Spiritual Abuse-Blame It on the Jesus Freaks?

I'm only here on Earth to serve God. I never had a career. I don't care about commercialism. I have a ministry and I'll fight for the ministry.
                                                                                                 Larry Norman 


Arthur Blessit in Northern Ireland in 1971 and 1979 courtesy of blessit.com




I think it might be wise to start this review with an appeal. Dylan Morrison had been a charismatic for most of his Christian walk. A few of our readers might have difficulty with some of the doctrinal beliefs surrounding this viewpoint. Also, his faith journey finds its roots in the abusive Shepherding Movement and it is important to see this story through his perspective. While Dylan has found his way back to a faith in God, some of his current views of the Christian faith no longer fit within the pale of orthodoxy. However, as one understands his background, one might be able to find empathy and understanding while not agreeing, either partially or fully, with his current statements of belief.

This series will take us on a trip down memory lane. As we recount Dylan’s story, we will provide historical perspectives in order to give a breadth of understanding to the historical underpinnings of current day thinking on issues as diverse as eschatology and authoritarianism. Perhaps our readers will be as surprised, as we are, to learn about the roots of some of our current evangelical controversies.

Once again, the book we are reviewing, in its pre-published form, is The Prodigal Prophet by Dylan Morrison.

Dylan was born in Northern Ireland in 1950s. Because he was academically gifted, he was sent to selective schooling. It was in this venue that he was invited to attend Crusaders Union, which met in a Methodist church. At the time, he felt concerned that he wouldn’t fit in because he was from a working class background and the meeting was being led by a physician who lived an upper middle class lifestyle. Yet he was warmly received.

He asked Jesus into his heart but didn’t have any sort of “feeling” that he was saved and would repeat this scenario several times. Finally, he decided Jesus must be present even if he didn’t “feel” it. He began to memorize Scripture as part of the teaching of Crusaders Union program.

He was also aware of other groups that vied for the attention of the people in his town. He called them dueling groups and these included Baptists, a Francis Schaeffer follower, the Salvation Army and the Brethren. He tells a particularly humorous story of an area of town where various Christian groups would participate  in open air evangelism. Each group would vie impatiently for their turn on the soapbox in order to proselytize for their particular sect. Cooperation was definitely lacking.


Around this time, he becomes aware of the Jesus movement in California which was prominent in late the 1960s and 1970s. It got its start in California before fizzling out by the early 1980s. A wee (getting into the Irish mood) bit of history might be helpful in understanding the effect this faith movement had on the Christian church, both in the United States and across the Pond.

Many of the early leaders of the Jesus Movement were ex-hippies who became disenchanted with the somewhat amoralistic, drifting hippie lifestyle. They sought a deeper meaning to life, which they found in Christianity. These Jesus freaks, as they came to be known, claimed the church had drifted from its Christian roots and had sold out to the American Way. They attempted to recreate the life of the early Christians in order to find a more authentic and simple faith


The Jesus people emphasized charismatic gifts such as miracles, signs and wonders, faith, healing, and speaking in tongues. There was a strong emphasis on the Second Coming of Jesus and many believed that the time was imminent. Hal Lindsey's book,  The Late Great Planet Earth, was the “it” book of this time period. They also had a profound affect on Christian music, launching such venerable icons as Larry Norman, Marsha Stevens (Children of the Day), Nancy Honeytree, Chuck Girard and 2nd Chapter of Acts. This created a major upheaval in the music scene within local churches.

There was also an emphasis on communal living and the sharing of one’s possession in an egalitarian manner. The well-being of the group was stressed over the interests of the individual. With this, however, came increasing reports of heavy-handed, authoritarian leadership.


The pervasiveness of this movement attracted the attention of the media from around the world. Life Magazine, in 1971, wrote an article entitled “The Groovy Christians of Rye, New York” which focused on the conversion of most of that town’s teen population. It was this article, which I read during an episode of Star Trek, that was instrumental in leading your humble blog queen and former Jesus Freak, to a saving faith.

