Aimee Semple McPherson (Aimée, in the original French; October 9, 1890 – September 27, 1944), also known as Sister Aimee or simply Sister, was a Canadian-American Pentecostal evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s, famous for founding the Foursquare Church. McPherson has been noted as a pioneer in the use of modern media, because she used radio to draw on the growing appeal of popular entertainment in North America and incorporated other forms into her weekly sermons at Angelus Temple, one of the first megachurches.
In her time she was the most publicized Protestant evangelist, surpassing Billy Sunday and her other predecessors. She conducted public faith healing demonstrations before large crowds; testimonies conveyed tens of thousands of people healed. McPherson's articulation of the United States as a nation founded and sustained by divine inspiration continues to be echoed by many pastors in churches today.
News coverage sensationalized her misfortunes with family and church members; particularly inflaming accusations she had fabricated her reported kidnapping, turning it into a national spectacle. McPherson's preaching style, extensive charity work and ecumenical contributions were a major influence to Charismatic Christianity in the 20th century.
Aimee Semple McPherson
Sister Aimee (early 1920s)
Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy
October 9, 1890
Salford, Ontario, Canada
|Died||September 27, 1944 (aged 53)|
|Cause of death||Accidental overdose|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery (Glendale)|
|Known for||Founding the Foursquare Church|
|Spouse(s)||Robert Semple (1908–10; his death)|
Harold McPherson (1912–21; divorced)
David Hutton (1931–34; divorced)
|Children||Roberta Semple (b. 1910)|
Rolf McPherson (b. 1913)
McPherson was born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy in the upstairs room of the family farmhouse outside the village of Salford, southeast of Ingersoll in Oxford County Ontario, Canada, to James Morgan and Mildred Ona (Pearce) Kennedy (1871–1947). She had early exposure to religion through her mother, Mildred (known as "Minnie") who worked with the poor in Salvation Army soup kitchens.
As a child she would play "Salvation Army" with her classmates, and at home she would gather a congregation with her dolls, giving them a sermon. As a teenager, McPherson strayed from her mother's teachings by reading novels and going to movies and dances, activities which were strongly disapproved of by both the Salvation Army and the religion of her father, James Kennedy, a Methodist. Novels, though, made their way into the Methodist church library and with guilty delight, McPherson would read them. At the movies, she recognized some of her fellow Methodist church members. She learned too, at a local dance she attended, that her dancing partner was a Presbyterian minister. In high school, she was taught Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution. She began to quiz visiting preachers and local pastors about faith and science, but was unhappy with the answers she received. She wrote to the Canadian newspaper, Family Herald and Weekly Star, questioning why taxpayer-funded public schools had courses, such as evolution, which undermined Christianity. This was her first exposure to fame, as people nationwide responded to her letter. While still in high school, after her Pentecostal conversion, McPherson began a crusade against the concept of evolution, beginning a lifelong passion.
While attending a revival meeting in December 1907, Aimee met Robert James Semple, a Pentecostal missionary from Ireland. There, her faith crisis ended as she decided to dedicate her life to God and made the conversion to Pentecostalism as she witnessed the Holy Spirit moving powerfully.
At that same revival meeting, Aimee became enraptured not only by the message that Robert Semple gave, but also with Robert. She decided to dedicate her life to both God and Robert, and after a short courtship, they were married on August 12, 1908, in a Salvation Army ceremony, pledging never to allow their marriage to lessen their devotion to God, affection for comrades, or faithfulness in the Army. The pair's notion of "Army" was very broad, encompassing much more than just the Salvation Army. Robert supported them as a foundry worker and preached at the local Pentecostal mission. Together, they studied the Bible, Aimee claiming Robert taught her all she knew; though other observers state she was far more knowledgeable than she let on. After a few months they moved to Chicago and became part of William Durham's Full Gospel Assembly. Durham earlier had visited the mission where the Azusa Street Revival was taking place, returned and applied its teachings. Under Durham's tutelage, Aimee was discovered to have a unique ability in the interpretation of speaking in tongues, translating with stylistic eloquence.
After embarking on an evangelistic tour to China, both contracted malaria. Robert also contracted dysentery, of which he died in Hong Kong. Aimee recovered and gave birth to their daughter, Roberta Star Semple, as a 19-year-old widow. On board a ship returning to the United States, Aimee Semple started a Sunday school class, then held other services, as well, oftentimes mentioning her late husband in her sermons; almost all passengers attended.
