It was fifty years ago today…

         And America was tearing itself to pieces. 

         The country still reeled from the loss of President Kennedy. His successor, President Johnson, initially rode a wave of goodwill. But his popularity eroded as he and the political establishment further entangled the country in Vietnam. An unpopular war in a faraway place, costs and casualties grew exponentially. At the same time, our nation was locked in a Cold War with no end in sight, and America’s students were being drafted to fight it.   

         At home, the nation was in chaos.

         People marched peacefully in the struggle for civil rights, but too often law enforcement responded with water cannons and attack dogs unleashed on children just trying to go to school.

        The crime rate soared. A sniper atop a tower at the University of Texas in Austin killed 15 people and wounded 31 more in a 96-minute shooting spree. Riots broke out across the nation, leaving America’s inner cities looking like war zones. 

        Yet for some reason in the summer of 1967, particularly among America’s youth, there was a hope, a belief that “a change is gonna come.” Despite being marginalized as “hippies,” “flower children,” or radicals, these young people believed serious political, cultural, and social change was in the air.

        To free themselves from the constraints of society and its authority figures—politicians, police, parents, churches, employers, and schools—thousands of young people made their way to San Francisco.

        Some came for the music, the fashion, the New Age spiritualism. Others followed the lure of radical politics and ideological revolution.

        And for many, San Francisco represented a hedonistic crusade to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

        Haight-Ashbury became the intersection of all these things: Outlandish fashion, “free love,” psychedelic art, and everywhere, it seemed, drugs.

        Musicians like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix helped create a soundtrack for this generation.

        By then, The Beatles had abandoned the bubble-gum pop of I Want to Hold Your Hand and immersed themselves in Eastern mysticism, psychedelic drugs and the hippie ethos of the day. All You Need Is Love soared to the top of the charts.

        And on August 7, 1967, royalty visited Haight-Ashbury—George Harrison decided to tour the capital of the counter-culture. The Beatle took some LSD, stepped from his limousine and walked through what he presupposed to be nirvana, a place of peace, love, and understanding.

        What he found was something quite different. Pattie Boyd, then Harrison’s wife, described what they found in her 2008 autobiography, Wonderful Tonight:

        We were expecting Haight-Ashbury to be special, a creative and artistic place, filled with Beautiful People, but it was horrible—full of ghastly drop-outs, bums and spotty youths, all out of their brains. Everybody looked stoned—even mothers and babies….

        When Harrison turned down one man’s offer of a psychedelic drug, the man became enraged, stirring up the crowd. Harrison and his entourage soon realized that the hippies of the Haight were hostile, and they fled to the safety of their limousine.

        What was apparent to George Harrison, and soon would be to the rest of the world, was the youth of America had lost their innocence. Unfortunately, the role of the counter-cultural continues to hurt our nation, our families, and our institutions.   

        Their anger against authority spawned the bandana-masked anarchists and violent protesters of today. Drug usage exploded, creating an industry that has killed millions. Sexual liberation would soon lead to horrific diseases, violence against women, pornography, abortion, AIDS, sexual perversity, and the weakening of the American family. 

        And for what?

        Wars and terrorism are brought to us whether we want them or not. Crime is worse than ever. Whole neighborhoods in our cities look like ghost towns. Racial relations remain a powder keg.

        The notion that “love,” as the hippies defined it, could cure society’s ills continues to keep us from real change. 

        But even at the peak of the Summer of Love, some of the hippies in the Haight discovered a different path—the true counter-culture. They gathered in coffeehouses, they sang songs, and they preached a radical message. They knew love was all they needed, but not the tragic emptiness of “free love.” This was love freely received because it had been bought at a heavy price. They found love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. These “Jesus Freaks” started the Jesus Movement, a revival that spread throughout California and then the nation. Today, the revolution continues. 

        This world is a chaotic place. Our country is still tearing itself to pieces. The solution is not to cast off our morals, our institutions, and our leaders, but to get on our knees and pray every day. Pray for this nation. Ask God to give us the courage to truly love our fellow man by sharing the good news of the the pure, unending love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Love is all we need—His love.