Wheaton College Lecture

Not long ago, Duane was invited to give a lecture at Wheaton College on the early history of the Jesus Movement. Scheduling conflicts prevented Duane from appearing at Wheaton, but we wanted to share his lecture with you.

Slamming into a concrete wall at a hundred miles an hour can be rough on your dreams. In the spring and summer of 1968, the naive optimism, innocence and hope of the Sixties hit the solid wall of cold reality not once, but four times.

Doctor Martin Luther King, who had won so many victories for civil rights, was murdered on a motel balcony in Memphis in April. Senator Robert Kennedy, a fighter for social justice whom many saw as the best hope for Americaís future, was killed at a hotel in Los Angeles in June. In August, the Democratic convention in Chicago erupted in a bloody spectacle. Hundreds of young Americans were beaten by angry police as anti-war protests turned into violent riots. At the same time, all hope for the renaissance in Czechoslovakia known as Prague Spring was crushed as Soviet tanks rolled through the streets.

Our naive Sixties dreams of peace, love and brotherhood faded as the tragedy of these horrific events began to sink in. Instead, a wave of disillusionment and cynicism rose to carry us into the Seventies. The flower children put away their picket signs, headed for the mall or the disco, and stuck a For Sale sign on the dream. As 1968 became 1969, many said the Sixties were dead.

But in the narrow lanes and gingerbread Victorian houses of the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, and simultaneously on the streets of Hollywood and in Seattleís North End, what began as a quiet ripple was gaining momentum.

People were feeling the first stirrings of something new in their hearts and on the wind. Call it a spiritual impulse, an awakening, or a revival. As the dream of the Sixties died and a shallow, cynical decade moved in to take its place, a new movement unlike any other was struggling to be born. It would shortly take the entire West Coast like wildfire.

Some young adults who were feeling these sudden stirrings began sharing a communal house in Marin County north of San Francisco. They called it the House of Acts, the first Jesus house. A tiny storefront in the Haight-Ashbury opened as a Jesus coffeehouse, the Living Room. Another Jesus coffeehouse, the Soul Inn, soon opened nearby.

On the campus of U.C. Berkeley, Jack Sparks was organizing a student action called the Christian World Liberation Front.

In Seattle, an Iowa farm girl named Linda Meissner was urging local teens to form a Jesus People army. Two Jesus coffeehouses, the Ark and the Eleventh Hour, were just getting started in Seattle.

The Seattle group started a newspaper, Agape. The Berkeley crew started one called Right On. And in Hollywood, I began publishing a small, eight-page tabloid called the Hollywood Free Paper.

There was little deliberate organization at work in any of this; most of it was spontaneous and even a bit random. We didnít even know each other at first. God was working and moving in the hearts and lives of teenagers and young adults in a unusually direct and personal way.

The leaders and workers He chose were often long-haired bearded hippies in sandals. His choices sometimes frustrated church leaders and "confounded the wise", to use Paulís phrase from Corinthians. God was making it unmistakably clear that He was doing a new thing, that it was all about His Son, and that no one would be turned away.

These seemingly haphazard bursts of activity were soon revealed to be anything but accidental. These widely separate and dissimilar groups began working in harmony, each playing its role in the Movement that God was building.

I have been named in far too many books, magazine articles and web sites as being responsible for the origin of the Jesus Movement, the builder of the dawn who made the morning happen. Some have even gone so far as to suggest it all happened because I started publishing a newspaper. Nothing could be less accurate!

I started publishing that newspaper because something miraculous was being born right in front of me on the street, not the other way around. The phrases Jesus People, Jesus coffeehouse, Jesus newspaper, Jesus rap and Jesus movement didnít even exist, until the phenomenon they described spontaneously appeared up and down the West Coast.

Letís debunk some legends, shall we?

The Legend says that someone once printed a million copies of a newspaper that told people about Jesus. There was no advertising, no paid staff members. The newspaper, called the Hollywood Free Paper, was handed out on Hollywood Boulevard and at the New Yearís Day Rose Bowl parade and other places free of charge by hundreds of unpaid volunteers.

That oneís true.

The Legend says that thousands of young people used to gather for festivals at the Hollywood Palladium, to hear rockers sing about Jesus, and speakers talk about Jesus. And before those gatherings broke up, many of those kids would invite Christ into their hearts and lives.