Shortly after her recuperation in the United States, Semple joined her mother Minnie working with the Salvation Army. While in New York City, she met Harold Stewart McPherson, an accountant. They were married on May 5, 1912, moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and had a son, Rolf Potter Kennedy McPherson, in March 1913.
During this time, McPherson felt as though she denied her "calling" to go preach. After struggling with emotional distress and obsessive–compulsive disorder, she would fall to weep and pray. She felt the call to preach tug at her even more strongly after the birth of Rolf. Then in, 1914, she fell seriously ill, and McPherson states she again heard the persistent voice, asking her to go preach while in the holding room after a failed operation. McPherson accepted the voice's challenge, and she suddenly opened her eyes and was able to turn over in bed without pain. One spring morning in 1915, her husband returned home from the night shift to discover McPherson had left him and taken the children. A few weeks later, a note was received inviting him to join her in evangelistic work.
Her husband later followed McPherson to take her back home though changed his mind after he saw her preaching to a crowd. Describing his wife as "radiant, more lovely than he had ever seen her," he joined her in evangelism. Their house in Providence was sold and he joined her in setting up tents for revival meetings and even did some preaching. Throughout their journey, food and accommodations were uncertain, as they lived out of the "Gospel Car". Her husband, in spite of initial enthusiasm, wanted a life that was more stable and predictable. Eventually, he returned to Rhode Island and around 1918 filed for separation. He petitioned for divorce, citing abandonment; the divorce was granted in 1921.
She married again on September 13, 1931, to actor and musician David Hutton, followed by much drama, after which she fainted and fractured her skull. While McPherson was away in Europe to recover, she was angered to learn Hutton was billing himself as "Aimee's man" in his cabaret singing act and was frequently photographed with scantily clad women. Hutton's much-publicized personal scandals were damaging the Foursquare Gospel Church and their leader's credibility with other churches. McPherson and Hutton separated in 1933 and divorced on March 1, 1934. McPherson later publicly repented of the marriage, as wrong from the beginning, for both theological and personal reasons and therefore rejected nationally known gospel singer Homer Rodeheaver, a more appropriate suitor, when he eventually asked for her hand in 1935.
While married to Robert Semple, the two moved to Chicago and became part of William Durham's Full Gospel Assembly. There, Aimee was discovered to have a unique ability in the interpretation of glossolalia, translating with stylistic eloquence the otherwise indecipherable utterances of speaking in tongues. Unable to find fulfillment as a housewife, in 1913, McPherson began evangelizing and holding tent revivals across the Sawdust Trail in the United States and Canada.
After her first successful visits, she had little difficulty with acceptance or attendance. Eager converts filled the pews of local churches which turned many recalcitrant ministers into her enthusiastic supporters. Frequently, she would start a revival meeting in a hall or church and then have to move to a larger building to accommodate the growing crowds. When no buildings were suitable, she set up a tent, which was often filled past capacity.
She wanted to create the enthusiasm a Pentecostal meeting could provide, with its "Amen Corner" and "Halleluiah Chorus", but also to avoid its unbridled chaos as participants started shouting, trembling on the floor, and speaking in tongues, all at once. McPherson organized her meetings with the general public in mind and yet did not wish to quench any who suddenly came into "the Spirit". To this, she set up a "tarry tent or room" away from the general area for any who suddenly started speaking in tongues or display any other Holy Ghost behavior by which the larger audience might be put off.
In 1916, McPherson embarked on a tour of the Southern United States in her "Gospel Car", and again later, in 1918, with her mother, Mildred Kennedy. Mildred was an important addition to McPherson's ministry and managed everything, including the money, which gave them an unprecedented degree of financial security. Their vehicle was a 1912 Packard touring car emblazoned with religious slogans. Standing on the back seat of the convertible, McPherson preached sermons over a megaphone. On the road between sermons, she would sit in the back seat typing sermons and other religious materials. She first traveled up and down the eastern United States, then went to other parts of the country.
By 1917, she had started her own magazine, Bridal Call, for which she wrote many articles about women's roles in religion; she portrayed the link between Christians and Jesus as a marriage bond. Along with taking seriously the religious role of women, the magazine contributed to transforming Pentecostalism from a movement into an ongoing American religious presence.