A recent article In Charisma Magazine entitled “We Need Another Jesus Movement,” author J. Lee Grady, waxes eloquently for the return of those golden days. Here is the link.

“The Jesus movement was like a spiritual tsunami that washed over hundreds of thousands of young people in the late 1960s and early ‘70s and brought them into a personal relationship with Christ. Some of these kids had been drug addicts and social misfits; most were just average Joes and Janes who discovered that Jesus is a lot more exciting than traditional churches had led them to believe.”

He later says, “Lately I find myself waxing nostalgic for those days—not because I want to return to the awkward fashions and hairstyles of 1972, but because I miss the spiritual simplicity of that era. The Jesus movement was primarily focused on—surprise!—Jesus. Theology was not complicated, pastors weren’t trying to be hip or sophisticated or tech-savvy; and we hadn’t yet created a Christian subculture with its own celebrities and political power bases.”


However, this paragraph hints at some concerns.


“Because the movement was pioneered by untrained leaders it sometimes resulted in abuse. But despite its flaws, it gave rise to a new musical genre (contemporary Christian) and new denominations (Calvary Chapel, Vineyard). It also fueled organizations such as Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ and made it a powerhouse of evangelism for the next decade and beyond.”



There seems to be widespread agreement that there were abuses in the Jesus Movement. Although this chapter in Christian history would soon die out, many of its beliefs and practices would continue to profoundly affect the expression of the faith in America and the British Isles. These beliefs would include the widespread acceptance charismatic gifts, a belief in the imminent return of Jesus and authoritarian leadership. These would have a lasting impact on the church as it entered the last 20 years of the century and millennium


For a trip down memory lane, go to this link, Remembering the Jesus Movement. 

In those heady Jesus days, Arthur Blessit, was a well-known, almost cult-like figure, who hoofed his way around the world with his giant eight foot cross on wheels in tow. According to his website, link here, he visited ”every nation and is listed in the Guinness World Records for the world's longest walk over 39,060 miles, through 315 countries & major island groups and territories for 42 years.”

On several occasions Arthur Blessitt and his giant cross visited Belfast, Ireland. His witness was apparently fruitful. According to Boyd, many young people came to faith before he left. You can see two pictures of Blessit in Ireland in 1971 and 1979 at the start of this post. In order to provide fellowship and teaching to these new Christians, Dylan and his friends formed a cross-denominational group called the God Squad, which found a church home in an underutilized Methodist Church. (Anybody out there remember the Mod Squad)?

It is at one of these meetings that Dylan first encounters people speaking in tongues. However, this causes conflict, both for himself and others. He does not speak in tongues and the God Squad becomes split between those who do and those who do not. He consults with a Presbyterian minister who assures him that speaking tongues was a normal part of the Christian experience. A few weeks later, he personally experiences this phenomenon and claims that this gift gave him strength to avoid “carnal temptations” that are common to young men. During this time he narrowly survives an IRA bombing of a Protestant church.

We leave his story here because the next segment of his story begins introduces the American Shepherding movement and its effect on his Christian group.

We leave you with two videos both featuring the music of Larry Norman, who was the recognized musical king of the Jesus Movement. The first is a pictorial history of the Jesus Movement. The second video features Norman's famous song, which was the rallying cry  of the movement, called “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” Groove on, brothers and sisters, and, oh yeah, like, "Smile, Jesus loves you."


Memories of the Jesus Movement


Larry Norman-I Wish We’d All Been Ready



Lydia's Corner: Leviticus 19:1-20:21 Mark 8:11-38 Psalm 42:1-11 Proverbs 10:17







Spiritual Abuse-Blame It on the Jesus Freaks? — 17 Comments

  1. Pingback: Wednesday Link List « Thinking Out Loud

  2. Pingback: Calling all Jesus freaks | Meg Moseley's Blog

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    Wow – Larry Norman, & “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”, a blast from the past. A very pleasing one. To me, this is gritty and unvarnished, real and sincere. Exactly what so much isn’t these days.

