Sally Thomas took a different approach to Preston Shires’ book Hippies of the Religious Right. In her article for First Things, “Grooving on Jesus,” you get the feeling she sees the Jesus Movement as the precursor to the 1990s move toward Seeker Sensitivity. She whines about the way churches had to change when the hippies were suddenly into Jesus. We hear her whine on about how a Methodist mother was only “marginally less disturbed” that her daughter joined a Jesus commune than that she shacked up with a “professional tabla drummer.” According to Sally Thomas the church in the late 60s developed the inferiority complex that would later bear the fruit of gay marriage in the Episcopal church. Oh Pleeez! She admits that the counter-culture brought about some good things, like homeschooling, having a bigger family, and being a stay-at-home mom, but she’s not sure the church posesses the ability to say “when” anymore.
Well, I’ll say this for Preston Shires, he’s made the Jesus Movement a sensitive topic again. I began reading about the Jesus Movement as a teenager in an attempt to understand the community I was raised in. I came of age as fewer young white students were finding community “hip” any longer. But I’m not the sort to say the Jesus Movement was just a fad, or the selling out of the church, or the church learning to market itself to a new generation. These are just some of the cheap shots you hear when you explain your raising in terms of the Jesus Movement.
Sally Thomas explains it as “less a coherent movement than a generalized wave of religious reformation influenced, as the wider culture was influenced, by aspects of the hippie counterculture.” Yeh, whatever. When you know someone as I do many someones, whose lives were forever changed in the movement, the sally-come-latelies with their 40 year later cute summaries just make the skin crawl. The truth is, other evangelicals as soon as the late 70s (like Martin Marty and even Anthony Campolo) were only too eager to see the movement go and in news reports eagerly read its obit here in downtown Chicago. JPUSA members showed up to protest that the movement was just “Jesus Moving.” I would encourage anyone with even a modecum of interest in what really was happening in the Jesus Movement to read the first hand materials themselves, the books, the music, the magazine articles, the dissertations—do the real work to understand the movement. Or at least talk to someone who was there.
Even so, I can’t help but marvel as the years go by at what gets made of the Jesus Movement by this generation. For all of the lessons we could learn, mixing the movement with folks not even involved (like Pat Robertson) or turning the converts into cartoons, is no real help at all.
Let me add to all this, for those who care, that I would hope that I have not here cast the Jesus Movement into my own little image. There are those connected with the movement who think very different than I or others politically, but who I know are sisters and brothers in the family of God. I treasure them and we agree on the essentials of the faith. The Jesus Movement has long been idealized, romanticized, demonized, and characaturized. Remember that Movements have children, they have families, they even have bewildered, burned out, former leaders who were way past giving press conferences years ago. But hopefully, somewhere someone can thank God for the seeds planted and the fruit we may never see—and there’s been a lot that we do see.
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