While McPherson was traveling for her evangelical work, she arrived in Baltimore, where she was first "discovered" by the newspapers in 1919, after a day of conducting evangelistic services at the Lyric Opera House. Baltimore became one of the pivotal points for her early career. The crowds, in their religious ecstasy, were barely kept under control as they gave way to manifestations of "the Spirit". Moreover, her alleged faith healings now became part of the public record, and attendees began to focus on that part of her ministry over all else. McPherson also considered the Baltimore Revival an important turning point, not only for her ministry, "but in the history of the outpouring of the Pentecostal power".
In late 1918, McPherson came to Los Angeles, a move many at the time were making for better opportunities. Minnie Kennedy, her mother, rented the largest hall they could find, the 3,500-seat Philharmonic Auditorium (known then as Temple Auditorium). People waited for hours to get in, and McPherson could hardly reach the pulpit without stepping on someone. Afterwards, grateful attendees of her Los Angeles meetings built a home for her family and her, which included everything from the cellar to a canary bird. At this time, Los Angeles had become a popular vacation spot. Rather than touring the United States to preach her sermons, McPherson stayed in Los Angeles, drawing audiences from a population which had soared from 100,000 in 1900 to 575,000 people in 1920, and often included many visitors.
Wearied by constant traveling and having nowhere to raise a family, McPherson had settled in Los Angeles, where she maintained both a home and a church. McPherson believed that by creating a church in Los Angeles, her audience would come to her from all over the country. This, she felt, would allow her to plant seeds of the Gospel and tourists would take it home to their communities, still reaching the masses. For several years, she continued to travel and raise money for the construction of a large, domed church building at 1100 Glendale Blvd. in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles. The church would be named Angelus Temple, reflecting the Roman Catholic tradition of the Angelus bell, calling the faithful to prayer, as well as its reference to the angels. Not wanting to take on debt, McPherson located a construction firm which would work with her as funds were raised "by faith". She started with $5,000. The firm indicated it would be enough to carve out a hole for the foundation.
McPherson began a campaign in earnest and was able to mobilize diverse groups of people to help fund and build the new church. Various fundraising methods were used, such as selling chairs for Temple seating at US $25 apiece. In exchange, "chair-holders" got a miniature chair and encouragement to pray daily for the person who would eventually sit in that chair. Her approach worked to generate enthusiastic giving and to create a sense of ownership and family among the contributors.
Raising more money than she had hoped, McPherson altered the original plans, and built a "megachurch" that would draw many followers throughout the years. The endeavor cost contributors around $250,000 in actual money spent. However, this price was low for a structure of its size. Costs were kept down by donations of building materials and volunteer labor. McPherson sometimes quipped when she first got to California, all she had was a car, ten dollars and a tambourine. Enrollment grew exceeding 10,000, and was advertised to be the largest single Christian congregation in the world. According to church records, Angelus Temple received 40 million visitors within the first seven years.
McPherson intended the Angelus Temple as both a place of worship and an ecumenical center for persons of all Christian faiths to meet and build alliances. A wide range of clergy and laypeople consisted of Methodists, Baptists, the Salvation Army, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Adventists, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and even secular civic leaders, who came to the Angelus Temple. They were welcomed and many made their way to her podium as guest speakers. Eventually, even Rev. Robert P. Shuler, a once-robust McPherson critic, was featured as a guest preacher.
Because Pentecostalism was not popular in the United States during the 1920s, McPherson avoided the label. She practiced speaking-in-tongues and faith healing within her services, but kept the former to a minimum in sermons to appease mainstream audiences. Discarded medical fittings from persons faith-healed during her services, which included crutches, wheelchairs, and other paraphernalia, were gathered for display in a museum area. As evidence of her early influence by the Salvation Army, McPherson adopted a theme of "lighthouses" for the satellite churches, referring to the parent church as the "Salvation Navy". This was the beginning of McPherson working to plant Foursquare Gospel churches around the country.
McPherson strove to develop a church organization which could not only provide for the spiritual, but also the physical needs of the distressed. Though she fervently believed and preached the imminent return of Jesus Christ, she had no idea of how soon that Second Coming might be. Two thoughts pervaded the mind of most devout Pentecostals of the time, "Jesus is coming, therefore how can I get ready," and "how can I help others to get ready?"
