Picketing Churches and Schools

There in the tiny Light Club of Huntington Beach, David was the first to proclaim it a “Revolution” for Jesus: “I’ll never forget that first night I walked into the club and screamed at the top of my voice, ‘The Revolution!—For Jesus!’ I nearly scared some of the kids to death! It certainly frightened the church people there, and they immediately denounced us for even using the word, as they likewise denounced this revolt from their system — but later accepted it when they found how popular it had become, and even imitated its message and methods in an attempt to jump on the bandwagon and capture its young people.”

But in the beginning, the opposition seemed to outnumber the imitators. So David decided on a campaign of en masse visitations to local churches to help them get better acquainted, meet the kids, and know they were really human beings and real Christians. He also wanted his “dirty hippies” to share with the church people the good news that God didn’t need to be confined to the four square walls of their church buildings—buildings that they not only didn’t need to attend, but that they didn’t even need to build!

So each Sunday morning David would take his little flock to a different church, where they would try to sit together in fellowship wherever they could find room, which was usually in the front seats that are normally vacant in most churches, although in some of the more crowded churches they were compelled to sit on the floor. In most cases they would join enthusiastically in the singing, listening attentively to the sermon, and encourage the preacher with their “Amen’s”—and then break up to individually share their message with the church people after the meeting.

These visits were at first received in the same manner as most of the team’s church visits of the past—in one ear and out the other. However, in two or three churches, they were not only not well received, but were actually asked to leave, and were even cast out with physical violence:

In an Episcopalian church, Aaron shouted out unwisely during communion, “This is treacherous hypocrisy!” Said the Rev. David A. Crump later to newspaper reporters, “It was a strong voice that could be heard for a quarter of a mile.” “We were frozen in our seats”, said another lady. “You never saw so many pale faces in your life.” There were no hot exchanges, though, and no one was asked to leave. As Crump said, “We just went about doing what we came to do as usual.”

But this mild incident propelled them into the news with the lurid headlines, “Howling Hippies Disrupt Church”, which served to frighten some other churches about having them.

When David led his little band of followers into the Garden Grove Community Church, wearing his long, flowing robe much like the ones Jesus and His disciples had worn, they were all immediately ejected for not being dressed properly. This treatment so angered some of the boys that two of them leapt to the altar and shouted to the 1,000-member congregation, “This church is a temple of hypocrisy!” Some of the church members were also angered at the treatment the team received, and got up to leave with them. Said one, “We couldn’t sit inside any longer, after they got such hypocritical treatment.” And they all sat down quietly on the lawn together for the remainder of the service. They had not disturbed the service, as was later charged, but the ushers had disturbed it by demanding and brutally enforcing their exit.

Ralph Wilkerson, who runs another large church in Southern California, had made virtually the same accusations publicly from his pulpit, but when David tried to talk to him on the phone about it, he refused to speak with him. They then went to his church with the witnesses who had heard him say it and tried to discuss it with him, but he again refused to see them and ordered them roughly cast out of his building, so violently as to tear David’s clothes and sprain his ankle!

What could they do? These churches were not obeying the commandments of Jesus to “forsake all that they had” and to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”. (Luke 14:33, Mark 16:15.) And when they had followed Jesus’ own admonition that if a brother be overtaken in a fault to go to him and reprimand him, they were thrown violently out of the churches! What could they do?

They could “Write the vision upon tables, that he may run that readeth it”! And the only way to do that today, and get away with it, is picketing, which they did at the churches in question:

Members of Christ Teens Picket at Church in Grove

Daily Pilot (Orange Co., Cal.) 15/1/69

Members of the Teens for Christ in Huntington Beach picketed Garden Grove Community Church Sunday morning, scene of a prior encounter in which the hippie-appearing band was asked to ... move outside.

Dressed in long, flowing clothes, sandals and beards, and with hair of both sexes falling over shoulders, about 50 of the church-hopping band paraded in front of Garden Grove Church carrying signs...

