The First Jesus Freak

A pot-smokin, LSD-droppin seeker turned Calvary Chapel into a household name. So why is Lonnie Frisbee missing from church history?

Smith Sr. did come forward to give a eulogy at Frisbee's March 17, 1993, funeral at Crystal Cathedral. It's a gripping moment in the film. Leaning stiffly against the podium, his body language suggesting smugness to some, the pastor says that when his wife told him of Lonnie's death, the first thing out of his mouth was "Samson—a man who knew the powerful anointing of God's light. What could have been . . . a man who never experienced the ultimate of the potential. I often wondered what could have been."

The film then cuts to Lonnie's ex, Connie, who says she had to be restrained. "I couldn't believe someone could be so arrogant and misunderstand Lonnie so completely," she says of Smith Sr. "It was almost like Chuck Smith's opportunity to give Lonnie one last slam."

Di Sabatino has received confirmation that Chuck and Kay Smith have seen Frisbee and responded favorably. But others around the Calvary leader have blasted the film that Di Sabatino—who swears he's "not anti-Calvary or anti-Vineyard"—poured $20,000 of his life savings in to making. One pastor has accused the filmmaker of glorifying homosexuality, while another is spreading rumors that Di Sabatino is gay ("I am not gay," he informs. "I wish I dressed that well, though"). He finds it ironic that so-called Christians are giving him the same type of un-Christian business they heaped on Frisbee. "People seem to forget that the underlying biblical message is that we're all bastards," Di Sabatino says, "but God loves us anyway."

Meanwhile, some of Lonnie's friends and family wish the filmmaker had cut out the gay stuff altogether. That's not the Lonnie they knew: they insist he never had gay sex after converting to Christianity, and they are especially upset the film includes comments from evangelical-author-turned-gay-Christian activist Mel White and Metropolitan Community Church founder Bishop Troy Perry. The last thing Frisbee would have wanted, these friends say, was to be propped up as a gay Christian martyr.

But Di Sabatino, who at this writing has screened Frisbeeonly three times, including a Feb. 10 showing to 450 people at an Anaheim biker church, has been pleasantly surprised the overall feedback has been positive. "My phone has been ringing off the hook," he said. "People are really moved by it." He says someone claiming to be from Hollywood approached him about turning Frisbee's life story into a feature film. ThePassionoftheHippie,anyone?

"People go away reeling," Di Sabatino says. "They are blown away by Lonnie. The sexual stuff, if you can get over that lump, you just see a human being who God used. God uses anybody who steps up to the table, and Lonnie was a man open to God working through him. That's why he's a hero."

THE DOCUMENTARY HAS BEEN SELECTED FOR THE NEWPORT BEACH FILM FESTIVAL, WHICH RUNS APRIL 21-30. VISIT NEWPORTBEACHFILMFEST.COM AND LONNIEFRISBEE.COM.

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