Father, Son and Holy Rift

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From his pulpit successful Santa Ana, Chuck Smith’s sound thunders pinch certainty. He denounces homosexuality arsenic a “perverted lifestyle,” finds divine wrath successful earthquakes and nan Sept. 11 violent attacks, and promises imminent Armageddon successful a deep, judge voice.

If his connection is grim, nan laminitis of nan Jesus People and nan Calvary Chapel activity bears nan ruddy bully cheer of a 79-year-old believer who insists he has ne'er known a day’s uncertainty aliases despair.

From nan pulpit of Capo Beach Calvary, 25 miles southbound of his father’s church, Chuck Smith Jr.'s sound trembles pinch vulnerability and grapples pinch ambiguity. Without a trace of occurrence and brimstone, he speaks of Christianity arsenic a “conversation” alternatively than a dogma, plumbs specified TV shows arsenic “The Simpsons” for messages, and intends to scope “generations of nan post-modern age” that distrust unsighted religion and ironclad authority.

There is simply a contented among superstar evangelists for illustration Chuck Smith nan elder of bequeathing nan pulpit to a son. Billy Graham did it, arsenic did Robert H. Schuller.

However, it has been ages since anyone considered nan younger Smith a imaginable successor to his father’s 15,000-congregation ministry, nan symbolic halfway of a web of independently tally Calvary churches: astir 1,000 crossed nan United States, including 2 of nan 3 largest non-Roman Catholic churches successful California, positive power and TV ministries.

Instead, critics whispered that nan boy was a vulnerable impostor. Last year, those whispers exploded into a full-blown din. Online protests and fliers distributed astatine nan younger Smith’s religion demanded that he driblet nan “Calvary” sanction because of his progressively wide drift connected specified non-debatable issues arsenic nan evil of homosexuality and nan committedness of hellhole for unbelievers. “What will it return for Chuck Sr. to extremity nan nepotism?” blogged Calvary congregant Jackie Alnor, 1 of nan critics starring nan charge. “Does his boy person to pain incense to Isis and Zeus earlier he is disfellowshipped from a Bible-believing fellowship of churches?”

By past spring, 1 point had go clear to Smith Jr.: Sprawling arsenic it was, nan religion his begetter had built -- nan spot that erstwhile embraced a procreation of drug-addled hippies and helped alteration nan measurement galore Americans worshipped -- had small room near for him.


“Even erstwhile I speak, immoderate of what I opportunity is sentiment and disorder and error,” says Smith Jr., 55, who wears shorts and flip-flops arsenic he welcomes a visitant to his church. “I’m much successful a spot of learning than I americium successful a spot of certainty.”

He said he grew up arsenic a existent believer successful his father’s Pentecostal world, a world that could tilt and descent him into hellhole astatine immoderate moment, aliases extremity pinch nan thunderclap of doom. His earliest memories impact an overpowering consciousness of sin. “You tin ne'er beryllium bully capable if you’re Pentecostal aliases if you’re fundamentalist,” Smith Jr. said. “Jesus whitethorn moreover beryllium upset if you didn’t make your furniture aliases brushwood your teeth.”

His mother mostly raised him, because his begetter was often gone, school nan Bible, taking extracurricular jobs, shuttling from pulpit to pulpit passim Southern California. At Newport Harbor High School, Smith Jr. said, he recovered himself hopelessly estranged from his classmates, who seemed to guarantee their damnation anew each time pinch sex, narcotics and parties.

One day, everyone was buzzing astir a set called nan Beatles and he was clueless; he had been successful religion erstwhile they appeared connected “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

When he suffered his first bout of terrible slump successful his teens, his hearty, ever-upbeat begetter recovered nan malady truthful alien he could supply small help. If you’re sad each nan time, he told his son, you won’t person galore friends.

Dad, for his part, was reshaping American Christianity. He opened nan first nondenominational Calvary Chapel connected a Costa Mesa batch pinch conscionable 25 congregants successful 1965. Soon he became celebrated arsenic nan strait-laced pastor who threw unfastened his doors to nan ragged counterculture and baptized thousands beneath nan water cliffs of Corona del Mar. He became Papa Chuck, nan smiling man successful nan Hawaiian shirt, a staunch-but-benevolent belief begetter to a procreation of end-of-their-rope hippies, dropouts and supplier casualties.

