Just as the Beatles‘ hype was reaching a fevered pitch, John Lennon uttered an off-hand comment that sparked protests, led to their records being banned, and even incited death threats. But a newly released interview from 1969 sheds more light on what Lennon meant, and it turns out he was stumping for Jesus.
On March 4, 1966, Lennon told the London Evening Standard, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I do not know what will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. We’re more popular than Jesus now. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.”
Lunkheads around the world, especially in the southern United States, wigged out and proclaimed Lennon a blasphemer. Shortly thereafter he issued a half-hearted apology, but stuck to his guns on what he meant.
“I was not saying whatever they’re saying I was saying. I’m sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing,” Lennon said in a press conference in Chicago on August 11. “I apologise if that will make you happy. I still do not know quite what I’ve done. I’ve tried to tell you what I did do, but if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I’m sorry.”
In a newly available interview from 1969, Lennon defends his first statement and echoes some language that would warm the hearts of evangelicals…had they heard it. He saw the Beatles’ popularity as an opportunity to turn kids on to Jesus’ message:
“It’s just an expression meaning the Beatles seem to me to have more influence over youth than Christ,” he says. “Now I wasn’t saying that was a good idea, ‘cos I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans. And if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ’s message, then that’s what we’re here to do.”
But like so many lapsed believers in the 60s and 70s, Lennon was ultimately turned off by the hypocrisy and stricture of the Anglican Church and a childhood event led him from the pews forever. As a child, he and some friends were banned from their local church for “a case of the giggles” that annoyed the vicar.
“Being thrown out of church for laughing was the end of the Church for me.”
Years later, when he and Yoko Ono were denied the opportunity to marry in the church, Lennon’s misgivings on organized religion were set.
“I would have liked to have been married in a church but they wouldn’t marry divorcees… That’s pure hypocrisy.”
Lennon sought out his own brand of spirituality and came to the same conclusion many of the coming “Jesus Freaks” found in the 70s: Hypocrites and uptight assholes can ruin a perfectly good time.
“If the Beatles get on the side of Christ, which they always were, and let people know that, then maybe the churches won’t be full, but there’ll be a lot of Christians dancing in the dance halls. Whatever they celebrate, God and Christ, I don’t think it matters as long as they’re aware of Him and His message.”