For McPherson, part of the answer was to mobilize her Temple congregation and everyone she could reach through radio, telephone, and word of mouth to get involved in substantial amounts of charity and social work. "True Christianity is not only to be good but to do good," she preached. The Charities and Beneficiary Department collected donations for all types of humanitarian relief to include a Japanese disaster, as well as a German relief fund. Men released from prison were found jobs by a "brotherhood". A "sisterhood" was created, as well, sewing baby clothing for impoverished mothers. Branch churches elsewhere in the country were likewise encouraged to follow the Angelus Temple's example. Even people who considered McPherson's theology almost ridiculous helped out because they saw her church as the best way to assist their community.
In June 1925, after confirming reports of an earthquake in Santa Barbara, McPherson immediately left the parsonage and interrupted a broadcast at a nearby radio station. She took over the microphone from the startled singer and requested food, blankets, clothing, or whatever listeners could give for emergency supplies to assist nearby Santa Barbara. As the Red Cross met to discuss and organize aid, McPherson's second convoy had already arrived at the troubled city. In 1928, after a dam failed and the ensuing flood left up to 600 dead in its wake, McPherson's church led the relief effort. Later, in 1933, an earthquake struck and devastated Long Beach. McPherson quickly arranged for volunteers to be on the scene with blankets, coffee, and doughnuts.
Drawing from her childhood experience with the Salvation Army, in 1927, McPherson opened a commissary at Angelus Temple which was virtually the only place in town a person could get food, clothing, and blankets with no questions asked. It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and became active in creating soup kitchens, free clinics, and other charitable activities as the Great Depression wore on. She fed an estimated 1.5 million people. When the government shut down the free school-lunch program, McPherson took it over. Her policy of giving first and investigating afterward "alleviated suffering on an epic scale".
McPherson got the fire and police departments to assist in distribution. Doctors, physicians, and dentists were persuaded to staff her free clinic that trained 500 nurses to help treat children and the elderly. She encouraged individuals and companies of all types to donate supplies, food, cash, or labor. To prevent the power from being turned off to homes of overdue accounts during the winter, a $2,000 cash reserve was set up with the utility company. Many people, who otherwise would have nothing to do with the Angelus Temple, would receive a call from McPherson, and then loot their mansion closets or company stores for something to give. The Yellow Cab Company donated a large building and, in the first month, 80,000 people received meals there.
Laboring under a sign "Everybody and anybody is somebody to Jesus", volunteer workers filled commissary baskets with an assortment of food and other items, as well as Foursquare Gospel literature, and handed them out. Even a complete kit designed to care for newborn babies was available. A reporter wrote he had always thought the breadline was a "drab colorless scar on our civilization", but of the Angelus Temple commissary, he observed, was "the warm garment of sympathy and Christian succor."
Establishing an employment bureau, as well, McPherson desired to help "the discouraged husband, the despondent widow, or the little mother who wants extra work to bear the burden of a sick husband". She expected everyone in her temple to be involved, 'let us ever strive to lighten our brother's load and dry the tears of a sister; race, creed or status make no difference. We are all one in the eyes of the Lord." She encouraged members to think of the commissary as widening "the spirituality of the whole church".
In 1932, the commissary was raided by police, allegedly to locate a still used to make brandy out of donated apricots. Some sauerkraut and salad oil were purportedly observed leaking from their respective storage areas. As a consequence, the commissary was briefly shut down. The press got involved and the public demanded an investigation. Since no one really wanted to stall the temple's charity efforts, the acceptable solution was to replace the immediate management. The staff was let go and students from her Foursquare Gospel Church's LIFE Bible College filled in. The newspaper media, generally cynical of the Temple and in particular of McPherson, recognized "the excellent features of that organization's efforts" and that "the faults of the Angelus Temple are outweighed by its virtues." McPherson issued a statement declaring, "They have clashed loud their cymbals and blown their trumpets about a still and some sauerkraut,... our work is still before us. If...anybody abused his trust, it must not happen again."
