way beyond, what we understand as the Religious Right.
The final sentence of Hippies of the Religious Right, after a recitation of Rom. 8:28, reveals the simple approach to history throughout:
“In the sixties, the counterculture indeed appeared as a threat to biblically grounded Christians, but in the end it turned out to be an agent for future success.”
I’m left speechless. He could’ve said, “After a brief hippy dance with the devil, Christian America, through its Jesus-children, returned to the better angels of its nature.”
How sweet. (Gag me.)
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