    I just now read a bit of what the internet offers on Larry Norman. I’m risking being “tangential” here, but this bit caught my attention, from an article by Phillip cooney about Larry Norman (http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/briefing/longing/5087/):

    “The modern hymn writers he was at pains to shield from criticism some 30 years ago are now being questioned by Norman for becoming part of a multi-national Praise and Worship industry, producing manufactured rather than genuine praise……..Norman asks why a song written as an act of worship should remain the lucrative copyright property of the composer and not the property of the one to whom it is being offeredโ€”God:

    God doesn’t charge us a fee to worship Him. Isn’t it enough that the publisher and writer make money from the CD sales? Do they also have to be paid every time a congregation sings their song? They also get paid for the sheet music which choirs use to memorize their compositions. Isn’t that enough money?”

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    Norman has been in the vanguard of questioning the profit motives of the contemporary Christian music scene. I have always admired him for his consistent stand on this issue. I wish we had more Norman types on the scene. But making millions of dollars, combined with the fact that the Christian music industry is a multibillion dollar industry, attracts the greedy.

    Everybody needs to read that link! Thanks!

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    How about Christian conferences? The Fab Four are hoping for 12,000 attendees at next year’s T4G conference to be held at the newly built KFC YUM! Center (what a name for an arena!). Predictions are that it will have a $4 million impact on the local economy. How much will Mohler, Mahaney, Dever, and Duncan be pocketing?

    Check it out:


    ” ‘Together for the Gospel,’ a religious convention, will bring 12,000 attendees and 8,000 hotel room nights to Louisville, according to Linda Edwards, vice president of sales and marketing for the Kentucky State Fair Board, which will manage the arena. The religious event will have a potential economic impact of $4 million, she said.”

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    I was a teenager during the 70s, and our youth group went to an awful lot of CCM concerts during my time there. (The church moderator’s oldest sons were CCM promoters – and the pastor there had been president of what was then Barrington College in Barrington, RI. Many of the concerts took place there.)

    I remember two concerts in particular. One was Andre Crouch and the Disciples, for whom I have fond memories. And the other was Larry Norman – who left the concert after the first set. The reason I’d heard given? He “didn’t like the audience”. A bad first impression to CCM.

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    Larry was definitely his own man. Wasn’t there a young woman who led Barrington College-she was most unusual-wrote a couple of books. I remember hearing her. I can’t remember her name-do you?

    i also went to a concert there. I also remember seeing Andre Crouch and the Disciples on several occasions.

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    So T4G means Together for Greed?

    Seriously, is this how Jesus did it? I know some things need to be administrated, but this is apalling. Shame on each of us who give our money to these men. If they were together for the gospel, they’d be out on the streets handing out food to the hungry, visiting the sick and those in prison. What they will be doing there… it makes me sick.

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    I came of age a few years after the peak of the Jesus Movement but I nonetheless have fond memories of Larry Norman, the Rez Band and the 2nd Chapter of Acts, among others. Looking forward to more from your review of Boyd’s book.

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    I remember going to a Larry Norman concert in California in the early seventies. His music was powerful. He could be abrasive and controversial, but he was sincere about spreading the gospel and he didn’t care if that offended the money-bags of the music industry. (There’s a website called “Failed Angle” that delves into some of the controversy about Larry’s life.)

    But I don’t want to hijack the comments away from Charlie Boyd’s book. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment, Dee. Thanks.

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    Hi Meg

    Thanks for the comment. Thanks also for linking to the article. I think I would like to read that website. Often times, people become hurt when human leaders fail them. Goodness knows, I have been there. Today’s hyper-authoritarian trend within certain groups will cause more and more pain because leaders, especially those who think they are special, will fail and most likely hurt others in their failure.

    Also, never worry about “hijacking” on this site. We believe that God speaks through the comments of those who post here and are glad for any insight at any time.

    Blessings and welcome. That color blue looks nice on you ๐Ÿ™‚

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    Thanks, Dee. A woman of a certain age must take advantage of flattering colors. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I really appreciate your blog. The church needs more info on spiritual abuse, cultic groups, aberrant teachings, etc. Thanks for digging into so many important issues.