As McPherson tried to avoid administrative delays in categorizing the "deserving" from the "undeserving," her temple commissary became known as one of the region's most effective and inclusive aid institutions. Few soup kitchens lasted more than several months, but McPherson's remained open. Even as she transformed herself into a fashionable blonde Hollywood socialite, McPherson's vigor and practicality for social activism did not change; she loved organizing big projects. A 1936 survey indicated the Angelus Temple assisted more family units than any other public or private institution in the city. Because her programs aided nonresidents, as well, such as migrants from other states and Mexico, she ran afoul of California state regulations. Though temple guidelines were later officially adjusted to accommodate those policies, helping families in need was a priority, regardless of their place of residence.
Actor Anthony Quinn recalls:
This was all during the height of the Depression, when hunger and poverty permeated America. Many Mexicans were terrified of appealing for county help because most of them were in the country illegally. When in distress, they were comforted by the fact that they could call one of Aimee's branches at any time of the night. There, they would never be asked any of the embarrassing questions posed by the authorities. The fact that they were hungry or in need of warm clothing was enough. No one even asked if they belonged to Aimee's church or not.
In August 1925 and away from Los Angeles, McPherson decided to charter a plane so she would not miss giving her Sunday sermon. Aware of the opportunity for publicity, she arranged for at least 2000 followers and members of the press to be present at the airport. The plane failed after takeoff and the landing gear collapsed, sending the nose of the plane into the ground. McPherson boarded another plane and used the experience as the narrative of an illustrated Sunday sermon called "The Heavenly Airplane". The stage in Angelus Temple was set up with two miniature planes and a skyline that looked like Los Angeles. In this sermon, McPherson described how the first plane had the devil for the pilot, sin for the engine, and temptation as the propeller. The other plane, however, was piloted by Jesus and would lead one to the Holy City (the skyline shown on stage). The temple was filled beyond capacity.
On another occasion, she described being pulled over by a police officer, calling the sermon "Arrested for Speeding". Dressed in a traffic cop's uniform, she sat in the saddle of a police motorcycle, earlier placed on the stage, and revved the siren. One author in attendance, insisted she actually drove the motorcycle, with its deafening roar, across the access ramp to the pulpit, slammed on the brakes, then raised a white-gloved hand to shout "Stop! You're speeding to Hell!" Since McPherson gave some of her sermons more than once, and with variations, the possibility existed both versions might be true.
McPherson employed a small group of artists, electricians, decorators, and carpenters, who built the sets for each Sunday's service. Religious music was played by an orchestra. McPherson also worked on elaborate sacred operas. One production, The Iron Furnace, based on the book of Exodus, told of God's deliverance as the Israelites fled slavery in Egypt. Some Hollywood movie stars even assisted with obtaining costumes from local studios. The cast was large, perhaps as many as 450 people, but so elaborate and expensive, it was presented only one time. Rehearsals for the various productions were time-consuming and McPherson "did not tolerate any nonsense." Though described as "always kind and loving", McPherson demanded respect regarding the divine message the sacred operas and her other works were designed to convey.
Even though McPherson condemned theater and film as the devil's workshop, its secrets and effects were co-opted. She became the first woman evangelist to adopt the whole technique of the moving picture star. McPherson desired to avoid the dreary church service where, by obligation, parishioners would go to fulfill some duty by being present in the pew. She wanted a sacred drama that would compete with the excitement of vaudeville and the movies. The message was serious, but the tone more along the lines of a humorous musical comedy. Animals were frequently incorporated and McPherson, as a once farm girl, knew how to handle them. McPherson gave up to 22 sermons a week and the lavish Sunday night service attracted the largest crowds, extra trolleys and police were needed to help route the traffic through Echo Park to and from Angelus Temple. To finance the Angelus Temple and its projects, collections were taken at every meeting, often with the admonishment, "no coins, please".
McPherson preached a conservative gospel, but used progressive methods, taking advantage of radio, movies, and stage acts. Advocacy for women's rights was on the rise, including women's suffrage through the 19th Amendment. She attracted some women associated with modernism, but others were put off by the contrast between her different theories. By accepting and using such new media outlets, McPherson helped integrate them into people's daily lives. McPherson used the media to her advantage and became the "first modern celebrity preacher."
The battle between fundamentalists and modernists escalated after World War I, with many modernists seeking less conservative religious faiths. Fundamentalists generally believed their religious faith should influence every aspect of their lives. McPherson sought to eradicate modernism and secularism in homes, churches, schools, and communities. She developed a strong following in what McPherson termed "the Foursquare Gospel" by blending contemporary culture with religious teachings. McPherson was entirely capable of sustaining a protracted intellectual discourse as her Bible students and debate opponents will attest. But she believed in preaching the gospel with simplicity and power, so as to not confuse the message. Her distinct voice and visual descriptions created a crowd excitement "bordering on hysteria."
