Close Encounters with Frisbee: An Interview with Malcolm Magee

David W. Stowe

Magee now
Many RiAH readers will know the name Malcolm Magee and be familiar with Institute for the Study of Christianity and Culture he directs; some may not. Let me take this opportunity to draw attention to the ISCC, which has sponsored a remarkable number of productive intellectual happenings over the past decade. Mark Noll, Randall Balmer, Miroslav Volf, Eleanore Stump, William Romanowski, Peter Steinfels, John McGreevy, Damon Linker and Philip Blonde are a few of the speakers ISCC has brought to East Lansing, Michigan, often for two-day symposia.

More personally, Malcolm has been a wonderful friend and colleague at Michigan State, never less than during my years toiling on music in the Jesus Movement, a milieu to which he was an eyewitness. I never got the chance to interview Malcolm for my book, but was finally able to ask him some questions earlier this year. A few excerpts:

Malcolm and Judy Magee in the 70s
On Jesus freaks and Quakers:
The Willamette Valley in Oregon, south of Portland, had a lot of hippies and in the 70s, hippies tended to produce Jesus freaks. Growing up as part of the Quaker church added to my opportunities to observe the movement as well. Quakers historically have been fairly open to new movements such as this. Many Jesus people came through the various Quaker congregations in the valley.

On Frisbee:
Lonnie Frisbee was a riveting speaker. I first heard him when I went to a meeting with a small group—50 to 100 hippie-looking Jesus people in an old downtown building in town in central Washington. There was a painted hippie VW van parked out front and inside were all these people in tie-dyed shirts and long hair. This guy who looked like a shorter version of Jesus was up front talking and people were riveted. When he gave an appeal people were throwing packs of cigarettes and all sorts of stuff on the platform—”giving it all up for Jesus.

On McGuire:
Like many of the people in the Jesus movement, Barry McGuire represented a cross over from one world (secular rock music) to another (Jesus music). But more important to his appeal than that was that he was both personally approachable and deeply entertaining. He came to my high school in Zillah, Washington in 1973. Everyone loved hearing him.

On the politics of the Jesus Movement:
In the 70s and 80s you could still find moderate and left-leaning Democrats who focused on moral issues. Harold Hughes from Iowa could be used as an example. But more and more it became a battle between what was perceived as a “Christian” right and a “secular” left. The Jesus people and the musicians were not politically savvy enough nor historically aware enough to recognize that they were being co-opted. The idea that there was a place for a religious left with both personal moral concerns as well as a progressive economic policies was lost in the simplistic sound bites of the elections of the late 70s and 80s.

For Magee's complete answers and the whole interview, visit


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