Jesus freaks and hippie communes, vestiges of '60s, still prosper today

SAN FRANCISCO — SAN FRANCISCO -- Two of the 1960s' most memorable social movements, the hippie commune and the Jesus freaks, are alive and well in America, two religion researchers report.

According to a new study on "The Evolution of Hippie Communal Spirituality," hundreds of hip-era communes survived the 1980s and continue to practice and preach a counterculture lifestyle.


"The Haight-Ashbury is thriving in Tennessee," says Timothy Miller, a professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas, one of hundreds of religion scholars who attended a joint meeting here of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.

More than 6,000 religion professors, Bible scholars, radical lesbian theologians, graduate students and other gadflies of the sacred gathered at the meeting that ended yesterday.


Hundreds of papers were presented on everything from "The Hermeneutics of Serpent-Handling" to the "Intertextual Use of Sirach 48:1-16 in Plotting Luke-Acts."

In a paper titled "Calvary Chapel: A Jesus Movement Comes of Age," University of Southern California religion researcher Brenda Brasher charted the phenomenal, 27-year growth of that "huge Bible teaching machine."

Founded in Costa Mesa in 1965 by Pastor Chuck Smith, the movement that began with a few barefoot, long-haired Jesus freaks has grown into an emerging evangelical denomination with more than 405 congregations serving 230,000 weekly worshipers across the country.

Although the '60s trappings are not so obvious in most Calvary Chapels today, the movement continues to attract young converts and young families. One church in Albuquerque has a heavy-metal rock chapel staffed by a long-haired, guitar-playing evangelist.

"You can wear almost anything and go into a Calvary Chapel for worship," says Ms. Brasher, who, along with USC researcher Donald Miller, has surveyed 182 pastors in the movement. "Smith's flexible attitude toward dress, coupled with his penchant for surfing, helped make Calvary Chapel a haven for anti-establishment youth when it first began."

Ms. Brasher says the movement is now at a crossroad because of recent statements by Mr. Smith that he is about to retire from active ministry. Many congregations are splitting off from the movement, while new ones are being founded at a rapid rate.

Ms. Brasher says the intense charismatic Christian commitment in the churches "serves like a springboard for young, motivated clergy. They sell their homes, leave jobs and move with their families to plunge into the ministry of Calvary Chapel."

Donald Miller found that more than 100 of the hippie communes that survived the 1980s, while less extensive or coordinated than Calvary Chapel, can be classed as "intentional communities." The great majority of those are organized around some spiritual or ethical principle -- whether they are populated by Jesus freaks, neo-pagans or spiritual environmentalists.


Mr. Miller focuses on three hippie communes that began in the 1960s and live on in an altered state:

* Tolstoy Farm, founded outside Spokane in 1963 by anti-war activist "Piper" Williams, is famous for its "toleration of drugs, sex of all kinds, nudity and just about any imaginable thought or behavior."

It peaked with 80 full-time residents in the late 1960s, and at last report had 40 folks living there.

Mr. Miller reports that the spiritual focus at Tolstoy Farm has shifted from the original Quaker and Catholic Worker pacifism to goddess religion and neo-paganism.

* New Vrindaban, the former West Virginia headquarters of the Hare Krishna movement, was founded in 1968 by Keith Ham, a graduate student at Columbia University who took the name Kirtanananda.

Noting that "all was not blissful in the land of Krishna," Mr. Miller describes how fierce infighting within the Krishnas led to the 1987 expulsion of Mr. Kirtanananda and New Vrindaban from the larger Hare Krishna movement.


Despite his 1991 conviction on federal conspiracy and racketeering charges, Mr. Kirtanananda, who is appealing his conviction, remains with a corps of followers, Mr. Miller says.

* The Farm, founded in 1970 by Stephen Gaskin, a one-time instructor at San Francisco State University, is described as "the archetypal hippie commune."

Established in Tennessee after a band of hippies in old school buses decided they had had enough of life on the road, the Farm peaked later that decade with about 1,500 residents.

After a reorganization, the population dropped to about 250 residents and Mr. Gaskin is now developing a communal retirement home on an adjacent 80-acre tract.