David Berg, advisor to the group of religious zealots ... said he had not been happy with the attitude of those who attend the Garden Grove Church...

As the teens marched Sunday, David said, “one car drove over the curb trying to hit one of the pickets, and a man walked up to one of the boys carrying a sign and threatened to harm him.

“The boy dropped down on his knees and began to pray for the man”, he said....

Signs included “Jesus Didn’t Say to Build Big Buildings”, and “Religious Freedom”.

Needless to say, their picket lines outside the churches were even less welcomed than their visits inside! However, these were not unlike the receptions which Jesus and His disciples and others of His followers such as the apostle Paul, the martyrs, Martin Luther, John Fox, John Wesley, etc., met in some churches, so they were not alone!

The older generation had rejected David’s message, but many of their children were more than ready to accept David’s iconoclastic teachings. By the Spirit of God he gave voice to their frustrations, spoke their unspoken thoughts, and showed them a goal and cause worth fighting and dying for. As he told his teenaged crowd one night, “You’re too young to quit school, too young to vote, too young to choose your religion, too young to get married. But let me tell you, there’s one thing you’re not too young to do: Start a REVOLUTION!”

Now, that is pretty powerful stuff, especially when 13- to 16-year-olds and dropped-out hippies are your audience, because, as any historian can tell you, every revolution that has ever been fought has been fought by teenagers and by youth in their early twenties. In those cases it was Molotov cocktails, knives and bullets, but these weren’t powerful enough for the revolution they were to fight. They were not out to burn down the system, but to bring about spiritual revolution, wielding the “sword of the Spirit, the Word of God”! (Ephesians 6:17.)

And they began taking that “sword” to all the campuses in the Orange County area. Kids began organizing Bible studies in their schools, standing up in their biology classes and denouncing evolution. Entire classes in schools were disrupted and divided by just a few hippies going in to tell the kids the message of God’s love in Jesus.

Kids began reading their Bibles in school, and, of course, the school authorities began to react, expelling all students caught with Bibles or passing out religious pamphlets. Many of the Teens for Christ were arrested for going to schools with the truth of Jesus Christ!

They soon found again that, because of the many laws protecting picketing and picketers, that was the only way they could safely approach the schools, since the officials wouldn’t allow them on campus!

Teens for Christ Leader Orders Picketing of G.W.C.

Daily Pilot (Orange Co., Cal.) 16/12/68

The sandal-shod Teens for Christ have been ordered by their “spiritual advisor” to begin picketing Golden West College, as one member faced arraignment today on week-old trespassing charges.

David Berg, leader of the band of hippie-appearing young people, announced the sandwich-board protest Sunday at the conclusion of an evening meeting at the First Baptist Church of Fountain Valley.

The decision to send pickets to Golden West stems from the Dec. 6 arrest of six of the self-named Christian revolutionaries found distributing religious tracts on campus.

Berg, in dark glasses and wearing a wooden ox yoke around his neck, told wide-eyed Baptists, “We believe in the message of Jeremiah, the prophet of doom, who wore a yoke as a symbol to his own people of their coming bondage.”

The 40-year-old former high school teacher shouted to the 200-strong congregation that America has “forgotten God”.

But the pickets created even more of a sensation than if they had been allowed on campus. The students would lean out of windows to cheer them on, join the picket lines, listen eagerly to what they had to say, and receive their literature. And hundreds and hundreds asked Jesus into their hearts as a result—God’s blessing on their picketing!

They needed it too, because they surely didn’t have any officials on their side. Instead, their picket lines stirred up a tempest with the Orange County School System, as school officials fumbled over themselves in gape-mouthed horror at this disruption, phoning the police and threatening physical violence and jail if the Teens didn’t comply with their orders to leave.