To his older son, he was much elusive: “He wasn’t coming emotionally, moreover if he was coming physically. To perceive him speak, you conscionable get nan belief this is specified a lukewarm and friendly person, but nan person you sewage to him, nan much you’d recognize he really didn’t person those intimacy skills.”

When he near precocious school, Smith Jr. was definite he would not travel his dada to nan pulpit. But during his first semester astatine Orange Coast College, he recovered himself defending Christianity to his classmates. People kept firing questions, and, because he was Chuck Smith’s son, he had answers correct connected his tongue. About nan aforesaid time, a beautiful coed invited him backmost to her apartment. Suddenly, he said, his prime seemed vivid. It was betwixt Jesus and being “sucked into nan vortex of nan evils of nan world.” He politely declined temptation, dropped retired of assemblage and became a pastor, nan only 1 among his parents’ 4 children to do so, and by his mid-20s had founded 2 churches of his own.

Theologically, begetter and boy were connected astir nan aforesaid page. They preached damnation for nan unsaved, nan wickedness of homosexuality, and what nan son, looking backmost later, would telephone “a wide hopelessness astir nan world,” 1 salved only by nan committedness of an imminent, cataclysmic Second Coming.


There was nary shattering epiphany, nary Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment. It was a slow drift from his father’s booming certainties to a beingness of questions pinch murky answers.

About nan clip he opened a religion successful Dana Point successful 1975, Smith Jr. began reference widely, making friends pinch Christians of different backgrounds. He began to see that erstwhile Jesus said of nan kingdom of heaven, he was referring to nan rewards of a selfless life, present and now -- that nan Gospels’ halfway connection was real-world compassion, not mentation for nan afterlife.

For years, Smith Jr. said, he had preached astir hellhole uncomfortably, half-apologetically, because he couldn’t understand why a loving God would consign his children to eternal flames. It felt for illustration blackmail for a pastor to frighten group pinch hell-scapes from nan Middle Ages to induce piety.

Now, he came to judge that nan biblical images utilized to picture hell’s torments -- specified arsenic nan “lake of fire” and nan “worm that does not die” -- were intended to evoke a emotion alternatively than a literal place.

He besides grew disillusioned pinch nan Rapture, nan conception that believers successful Jesus will beryllium whisked to God’s broadside during Armageddon. His begetter had predicted nan extremity of nan world would get successful nan 1980s, based connected his reference of nan Book of Revelation. He has continued, twelvemonth aft year, to denote its imminence pinch absolute confidence.

The father: “Every twelvemonth I judge this could beryllium nan year. We’re 1 twelvemonth person than we were.”

The son: “To usage [the Book of Revelation] for prognostication, to me, is conscionable ridiculous.... I knew of a feline who was racking up indebtedness because he conscionable assumed he was going to get raptured and wouldn’t person to salary for it.”

During nan 1980s, arsenic an AIDS pandemic exploded, Smith Jr. embraced members of nan cheery organization from adjacent Laguna Beach.

The begetter connected homosexuality: “It is nan last affront against God.”

The son: “I met homosexuals who were trying to unrecorded celibate lives aliases beryllium heterosexual, and I heard each astir their struggles, and I ne'er wanted to exacerbate that. My bosom went retired to them. Listening convinced maine that homosexual predisposition is not thing group chose.”

One by 1 they fell away, nan doctrinal pillars of nan location his begetter built. Yet Smith Jr. remained nether nan Calvary Chapel roof, not wanting to embarrass dada by leaving.

Donald E. Miller, a USC professor of belief and writer of a book connected American evangelism, calls nan elder Smith a pioneer of “new-paradigm Christianity” -- 1 who championed modern euphony and casual dress successful church, jettisoned accepted religion symbols and rituals, deemphasized theological sophistication and paved nan measurement for nan modern megachurch. But he remained an old-school biblical literalist, he said, and nan opposition pinch his boy is astir apt fueled by generational differences.

“While Chuck Smith was very overmuch a culturally savvy feline successful nan 1960s, nevertheless he came retired of nan Depression period, whereas his boy grew up successful a wholly different era,” Miller said.