True again.

The Legend states that many of those same young people were later baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the crashing waves of Southern California, as surfers and beach bums looked on from the shore.

Absolutely true.

The Legend continues that countless young people left lives of drugs and prostitution to follow Jesus. That hundreds of runaways, maybe even thousands, returned to the loving arms of their families in Dallas, Texas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Ohio, Atlanta, Georgia, and even Wheaton, Illinois.


It even says that a small army of those young people stayed on course with Jesus, and became pastors, missionaries, street workers, prison volunteers and Sunday School teachers. You might even know one of them without even knowing it.

All of those popular legends are true. But none of them happened because of Duane Pederson. The Jesus Movement simply was not about Duane Pederson. It was not about other street preachers such as Arthur Blessit or Lonnie Frisbee or anyone of the many others who have been named as leaders of the Movement.

It was not about those with the gift of organizing churches, such as Chuck Smith. Or those with a gift for campus ministry, like Jack Sparks.

It was about Jesus. And, it definitely didnít happen because of me, or anything I did or ever could do. In truth, it happened in spite of my best efforts. To God be the glory.

There is one legend that's false. If you've read much about the Jesus Movement, you may have run across the legend that I was once a ventriloquist. I wish this were true, however, it is definitely not true.

The real truth is, I stuttered uncontrollably when I was young, unable to speak a complete sentence until I was in my mid-twenties. Obviously, I couldn't have been a ventriloquist. Someone who did not know me wrote that in a long-forgotten book or article, they knew there was something that had to do with my speaking ability, they just didnít know what it was, and the urban legend spread from there.

The movement that evolved from those modest beginnings grew in new and creative ways. Many of them lived on as the movement itself began to fade in the mid to late 1970s. The folk-rock music of the movement became a new and lasting form of contemporary worship that is still popular today.

Aspects of the earlier 60's counterculture were adapted to the movement. Peaceful demonstrations, coffeehouses, and communal living in what are today called intentional communities. "They played music and preached with passion on street corners, in parks, coffeehouses, and outdoor amphitheaters," author John Fischer recalls. "Even their baptisms were in common places where people were used to gathering."

Perhaps the most important legacy of the Jesus Movement was its return to the simple Gospel and the New Testament prototype of Christianity. It centered in the life and teachings of Jesus, and demanded a personal relationship with Him, placing a renewed emphasis on discipleship, evangelism and Bible study.

Friends who write to share their memories of those days often speak of the atmosphere of the times. The air fragrant with sandalwood incense, day-glo colors swirling on psychedelic posters. A gentle long-haired friend quietly strumming a Gibson twelve-string left behind by a brother who never returned from Vietnam.

But most remember the warmth, the closeness to Jesus and each other. The Jesus Movement was intensely personal in ways the Sixties culture never could be. For most of us it became a second, and for some their first, family.

A Jesus coffeehouse, drop-in center or other outpost of the Movement in your neighborhood meant a warm, comfortable place where you, and your dreams and fears and questions, were welcome at any hour.

A place that seemed light years away from the constant drumbeat of helicopters on southeast Asian air, light years away from the tear gas on the campus quad.

A place where you belonged and felt connected to something larger than yourself. A place where we were more than just rebellious teens and young adults, more than scruffy, unemployed hippies, more than college students trying to figure everything out. We were a Movement. We were the Jesus People.

It was about building a new way of living, loving, sharing and celebrating life in that Endless Summer a part of us knew could never last, and a part of us believed would last forever.

Regardless of our age, in many ways we were children, in headbands and colored beads, playing with matches. Trying to light a revolution, with only our incense and joss sticks for fire. But they were enough. And in many of our hearts that flame has never died.

We were children, with tambourines and tie-dyed tee-shirts, playing with movements. Trying to teach a generation, with only our song lyrics and Bible verses for words. But they were enough. And in many of our lives that song will never die.

John Fischer said it well: "Yes, the Jesus Movement really happened. I was a part of it. It wasn't just a fad or a social phenomenon triggered by a generation's disillusionment with the unclaimed dreams of the Sixties. It was a genuine movement of the Holy Spirit of God." Amen.

Copyright ©2019 The Hollywood Free Paper
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License

Creative Commons License