By Mark Ellis –
As Lonnie Frisbee’s former wife, she is perhaps the greatest authority about Lonnie’s life and his central role as the ‘hippie preacher’ of the Jesus movement. An actress portraying Connie appears in Jesus Revolution, but inexplicably, the filmmakers failed to contact Connie or consult her about the movie.
They thought she was dead, or so they explained to her in an apologetic Zoom call a few weeks ago.
Connie learned about the film after her stepdaughter, Brandy, watched it in a theater in Tulsa, Oklahoma and told a friend sitting next to her: “I think that’s my mom!” Brandy didn’t believe the portrayals in the film matched the stories told by her mother. She called Connie immediately with the shocking news.
“I have to say it broke me,” she told God Reports. “For two days, I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t believe that as a Christian, you couldn’t reach out to me, you couldn’t reach out and find out. You couldn’t let me know that you were going to put a facsimile of me in a movie.”
When she went to see the movie, it provoked a strong reaction. “I can tell you that that 90% of the movie isn’t true,” Connie maintains. “The truth is that dealing with people is very messy. And they want to make it very tidy. They’ve tidied it all up so much that it just stinks to high heaven to me — and whitewashed it. That’s not how it was.”
“If the truth were known, I wouldn’t look so good. Lonnie wouldn’t look great. Chuck Smith wouldn’t look good. Greg Laurie wouldn’t look good. But who would look good? God would be looking stellar,” she says.
The filmmakers chose fan-favorite Jonathan Roumie, 48, to portray Lonnie, undoubtedly because of his superb characterization of Jesus in The Chosen. “You know that Lonnie and I showed up at Calvary Chapel within the first six weeks of being married. Lonnie was 18 and I was 19,” she recounts. The 30-year age gap between Roumie and her husband was difficult for Connie to swallow, among other issues.
For whatever reason, Pastor Chuck Smith refused to put the young couple on a salary at the church, which left them in desperate financial circumstances. “We were working so hard,” she recalls. “I was in such a state of exhaustion. By the time we were at the Blue Top Motel, we never had a day off. We had people living in our house. We were living communally from the time we were married. We weren’t on salary.
“Do you know that Lonnie and I were still dumpster diving, and eating garbage out of the back of the supermarket trash cans up until we left Calvary Chapel?”
“Chuck Smith had a church for many years with 40-50 people. And all of a sudden we show up and within weeks, he’s got 1500 young people coming to his church. Wouldn’t you think that he would help us?”
Connie’s memories are filtered through the eyes of someone who endured sickening abuse by her mother and father, ran away from home, then found solace in drugs and the burgeoning hippie movement. When she got saved at Tahquitz waterfall near Palm Springs, she was high on LSD. Jesus found her when she was spiritually lost and physically naked.
“God used extremely flawed people,” she says. “As a matter of fact, you know, I’m 75 now. And I think I’m finally getting some maturity. Lonnie and I both had such horrific child abuse, that I would say that Lonnie and I had mental illness issues. God was using it and I don’t think that’s a stretch.”
As the Jesus movement exploded, the young couple had little time together. “In three years of marriage I was not able to spend any time with my husband — I mean zero. It was extremely hard work, 24 hours a day. We had crazy people in our house.”
When Connie and her husband reached a crisis point in their marriage, they sought help from Pastor Chuck in his office, a scene portrayed in the film. “When we did go to Chuck Smith for help…we never even sat down, we just stood in the doorway, just inside the door, Chuck liked to sit in the dark a lot. So, he had just a desk light on, and the room was dark.”
“What are you here for?” Pastor Chuck asked.
“Well, I called about marriage counseling,” Connie said.
“Well, your marriage isn’t important, Connie. The only thing that’s important right now is that people are getting saved,” he said, according to Connie, reflecting a philosophy that God came first, ministry second, and yourself last.
When he imparted that advice, it devastated the exhausted and emotionally fragile young woman. “You might as well have somebody standing in front of you saying, ‘you’re just not important, Connie, you’re not important. Your marriage isn’t important.’ And you can imagine what that would do to a young girl who hadn’t been married very long.”
The film is Greg Laurie’s version of the Jesus movement, and as such, it fails to address Lonnie’s homosexual background, which resulted from serial sexual abuse at the hands of a male babysitter during a three-year period, when Lonnie was six to eight-years-old. “Lonnie told me before we got married, that he got saved out of the gay lifestyle and people back then didn’t even really understand gay. I just thought, ‘That’s the old person and this is a new person.’ I wasn’t concerned about it.”
Lonnie felt pressure after they arrived at Calvary Chapel to remove this part of his background from his Christian testimony, which Connie feels was a mistake. By keeping it hidden in the dark, rather than bringing it into the light, a stronghold remained that ultimately was his undoing.
“The power of this (story) is that we were so damaged when God used us so that we couldn’t take any of the glory. Did Lonnie want the glory? Oh gosh, he did. He really did fall for the adulation of the crowd that he was so needing. Had Chuck Smith taken Lonnie under his wing like Paul would have taken Timothy or Titus a young brother in the Lord and done what the Bible said, Lonnie and I very well may have stayed married, and Lonnie might not have died of AIDS.”
“When you backslide, where do you go? You go right back to your vomit. I went right back to my vomit. When Lonnie was heartbroken, he went back to his vomit too.”
Connie has no recollection of Greg Laurie’s girlfriend, unless she appeared after she and Lonnie left Calvary Chapel. She also says that Lonnie built up the Bible study in Riverside that was handed over to Laurie. “Greg Laurie took everything that Lonnie did and mimicked him, very successfully.”
“The Jesus movement was happening before Lonnie ever met Chuck Smith. People were getting saved all over the place. We were pulling kids off the street (in San Francisco) and sending them back to their homes born again.”
She doesn’t believe any one individual or church should take credit for the Jesus movement. “When God shows up. It’s it like, all the boats float at the same time. God was pouring his spirit out on us. And everywhere we went, people were getting saved like popcorn popping.
“There are a lot of people taking bows, and a lot of people taking credit, and it’s just laughable,” she adds.
Connie believes another massive revival is coming that she likens to a tsunami wave, but she says it will arrive in conjunction with major upheaval, involving either a natural or man-made disaster. The Ukraine war is one of the contractions that precedes this event, she says.
“It’s not going to come out of the church, because there’s too much yeast. God is going to have to do something, to make people aware that they are blind, and they can’t hear. Stop lying if you want to hear God. If you want to see him, don’t lie at all,” she intones.
Despite her sharp criticism of the movie, she still recommends people see it. “I really don’t want to cause somebody to say, ‘I don’t want to go see this movie.’ Because I really believe that the guys that made the movie, although he didn’t get in touch with me, I think he probably just believed anything that Greg Laurie said and went with it. God will use the movie; they had very good intentions.”
Related: The sad death of Lonnie Frisbee