The sands of time have a way of obscuring and even masking the massive spiritual recession and upheaval of our era. Yet glimmers of renewal and restoration reside just below the sometimes-destructive surface amid the changing cultural and religious landscape of our great nation.
California is a case in point.
After the moral and social revolution of the 60s and 70s, it would not have been a form of bad manners to conclude the radical winds had permanently shifted much that was good, beautiful, just, true, and wholesome in that remarkable state, effacing especially the now all-but-forgotten reality that for most of American history, California was a robustly faith-oriented state.
Erased for instance are: Father Serra and the genius-founding of the California missions; Billy Graham and his historically-important revivals of his prolonged southern California visits which lit a torch for religion all across the nation; the Azusa Street Revival of Los Angeles that fundamentally changed that City of Angels forever; and on and on goes the list, mostly now cancelled amid molten-PC.
I had a personal shimmering of all this in the early 2000s when I was working as a special assistant to President George W. Bush at the White House, having been invited to speak near Los Angeles to an large gathering of evangelicals who held Biblical views of marriage and human life.
Upon my arrival, a friend who worked in those years for evangelist Greg Laurie, who subsequently became a friend too, was gracious enough to arrange for me to meet with Rev. Robert Schuller at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, and with Pastor Chuck Smith who founded the Calvary Chapel movement — now rightly getting so much attention and interest because of the sleeper and surprise-hit-film about his ministry, JESUS REVOLUTION.
I met with Pastor Chuck at his church office, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, which had been the church of my dear friend Melinda for nearly 30 years. It was probably the most spiritually enriching meeting I have ever had. I had never met this famous man, and from the start of our meeting until its conclusion an hour later, he asked me zero questions about politics or the White House or Washington DC.
Instead, all that Pastor Chuck wanted to talk about was the spiritual tempo of our nation and the foundational importance of sharing the Gospel wherever the Lord placed us. It was as if I were meeting an old friend for a coffee-klatch. His humility, verve, and intelligence were the leitmotifs of the meeting and I supposed we could have talked all day.
Before I departed, he asked if he might offer ‘a word of prayer’ for President Bush and his family. I readily accepted, and his beautiful words flowed as a soft rain. I left feeling the dash of his generosity of heart and love for our nation. He had touched millions of hippie and yippie lives yet there was no artifice or bravado, only goodness.
From there, we motored to Crystal Cathedral for a meeting with Reverend Schuller. The sun was brilliant that day, the best kind of southern California optic, and I remember walking the grounds of the cathedral and seeing the way the light was streaming through the endless glass windows; soaring and grand amid pools of fountain-water.
Upon being escorted into seeing Dr. Schuller, he nimbly moved a photo of himself with President Clinton behind another large photo. I told him not to worry in the least, that I was aware of his friendship with the former president and thought it was a wonderful thing indeed.
For the next 15-20 minutes or so, he outlined his five largest concerns about the nation; his five answers to those concerns; and a fleet summary of how those action items might be implemented. The contrast and style with the Chuck Smith meeting was significant: both men of faith yet opposite in how they saw the nation and I suppose the world. I never for a moment doubled the sincerity of both in their contrasting ways of communicating.
Those towering figures of American religion now belong to the ages. The Crystal Cathedral has been shifted to other hands; the long-running HOUR OF POWER broadcast is a memory. The pastels of the 80s and 90s seem long-ago.
Two weeks after these meetings, I met with another remarkable figure of American Christianity, also a Californian who had transplanted himself and his weighty ministry to Florida. Bill Bright was the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. As I sat in his sunny Orlando dining room, he shared with me his friendship with former president Reagan’s mother who he said had spent part of her time in Los Angeles handing out Christian tracts on street corners ‘to people who did not know the Lord’ in southern California.
What these people had in common was uncommon grace, and a zeal in their contrasting personal tempos to tell others about Jesus Christ.
Do we as a nation any longer recall the matchless contributions of Chuck Smith, Robert Schuller, Bill Bright, and Nell Reagan? Yes, I think we do, and the film JESUS REVOLUTION is the kind of cultural reminder that just when you think the sands of time have obscured the importance of what happened, the truth emerges like a welcomed, refreshing wind.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously wrote “One word of truth will outweigh the world.”
Photo from Calvary Chapel.