Reverend Wilkerson Debates Preachers About Drugs

About This Item

KTVU News footage from December 7th 1967 featuring a live debate in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district between Reverend David Wilkerson and four more 'radical' preachers (two are later referred to as "Ted and Steve"), which attempts to focus on the issue of religion and hallucinogenic drugs. However, Wilkerson's first question after the clapperboard is confrontational: "From what I hear, you fellas seem to be telling these young people that they can have Christ and still have their LSD, have their pot." The four men immediately take umbrage with his line of questoning and retort: "You haven't been listening!" One of them goes on to address the camera and claims: "You know what this guy told us? He told us that this wasn't rigged. That he was going to give us a straight interview of some kind. And he's deliberately loaded his questions to stimulate a reaction from us, instead of ask what we think." This lively, spontaneous, free-form debate illustrates how different styles of ministry can generate frustration and confusion amongst parties who claim to share the same goals. Wilkerson is adamant that: "You cannot enter the kingdom of God and still smoke pot and take LSD. You can't do it!" Everyone else is trying to steer the debate in a different direction. Eventually many people move into the shot from all over the room and Wilkerson is obliged to admit "We gotta wrap up." Afterwards, reporter Claud Mann interviews "Dan" who points out that what we've just witnessed is essentially a failure to communicate. Ends with views of Mann interviewing Wilkerson on the street, who explains why he feels so angry about the issue of drugs: "I'm tired of these Bob Dylan preachers ... that's the trouble with Haight Ashbury. We need more ministers down there preaching that these kids can clean up. They aren't cleaning up anybody." He goes on to explain the problem he sees with "permissive" attitudes in his latest book 'Parents on Trial: Why Kids Go Wrong - Or Right'. Note that Mann refers to it as "Why Our Children Go Wrong or Right?"

Type of material
archival newsfilm
16mm b&w, magnetic sound film
Rights for this video belong to
Cox Enterprises Inc/KTVU
Date aired
Originally aired on
KTVU 23-10

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David Wilkerson Interviews Hippie Jesus Christ Followers - Dec. 7, 1967OBSERVATION: D.E. HoytThe contrast couldn’t have been starker. Suit and tie David Wilkerson from the Assemblies of God Churches, interviews Hippie Christians, Ted Wise, Jim Doop, Steve Heefner and Danny Sands. Wilkerson begins by asking if they use or condone LSD and Pot. The setting for the interview is ‘The ‘Living Room’ outreach mission in the Haight District of San Francisco. David Wilkerson is accompanied by Claude Mann and a small film crew from KTVU News (San Francisco).  

Hippie Christians and ‘The Living Room’ BackdropSeveral years earlier Liz Wise introduced her husband Ted, to her pastor John MacDonald who served at Mill Valley Baptist Church. At the time Ted was a sail maker and artisan—part of the early hippie counter-culture. Shortly after dialoguing with pastor MacDonald, Ted had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ and his heart and life took an entirely new direction! Affirming and discipleship followed with Pastor MacDonald taking the Wise family under his spiritual wing.          The year was 1966 with stirrings of massive social change in the air. The San Fran Bay Area quickly became the epic-center of the ‘Peace and Love Generation’ with thousands of young people making the trek, hopeful of finding a new way of living.

      For Ted and Liz Wise, ‘new life’ in Jesus Christ had captured their hearts and home. With a unified commitment to God, they’re now convinced the answers their friends and newer hippies were looking for—could only be found in a ‘spiritual rebirth’ through Jesus Christ. This prompts the Wise family to open a Christian commune they name ‘The House of Acts’ in the city of Novato with open discussion regular Bible Studies. This results in many other hippie types coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ and a growing Christian community.

      Meanwhile, aware of the tsunami of thousands of hippie’s migrating to the S.F. Bay Area, pastor MacDonald puts out feelers to pastor friends and a handful of laymen about establishing an outreach missions in the Haight/Ashbury. A handful of pastors and a few laymen respond in the affirmative and a non-profit ‘Evangelical Concerns’ is launched. Its core team is comprised of Pastor John MacDonald of Mill Valley Baptist, Pastor John Streater of First Baptist Church of San Francisco; Streater’s assistant pastor - Howard Day; Ed Plowman, pastor of Presidio Baptist Church and a handful of laymen.

      With strong relational ties with Ted and Liz Wise, pastor MacDonald asked Ted if he would consider overseeing a new ministry in the Haight/Ashbury which newly formed ‘Evangelical Concerns’ would support financially. Wise is enthusiastic about this opportunity—especially since his commune and ministry at ‘The House of Acts’ has grown and hippie Christian friends can aid him in running what would soon be called ‘The Living Room.’

David Wilkerson’s Capsule BackdropWilkerson was a traditional Pentecostal pastor in the Assembly of God Churches until God called him to the streets and gangs of New York City. Through a series of miracles Wilkerson reached a gang member-leader, Nikki Cruz who became a follower of Jesus Christ. This changed everything for Wilkerson. He documented these events in his book, ‘The Cross and the Switchblade.’

      In Wilkerson’s interview with ‘Living Room’ leaders he seems to have forgotten his ministry to drug addicts and prostitutes in NYC placed him under close scrutiny among pastoral peers and denominational leaders. His ministry to street-people was out of the norm and viewed with suspicion. Over time denominational concerns and peer judgments toward Wilkerson and his ministry to addicts, prostitutes and lost street people would eventually fade. His success with the book and movie ‘Cross and the Switchblade’ and establishment of a handful of Teen Challenge Centers to rehabilitate the lost, had lit a spark and cast a vision within many Assembly of God Churches. Wilkerson went from being a renegade Assemblies evangelist, to being a model of creative outreach.  