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    I came to Christ in the mid 70s and remember all this stuff.

    Larry Norman was never my favorite, but I liked his music ok.

    I was loosely connected to the “Jesus movement” but through a local Baptist Church which filtered out all of the way out stuff. We did have a local ministry – the Way International, run by a guy named Pat Dupree. Had a great impact on lots of young people, but there were issues there that eventually brought that down.

    I was also in the CCM scene. I don’t listen to it much now. I know lots of execs in that scene and know more of the inside story than I did then. Good thing I learned later and not at the time. Would have turned me off.

    The older CCM artists, Norman, Keith Green, Dallas Holm etc. seemed to be more sincere. They actually left careers to enter CCM. Newer artists often aspire to be in CCM as a career goal (this is just my prejudice coming out).

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    The amount of money that a Christian artist can make is unbelievable. Very few people predicted the enormous industry it would become. It is just like some of the mega church pastors. They are receiving incomes that would have been inconceivable years ago.

    Of course, such money attracts the insincere and so we have the current state of the church. It is almost expected that people will make large salaries as pastors in these big churches.

    I miss those early days. We were all a bit clueless but boy were we sincere. No one I knew ever talked about making a gazillion dollars in Christian music.

    So, I agree with your prejudice. In fact, it is most likely not prejudice at all but the gosh honest truth.

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    Money in the church has more power to corrupt than I fear most of us can handle.

    (My fav Truman Capote quote- I can resist anything…. but temptation.)

    Many days a week I drive past an ENORMOUS, beautifully adorned campus in one of the richer areas of our entire country. It goes on and on (which is remarkable given the fact that 7 million homes in that area can sit on less than half an acre.) This property is enormous, the buildings stately and old. (For those of you from anywhere but the northeast, “old” is actually a good thing in this area. Unless God calls me to it, I would never want to live in any building younger than me. I like to think we both improve with age. ๐Ÿ˜‰ OK, joking about myself aside, old connotes not only beauty and exquisite detail, but quality that just can’t be found nowadays. So when I say old it is not dilapitded, it is unparallelled and unobtainable without great, great cost.)

    And what is housed in these exquisite grounds? In these beautiful buildings? Behind these gates and fences? Retired priests who are fed extremely well and shod quite comfortably. Every time I drive past I try not to be sad, try not to think of the millions of lives that could be changed if they sold off these grounds on the “Main Line”. (The tradionally most expensive bits of real estate in the old blue blood region of Philadelphia.) I try not to think of the children in Philly and the burbs who are going to bed hungry. I try not to think of the children and the adults and the aged who can’t help themselves.

    God help me for being so judgemental. God help those people who live behind the gates in their splendor while others are hurting. And God help CCM and the mega churches who spend more on frivilous things than they do on the prisoners, sick, homeless and hungry. God, have mercy.

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    I am with you. I understand completely your feelings. I think that getting them out on the table and being honest about them is the main thing.

    I love the Capote quote!

    Interestingly, I drive by the church Truman Capote visited every summer when he came to town to visit his aunt when he was a child. “Dill” in To Kill a Mocking Bird is supposed to be Capote as a child.

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    I had lunch with Phil Keaggy a while back. Very sincere, very honest. I also grew up with Amy Grant. She and I went to school together. She, too, is honest and never set out to make a million dollars when she started singing at 17.

    Interestingly, I am friends with a music manager who represents some really big name pop acts. If you name the top 10 sellers last year, his clients are 2 or 3 of those. He has offices in LA, New York, Nashville, and London. He said to me th other day that there is not much money in Christian music. I thought that was pretty funny. All a matter of perspective.

    Still, I am not at all on the Christian star circuit.

    Our church is thinking about hosting a Bible conference in the next year or so. The purpose will be to encourage young and struggling pastors.

    We are talking about the criteria for the speakers. we think the main one will be that one must have been a pastor at the same church for 20 years, and that the pastoral duties must include – get ready for this – really pastoring people.

    As opposed to being a motivational speaker that has no contact with the people other than from the pulpit.