But the Lord continued to bless and protect them until not only Orange Country, but all of Southern California was rocked by the message of the Jesus Revolution! And almost daily, new full-time disciples were joining and dozens of others being turned on to being witnesses in their schools.

Although the older generation failed to see the explosive potential for good that lay within David’s tiny band of former drug dealers and drop-outs, it didn’t go completely unnoticed. Richard Buffin, star editorialist for the “Los Angeles Times,” wrote:

“Rebels for Christ” and “Sunday Visitors”

Los Angeles Times, Dec. 4 and 6, 1968

In a sparsely-furnished store building on Main Street, a few steps from the Huntington Beach pier, I met three lightly-bearded youths. They were crouched on the floor around a low, round oaken table. They were diligently studying Bibles and taking notes...

This, a battered, garish room vaguely reminiscent of a giant Japanese teahouse, is the temple of the crusading evangelists of Teens for Christ. They assumed control of the storefront mission several months ago after aiding its predecessor, Teen Challenge, for five months.

A hard-sell zeal resembling that of early Christians seems to permeate the Teens for Christ mission—along with the odor of unwashed bodies and stale food. ... The club is open daily until 2 a.m....

I also sensed a fundamentalism here that flaunts an unsettling challenge at smug complacency.

Perhaps it is wishful, but I couldn’t help thinking that here, amid sweat and squalor, may be the force to reform and direct the aimless, drug-choked hippie psyche.

Well, thank God, it wasn’t wishful thinking. For from these lowly beginnings God said the little pebble of the Revolution for Jesus would roll and gather momentum, until it snowballed into a mountain! Their little flame would be fanned into a forest fire that would sweep the nations; their wave would wash the shores of the world. God gave David all these magnificent visions of their future to just a few dozen hippies and high-schoolers sitting on the floor of the “battered and garish” Light Club in Huntington Beach. Ridiculous, wasn’t it? Yes, but it was all ordained of God.

Though their picket lines were strictly legal, David knew that they were becoming increasingly irritating to county officials. You can’t fight city hall, a lesson he had learned in Miami, so he finally told the kids to forget it. The Lord had given the message enough publicity so that the public could now make its decision, and further protests would only lead to further arrests and police trouble. However, Aaron, a radical to the end, kept it up, and one day at a junior high school, the police arrived with a dozen squad cars and arrested 17 of the Teens for Christ for “willfully and maliciously blocking a public sidewalk.”

The police had arrived fully prepared for not only arrests, but also ensuing court trials, as they had their video equipment there to show how the pickets had created traffic jams on both the sidewalk and the street. But the traffic congestion and crowds of milling students were caused by the dozen police cars and by the excitement generated among the students by the arrests!

These 17 final arrests brought the number of arrested Teens for Christ up to a total of 24. In the court trials that followed, the charges were upheld by the courts, and sentencing, which could have been as much as six months in jail, was delayed for one month, in a clear effort to pressure them into giving up their radical witnessing and lifestyle—an attempt to nip the tiny movement in the bud!

The parents of the revolution’s young disciples were also becoming extremely upset by this time. With their kids getting kicked out of schools and becoming notorious in the headlines, the parents were pressuring the authorities to take action against the Teens for Christ. Meanwhile, some of their opponents were getting their landlords to raise their rents. With opposition on every side, half the ranks threatened with jail terms, the police continually pulling over their vans and cars to harass and threaten them, rents raised and finances low, it looked like the end of Teens for Christ.

David said later that he almost felt like abandoning the whole thing. But instead, he got some of his family together with some older disciples and prayed desperately for the Lord’s guidance, spending 14 hours in one prayer session alone. And the Lord showed them exactly what they were supposed to do: Travel across the nation together to warn the nation of its impending doom! So in April of 1969, the half-a-hundred militant Teens for Christ left town—in fact, they left the state of California!

“We turned their children from darkness to light and so the System ran us out of one little Light Club in California, and they only succeeded in spreading our light all over the world!”