      The model chosen for all or all ‘Teen Challenge Centers’ required a full commitment by all incoming residents to accept a tightly regimented physical and spiritual schedule. From sunrise to bedtime residents are engaged in chores, school, Bible study, worship gatherings, being taught, personal devotionals, life-skills training and if in the program for sometime a part-time outside job. All residents are required to adopt a clean-cut appearance akin to the churches of the day. For worship gatherings, guys must wear dress clothes with a tie and sports jacket. Girls are expected to wear skirts and a blouse, or dresses. Nothing low cut, or too short. Wilkerson’s expectation is for all new Christians to become  ‘Clean-Cut’ and straight in appearance.   

David Wilkerson’s Interview with Hippie Christians Takes a Nose-Dive  Although Wilkerson assured Living Room  leaders there would be no tricks, or a confrontational agenda, the opposite occurred. As soon as the cameras are on,  Wilkerson begins asking Wise, Doop, Heefner and Sands if they use or condone using LSD and Pot?  Wilkerson is sure he heard someone from the ‘Living Room’ say, ‘smoking pot is groovy.’  He wants to know what they really believe and if they are using and condoning the use of drugs.

      Danny Sands attempts to clarify the Living Room’s position, of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and trusting God to remove sin and habits including the use of drugs. Sands’ words are drowned out by Wilkerson’s repetitious fishing on the subject and the rebuttals from ‘Living Room’ representatives.

      Frustrated by Wilkerson’s persistent drug questioning, several Living Room leaders pose question for him about sin. Wise asks, “Do you sin?” No answer. Wise repeats the question several times, but Wilkerson is not biting. The query is intended to soften Wilkerson’s line of questioning by finding the common ground of ‘all being sinners from spiritual birth to the grave.’ This denominator is never found.       The interview never reaches a conclusion on the use of Pot and LSD by Living Room leaders. It could be because one or two of those interviewed were still wrestling with God speaking to them definitely about the right or wrong of drug use. One Living Room leader asked Wilkerson, “Are there degrees of sin?  Wilkerson didn’t answer, but this is a good question. Is practicing witchcraft on the same level as smoking cigarettes?  Or drinking whiskey or vodka, compared to smoking pot? What kinds of sins did Jesus speak about in the Scriptures? Hating your neighbor, looking with lust on your neighbor’s wife, condemning someone, lying, cheating—all invisible sins, springing from a darkened heart.   

      Wilkerson is convinced ‘The Living Room and House of Acts’ group are not teaching a ‘Jesus’ that cleans people up. While watching the interview an old saying came to mind. In fact, this was what Danny Sands attempted to communicate to Wilkerson, but the message never got through.

                    “You catch the fish! I’ll take care of cleaning them up” – God 

       Given the intensity of the interview, with frustration on both sides—the interview between Wilkerson and ‘The Living Room’ Christian ends awkwardly at an impasse.

Post Interview by Claud Mann (one on one) with Dan Pauly:Suddenly the cameras are on again. Mann heard Dan Pauly approves of both Wilkerson’s ministry and The Living Room and House of Acts ministry and wants to hear more. 

      Pauly is a Southern California Jesus People leader with a growing evangelistic outreach ministry. He also provides Christ-centered teaching and leadership for new  cluster of Christian houses called ‘Our Father’s Family’ which are located in the in the Pasadena, Alhambra area.  

Pauly’s view of what just happened: I believe both groups are doing God’s work, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but one group is having difficulty communicating with the other. There is a lack of understanding between the two groups.  

      The Living Room Christians have come out of a drug culture, they used drugs and they were saved from drugs, but they do not believe they have to tell people to stop using drugs—to find a real relationship with Jesus Christ. They believe if the Bible is true, God will lead everyone who receives Jesus Christ to the truth. All we need to do is give ourselves to God and He will lead us out of using drugs and away from the things which are against God; He will lead us into a pure relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Mann’s Post (one-on-one) Interview with David Wilkerson “You seem to be angry, Mann probes. “Yes I am. I’m tired of these Bob Dylan preachers that tell people you can have LSD and Pot and Jesus too. What we need is—preachers in the Haight Ashbury telling these hippies they need to clean up. None of these hippie preachers are helping anybody clean up. I think they’re indulging, as much as anybody.

      Mann asks, “You have a new book out, ‘Why Kids go Wrong or Right.’ Why do they go wrong?”

      “I Think, we have parents today who are afraid to spank their kids. We don’t have enough moms’ and dad’s willing to stand up and say no. We have chicken hearted leadership today. We have a church that is permissive The church is no longer a haven of rest, they’re no longer preaching the gospel. I’m not saying the entire church, but we have a total breakdown of discipline and respect for law and order. That’s why we have a riot now in San Francisco (university). We need leaders who have enough courage to stand up and kick these agitators out. A voice of authority is needed and we need it right now! 

Two Years Later Wilkerson is preaching at Anaheim Christian CenterDan Pauly was in attendance and heard Wilkerson makes a confession about his attitude toward hippies who claimed to be Christians. 

A paraphrase of his comments: I was angry about long-haired hippie-types claiming to be Christians. I assumed they were most likely still using LSD and smoking pot and not cleaning up and conforming to mainstream society.  I thought if they were really Christians their appearance should reflect what church people look like. I was wrong. My spiritual tradition blinded me to what God was doing. I wouldn’t even listen to those who were trying to explain me what they believed and practiced.  

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