Where have all the Jesus communes gone?
The other night I heard the question posed by one of the oldest members of our community “What happened to all the other communities that were around in the late 1970s and why are we still around?” He answered the question with “I honestly don’t know. I don’t know why our group remained while the others closed up. I mean, thinking back on the other groups, they had some of the most educated and informed people. They knew exactly how to “do” community, but they’re gone and we’re still here.”
I’d like to springboard off this question with some random observations and see what happens.
The biggest problem with the Jesus Movement is that so many of its elements were already present and had been for a long time. The Pentecostal movement and the Charismatic movement contained distinctives that the Jesus Movement embraced, namely, moving in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I think it can be successfully argued that, for all the hostility toward young people from the established churches, Protestant and Catholic, it was these same churches that eventually took in these kids, and the kids ended up making significant changes in these churches that are still present today. Many of the revivals that swept the nation during the Jesus Movement simply awoke young people to the possibility that the churches they’d been baptized in as infants or young people actually had the love they were looking for, albeit along with messy people who would hurt them, ostracize them and yet eventually need them.
So, yes, I believe that the 1970s movement that was so anti-church actually was used of God to build the church. The Jesus Movement was often anti-church but it was mostly a reaction to the “death of God” movement in the mainstream Mainline churches.
Regarding the communal aspects of the Jesus Movement, I’d argue that the Jesus Movement was not mostly communal. The Jesus Movement was largely an evangelistic revival movement. The communal groups were a smaller subgenre. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and other ecumenical groups used the presence of the Jesus movement to further spread the gospel. Community was just one tool among others for evangelism and discipleship.
Those communal groups that outlasted the Jesus Movement had to learn to be a family once the spotlight was off. My answer to the question “Where did they go?” would be, “they didn’t go, they just look different.” Some groups never meant to last beyond the summer evangelistic immersion. But I think for many of them, they found that white people don’t do family very well. What? That’s right. Caucasian American families don’t know how to make space for people not like themselves. Those that outlasted the fad stage did so because they opened their doors to people who knew how to be a family, be self-sacrificial, might we say even less American? Those that stuck around gained a new appreciation for the Catholics and Anabaptists who’d been doing it all along. They became more ecumenical, which only confused some Evangelicals. And some of these groups were literally forced out of being communal by their local banks, politicians, and neighbors.
But the real answer to the question, “What happened to them?” is that the question itself is flawed. Following Jesus was never about being communal. It was about learning to love and be a family. For some people being communal made sense with that. For many more it just wasn’t necessary for obeying Jesus. And I say, that’s good.