"The Call to the Hippies"
by Kent A. Philpott
During my years at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (Southern Baptist), I was anti-Pentecostal and did not yet know what was meant by ‘charismatic’. As far as I was concerned, speaking in tongues was of a demonic origin, and short of that it was at least wrong doctrine. We had little or no fellowship with Pentecostals. In Marin County that would have been limited to the Assembly of God churches or maybe a Black Pentecostal church of some kind.
One night in February of 1967, while I was driving home from my part time job as shoe salesman at the J.C. Penny store in Corte Madera and while listening to Scott McKenzie’s “When you come to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” it was as though God spoke directly and personally to me: “Go to the hippies in San Francisco.” That was it and that was all. The very next day, a rainy Thursday evening, I did just that and the adventure began.
That night, while peering through the window of Hamilton United Methodist Church on Waller Street, a young hippie approached me and wanted to know if I wanted to meet someone who knew a lot about religion. I jumped at the chance, thinking, “This is the hand of God,” and said yes. He brought me just a few doors away to an old Victorian house and introduced me to David Hoyt. David was living in a house full of lesbians; he was the token male and bodyguard for the ladies, and his room was under the stairs that climbed up to the second floor. It was really just a janitor’s closet, but David had made it into a bedroom that was probably the same size as his jail cell at Lompoc Prison from which he had recently been released. David had entered prison at age 19, a biker convicted of drug smuggling from Mexico. He had become a jailhouse guru of sorts and had decided on Hinduism as his religion of choice. By the time I met David that evening, he had risen in the eyes of Swami Baktivadanti to one of the chief devotees at the Hare Krishna Temple on Frederick Street, just blocks away from where David was then living.
We began a Bible study under the stairs, just David and I, but in a few weeks David moved his living space to the basement of the Hare Krishna Temple. To continue the studies, I had to get permission from the swami.
I recall meeting with Swami Baktivadanti in his sparsely furnished second story apartment a few doors down from what we called the Hare Krishna Temple. He asked me, “Why do you want to come to the temple?” Not expecting to be asked this I replied, “Because David asked me to.” “Are you a Christian?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered, “and I am learning about Hinduism.” “What do you know about it?” “Not much,” was all I could honestly say.
It seemed to me that the Swami was conflicted; he knew it would be applauded if he let me do the Bible study, since he was trying to appear ecumenical. But deep down I was convinced he was afraid of me in some way; more importantly, he did not like what I represented.
“You must attend the Kirtan. If you do that, you can have your study.” I agreed to the terms, and the very brief meeting was over.
Once the Bible study started at the temple, more people started attending, which continued for some months. The devotees were all white, young hippies and were extremely serious about all things religious. I was rather shocked that they had such a keen interest in the Bible. Though I disliked having to sit through the Kirtans, still the chance to tell the growing group of seekers about Jesus overcame all else.
So it continued week by week until a particular Saturday morning when I received a phone call from David asking me to rush in to meet him at the temple. I jumped in the old Ford and did just that. My life was about to change dramatically.