Now that the proper time of mourning has passed, we can stop with the respectability game and report the truth: while Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith, who passed away from cancer last week at 86, was a titan of American Christianity, he was quite often a raving lunatic who seemed better suited to hosting Coast to Coast AM than preaching about God.
This observation isn't the bias of a godless leftist, as so many Calvary Chapel members have claimed in their hundreds of letters, comments, and phone calls sent my way after my obit last week (Santo Niño de Atocha all the way, bitches!), but facts thankfully documented in many outlets. Don't believe me? Let's go into the Wayback Machine and consider five of Papa Chuck's crazier musings. And while Calvary Chapel members will say Smith was merely following the Bible, we don't remember Pope Francis ever going gonzo like this!
5. The (Many) Times Chuck Smith Predicted the End Times…and Was Wrong, Wrong, Wrong
One of the biggest critiques Smith endured from fellow Christians was his zeal for trying to predict the End Times. In books like the appropriately titled End Times: A Report on Future Survival and numerous DVDs and commentaries, Smith would predict Jesus' coming with increasing confidence, for years pegging 1981 as the date. “From my understanding of biblical prophecies, I'm convinced that the Lord is coming for His Church before the end of 1981,” he wrote. “I could be wrong, but it's a deep conviction in my heart, and all my plans are predicated upon that belief.”
What happened? A bunch of people showed up to the Calvary Chapel mother ship in SanTana on New Year's Eve in 1981…and nothing. Eventually, someone told Chuckie to knock it off with the false prophecies, so Smith tempered his outlook, going so far as to deny he ever offered predictions–and here's the audio to prove it. Tellingly, End Times is no longer available via Calvary Chapel–you'll have to find a copy yourself at the Bookman.
4. When Chuck Smith Wished Divine Retribution on the Abused Son of One of His Pastors
One of Smith's biggest critics over the past couple of years has been Alex Grenier, the stepson of Calvary Chapel Visalia pastor Bob Grenier. Alex says Bob physically abused him as a child, and has long sought redress for it; Bob denies all charges and is suing Alex for defamation. But Smith believed Alex's charges, going so far as to meet with him then saying he has no control over any of Calvary Chapel's pastors–a lie if ever there was one.
Then it got personal. As we reported in 2011, Smith attacked Alex Grenier from the pulpit of the Calvary Chapel mother ship, cracking, “I feel sorry for the guy, because…what I could do wouldn't hurt much, but I'll tell you what the Lord can do can really…” Smith chuckled a bit, then ended, “I'm glad I have the Lord on my side.”
Coincidence or not, as Alex notes on his blog, Smith was diagnosed with cancer a month later.
3. When Chuck Smith Wished Divine Retribution on a Christianity Today Reporter
In 2007, Christianity Today published a blockbuster story investigating charges that Calvary Chapel was lax in punishing financial and sexual abusers within the church, laying the blame on an aging Smith. Smith, of course, denied all the charges–but that wasn't enough. CT reported that Smith told their reporter, “The Lord warns, 'Don't touch my anointed. Do my prophet no harm.' I think that you are trying to do harm to the work of God. I surely wouldn't want to be in your shoes.”
It'd be one thing if Chuckie told that to one of the reporters of this godless fishwrap, but Christianity Today is one of the most respected voices in Christian journalism. That didn't stop the magazine from publishing the piece, and the reporter remains in good standing on this Earth. Chuck, on the other hand…
2. When Chuck Smith Slammed Homosexuals–Which Was Always
Calvary Chapel members will say they don't hate homosexuals; just the supposed sin, and that it's just a sin among sins. If so, why did Chuck obsess over it so much? Why did he call homosexuality “the final affront against God”? Why did his words inspire congregants to organize trips to West Hollywood during the early 1990s to castigate LGBT folks? Why did Smith tell the Calvary Chapel faithful to protest whenever gay folks started being treated as actual humans via domestic-partner benefits? Why would Smith obsess about implied gayness in the Bible during his sermons? Why are Calvary Chapel members still protesting at Gay Pride events to this day? It all emanates from the top–or maybe Chuck was overcompensating for his bad treatment of the homosexual hippie who helped him to start Calvary Chapel?
Which leads us to Chuck's biggest verbal faux paux, and I can feel CCers ready to become apologetics anew…
1. When Chuck Smith Slammed Lonnie Frisbee at His Funeral
Nowadays, it's gospel among the Calvary Chapel faithful to say that Chuck Smith loved Lonnie Frisbee, the hippie who was the spark for the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard movement, like a son. That's historical revisionism; for decades, Calvary Chapel essentially wiped Frisbee's crucial contribution from the official record. In one of the oldest histories of Calvary Chapel, appearing in the Fall 1981 edition of the appropriately titled Last Times newsletter, Smith devotes all of four paragraphs to Frisbee's contributions, only mentioning him by his first name. You can learn about how the Calvary Chapel movement erased Frisbee in David Di Sabatino's excellent 2005 documentary, Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher, which single-handedly shamed Calvary Chapel into at least acknowledging Frisbee's presence. But, as mentioned in Coker's story on the flick, Smith couldn't help but to insult Frisbee one last time at his 1993 memorial service at the Crystal Cathedral. When Frisbee's widow told Smith that Frisbee had died of AIDS, he told the crowd, his response 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,” Coker wrote, “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.'
Her words, not mine.