Lonnie Frisbee (June 6, 1949 – March 12, 1993) was an American Pentecostal evangelist and self-described “seeing prophet” and mystic in the late 1960s and 1970s. Despite, or possibly because of, his hippie appearance and being a man who struggled with homosexuality, he had notable success as a minister and evangelist especially in the signs and wonders faith movement of the 1970s and 1980s. This aspect was most known of him during his time with John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement and its Signs and Wonders belief system.
Contemporary accounts attributed his accomplishments to his incredible anointing of the Holy Spirit. Frisbee was a key figure in the Jesus movement and eyewitness accounts of his ministry documented in the 2007 Emmy-nominated film Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher explain how Lonnie became the charismatic spark igniting the rise of Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Movement, two worldwide denominations and among the largest evangelical denominations to emerge in the last thirty years. It was said that he was not one of the hippie preachers, “there was one.” The term ‘power evangelism’ comes from Frisbee’s ministry. Some of his harshest critics for heavy use of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit came from the churches he helped found. He also influenced many prophetic evangelists including Jonathan Land, Marc Dupont, Jill Austin and others. Frisbee co-founded the House of Miracles commune and was its main architect, converting thousands including the earliest musicians. The House of Miracles grew into a series of nineteen communal houses that later migrated to Oregon to form Shiloh Youth Revival Centers, the largest and one of the longest-lasting of the Jesus People communal groups.
Frisbee functioned both as an evangelical preacher also privately socialized as a gay man before and during his evangelism career. This is held in tension with the fact that he said in interviews that he never believed homosexuality was anything other than a sin in the eyes of God and both denominations prohibited gay sexual behavior. Both churches later disowned him because of his active sexual life, removing him first from leadership positions, then ultimately, firing him. He was shunned and “written out of the official histories.” As part of his ostracism from his former churches his work was maligned but he forgave those who tried to discredit him before his death from AIDS in 1993.
Although Lonnie’s homosexuality was documented as a “bit of an open secret in the church community” and that he would “party” on Saturday night then preach Sunday morning, many in the church were unaware of his “other life”. Eventually some church officials felt that his inability to overcome what the church considers sexual immorality became too big a hindrance to his ability to minister. An article in The Orange County Weekly, headlined “The First Jesus Freak,” chronicles Frisbee’s life, in which Matt Coker writes, “Chuck Smith Jr. says he was having lunch with Wimber one day when he asked how the pastor reconciled working with a known homosexual like Frisbee. Wimber asked how the younger Smith knew this. Smith said he’d received a call from a pastor who’d just heard a young man confess to having been in a six-month relationship with Frisbee. Wimber called Smith the next day to say he’d confronted Frisbee, who openly admitted to the affair and agreed to leave.”
In a 2005 interview by Christianity Today film reviewer Peter Chattaway with David Di Sabatino, the documentary director of Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher, the two spoke about addressing Lonnie’s homosexuality with his family. Said Di Sabatino, “I brought to light some things that not a lot of people knew. I’ve been in rooms with his family where I’ve had to tell them that he defined himself as gay, way back. Nobody knew that. There’s a lot of hubris in that, to come to people who loved him and prayed for him, and to stand there and say, “You didn’t really know this, but…” In the same interview Di Sabatino also stated, “His early testimony at Calvary Chapel was that he had come out of the homosexual lifestyle, but he felt like a leper because a lot of people turned away from him after that, so he took it out of his testimony—and I think that’s an indictment of the church.” Di Sabatino commented on Frisbee’s homosexuality as a flaw and stated that Frisbee’s brother claimed Frisbee was raped at the age of 8 years old and postulated that an incident of that nature “fragments your identity, and now I can’t say that I’m surprised at all.” In other research Di Sabatino revealed that Frisbee had come from a broken home and entered into Laguna Beach’s gay underground scene with a friend when he was fifteen.
Lonnie Frisbee contracted AIDS and died from complications associated with the condition. At his funeral at the Crystal Cathedral, Calvary Chapel’s Chuck Smith eulogized Frisbee as a Samson-like figure; that being a man through whom God did many great works, but was the victim of his own struggles and temptations. Some saw this as further maligning Frisbee’s work and an inappropriate characterization at a funeral service. Others, such as Frisbee friend John Ruttkay, saw the Samson analogy as spot on, and said so at his funeral. Frisbee was interred in the Crystal Cathedral Memorial Gardens.