For Smith Jr.'s part, he believed he was carrying connected nan activity of extremist outreach his begetter started successful nan 1960s. Since its early days arsenic “the culturally relevant, rock-n-roll worship, hippie church,” he believed, Calvary Chapel had regressed into a “hunker-down mentality -- thrust retired nan vagaries of this evil world until Jesus comes to nan rescue.”


There was also, theology aside, nan mobility of nan son’s temperament. He hardly fresh nan mold of nan Christian worker championed by his begetter successful his book “Harvest,” successful which he said of “the perfect of a biblical man who is beardown and not vacillating aliases weak” and denounced “the caller touchy/feely men.”

Smith Jr. weeps earlier his congregation, making nary concealed of his ongoing conflict pinch slump that took him to nan brink of termination aft his 1993 divorce. At nan time, he stood earlier his congregation explaining that his woman of 18 years, nan mother of his 5 children, was leaving him contempt his effort to prevention nan marriage.

“In my mind,” he wrote successful his book “Frequently Avoided Questions,” “divorce was an alien behaviour that could not touch existent Christians, fto unsocial a minister.”

A friend sewage him a psychiatrist, and nan psychiatrist sewage him antidepressants. A section pastor called for his resignation, but his congregation sent hundreds of letters of support.

“My vulnerability allowed them to emotion maine successful need,” he said.

Still, his information alienated him further from his father’s church, wherever slump is wide viewed arsenic a belief problem bespeaking flawed faith.

William Alnor, a longtime Calvary congregant and erstwhile pastor, expressed nan position successful stark terms: “I don’t judge immoderate Christian leader should beryllium flirting pinch depression.”

Fundamentalists person besides been troubled successful caller years by gestures they spot arsenic a throwback to paganism, specified arsenic Smith Jr. giving nan motion of nan transverse astatine services and hanging his sanctuary pinch paintings of Jesus successful nan iconic Byzantine style. In 2005, to make matters worse, he took respective extended retreats to a Catholic monastery successful Big Sur.

One of his astir vocal detractors, William Alnor’s wife, Jackie, denounced his “decline into Catholic contemplative mysterious religion” and protested extracurricular his church. “I could consciousness nan acheronian astir that place,” she wrote connected her Apostasy Alert webpage.

The squall intensified pinch nan 2005 publication of nan elder Smith’s book “When Storms Come,” which Smith Jr. edited. Among galore additions Smith Jr. made was a quote from a priest, Anthony de Mello, whose Jesuit affiliation alarmed evangelicals. And connected Page 103, Smith Jr. inserted nan proposal that breathing exercises mightiness put 1 successful a spiritually receptive state.

This seemed, successful nan eyes of some, dangerously adjacent to endorsing a Buddhist practice.

As complaints mounted, nan elder Smith announced that nan offending passages had not been his activity and ordered nan book revised. Then, successful May, nan younger Smith sewage a sojourn from his father’s brother, Paul. As Smith Jr. recalled, his uncle said of redefining what it meant to beryllium to Calvary Chapel. He seemed uncomfortable, seemed to beryllium driving astatine something, but couldn’t rather opportunity it.

“We’ve had immoderate problems pinch nan book,” he yet said, arsenic Smith Jr. recalled.

Smith Jr. knew what was successful nan aerial -- his 35-year affiliation pinch Calvary was astatine an end. He volunteered to sever his ties. He said his uncle sighed successful relief.

In nary time, nan nexus to Smith Jr.'s Dana Point religion was dropped from Calvary’s website. Soon, nan elder Smith issued a memo denouncing nan usage of icons, Eastern influences, “special breathing techniques,” tolerance for homosexuality and “the soft peddling of hellhole arsenic nan destiny of those who cull nan salvation offered done Jesus Christ.”

The memo did not place his boy by name, but Smith Jr. said he publication it arsenic a individual attack.

The elder Smith “loves his son,” William Alnor said. “I deliberation that’s why he held disconnected truthful agelong successful lowering nan boom. I deliberation if it had been anyone other successful nan Calvary Chapel activity promoting nan doctrines Chuck Jr. promoted, he would person been agelong gone.”


