Lennon made his controversial claim in a March 1966 interview given to Maureen Cleave and first published in the Evening Standard newspaper. When his words were republished by Datebook magazine four months later it caused a storm of negative publicity, culminating in public bonfires of The Beatles’ records and a public backlash that at times made the group fearful for their lives.
Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.
The protests were mainly in the southern US states. Lennon eventually issued an apology, and was reportedly shaken by the backlash.
I wasn’t 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. I apologise if that will make you happy. I still don’t 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.
The devil may have the best tunes, but Jesus was back on top of the stats just a few days later.