In person, nan elder Smith, a stocky, rosy-skinned man pinch benignant eyes and snowy hairsbreadth astatine nan temples, is warmth itself. His agency is attached to nan low-slung, pavilion-size religion astatine nan separator of Costa Mesa and Santa Ana wherever he still preaches to a play congregation of 15,000. On his desk: jars of candy for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. On his shelf: a crown made of ferocious-looking thorns from nan Holy Land.

He stresses really overmuch he loves his son, regrets that he didn’t walk much clip pinch him arsenic he grew up: “Surely he’s not a clone, and I respect and respect him for that. There’s thing shoddy astir his ministry astatine all.”

He shrugs disconnected nan contention arsenic nan consequence of critics who “get connected and blog their ignorance,” adding: “If you don’t march to their drumbeat, they statesman to prime astatine you, and erstwhile you put connected that hypercritical mode, you tin find plentifulness of things to criticize.”

Reminded of nan memo he issued cracking down connected his son’s views, nan begetter replies, calmly and amiably, that he and his boy are conscionable aiming for different audiences, and he doesn’t want to alienate nan 1 he has. He says their narration is stronger than ever, moreover deepened by nan controversy.

“I don’t consciousness that he’s an apostate astatine all. If he would statesman to mobility that Jesus is nan boy of God, past I would beryllium concerned.”


On a caller summertime day, nan younger Smith sat successful nan second-floor agency of nan Dana Point location he shares pinch his 2nd wife, Barbara, a beingness therapist.

The shelves overflowed pinch books, biblical commentaries fighting for abstraction pinch Dean Koontz novels, a Bob Dylan scrapbook and texts connected neuroscience. In conscionable a fewer minutes, his speech tin veer energetically from Russian belief painters, to his upcoming sojourn to African orphanages, to his belief that Christianity and improvement are compatible.

It is nary mini irony, arsenic he sees it, that his father, nan biblical literalist whose chapel bookstore is afloat of anti-Darwin tracts, ignited his emotion of science. Equipped pinch a inexpensive telescope, Dad took him nether nan stars arsenic a boy, rapturously pointing retired nan constellations and nan distances betwixt heavenly bodies -- each a reflection, he explained to his awe-struck son, of God’s majesty.

“It’s sad to maine that a man passionate astir God’s creation should person his acquisition stunted astatine immoderate level by a constrictive imagination of creationism,” Smith Jr. said. “Because nan beingness is nary little fascinating for being 15 cardinal years aged than being 10,000 years old.”

The breakup pinch Calvary Chapel, arsenic he sees it, was a bully and inevitable thing. He wasn’t abiding by location rules, truthful it was only adjacent he go.

“I knew it was coming,” he said. “It was a matter of time.”

He had nary desire to inherit nan sprawling Calvary Chapel from his begetter anyway, he said, being amended suited to a smaller flock. Until precocious he preached to a play congregation of 1,700 astatine a religion he converted from a bowling alley. He is now taking an extended hiatus from nan pulpit, explaining that counseling congregants astir their individual crises is emotionally depleting. He is considering whether to unfastened a distant belief retreat arsenic a harbor for Christian leaders “who are burned out.”

His narration pinch his father, he agrees, is tighter than ever. He will moreover constitute his dad’s curriculum vitae immoderate day. His challenge, he says, is extricating himself from his dad’s fundamentalist evangelical organization without traumatizing his parents.

“It’s for illustration nan parents whose kid comes retired to them and says, ‘I’m gay,’ ” Smith said. “Hopefully they travel astir and say, ‘You are our boy and we will ever emotion you.’ My parents are nary little loving than that.”

Smith Jr. recalls a troubled preacher from Calvary Chapel’s early days, Lonnie Frisbee, who was instrumental successful helping nan elder Smith scope nan counterculture. A caller documentary astir Frisbee’s life makes nan lawsuit that nan religion whitewashed Frisbee from religion history because it emerged that he was gay.

Though Smith Jr. demurs from that thesis, he appeared successful nan film, looked astatine nan camera and pointedly asked: If nan religion shuts its doors to cheery people, wherever are they expected to find God? It sounded for illustration a nonstop plea to his father.

Smith says no, he wasn’t really speaking to Dad. Then he pauses. “Maybe I was,” he says.