The appeal of McPherson's 30 or so revival events from 1919 to 1922 surpassed any touring event of theater or politics ever presented in American history. "Neither Houdini nor Teddy Roosevelt had such an audience nor PT Barnum." Her one- to four-week meetings typically overflowed any building she could find to hold them. She broke attendance records recently set by Billy Sunday and frequently used his temporary tabernacle structures in which to hold some of her meetings. Her revivals were often standing-room only. One such revival was held in a boxing ring, with the meeting before and after the match. Throughout the boxing event, she walked about with a sign reading "knock out the Devil". In San Diego, California, the city called in the National Guard and other branches of the armed forces to control a revival crowd of over 30,000 people. She became one of the most photographed persons of her time. She enjoyed the publicity and quotes on almost every subject were sought from her by journalists.
McPherson's ability to draw crowds was also greatly assisted by her apparently successful faith healing presentations. According to Nancy Barr Mavity, an early McPherson biographer, almost by accident, the evangelist discovered when she laid hands on sick or injured persons, they got well. Mavity further wrote, describing the healing power "beyond her conscience [sic] control" and "profoundly troubling" however a phenomenon familiar to the psychiatrist although "none the less [sic] mysterious." 
During a 1916 revival meeting in Corona, Long Island, New York, a young woman in the advanced stages of rheumatoid arthritis was brought to the altar by friends. McPherson would have preferred to pray with her privately. However, the woman insisted upon immediate prayer. McPherson laid hands on her and prayed. Before the gathered parishioners, the woman walked out of the church without crutches. McPherson's reputation as a faith healer rapidly became known and the sick and injured people came to her by the tens of thousands.
The Faith Healing Ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson was extensively written about in the news media and was a large part of her early career legacy. No one has ever been credited by secular witnesses with anywhere near the numbers of faith healings attributed to McPherson, especially during the years 1919 to 1922. Over time, though, she almost withdrew from the faith-healing aspect of her services, since it was overwhelming other areas of her ministry. Scheduled weekly and monthly healing sessions nevertheless remained highly popular with the public until her death in 1944.
Eventually, McPherson's church evolved into its own denomination and became known as the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (usually referenced as the "Foursquare Church"). The term Foursquare represents the Full Gospel theological concept, and refers to the four defining beliefs of Pentecostalism: the nature of Jesus Christ's character is that he was Savior, baptizer with the Holy Spirit, healer, and soon-coming King. The four main beliefs were: the first being Christ's ability to transform individuals' lives through the act of salvation; the second focused on a holy baptism which includes receiving power to glorify and exalt Christ in a practical way; the third was divine healing, newness of life for both body and spirit; and the fourth was gospel-oriented heed to the premillennial return of Jesus Christ.
McPherson published the weekly Foursquare Crusader, along with her monthly magazine, Bridal Call. She began broadcasting on radio in the early 1920s. On a Sunday morning in April 1922, the Rockridge Radio Station in Oakland CA; offered her some radio time and she became the first woman to preach a sermon over the "wireless telephone." With the opening of Foursquare Gospel-owned KFSG on February 6, 1924, she became the second woman granted a broadcast license by the Department of Commerce, the federal agency that supervised broadcasting in the early 1920s.
McPherson racially integrated her tent meetings and church services. On one occasion, as a response to McPherson's ministry and Angelus Temple being integrated, Ku Klux Klan members were in attendance, but after the service, hoods and robes were found on the ground in nearby Echo Park. She is also credited with helping many Hispanic ministries in Los Angeles.
McPherson traveling about the country holding widely popular revival meetings and filling local churches with converts was one thing, settling permanently into their city caused concern among some local Los Angeles churches. Though she shared many of their fundamentalist beliefs, such as divine inspiration of the Bible, the classical Trinity, virgin birth of Jesus, historical reality of Christ's miracles, bodily resurrection of Christ, and the atoning purpose of his crucifixion; the presentation of lavish sermons, and an effective faith-healing ministry presented by a female divorcee whom thousands adored and about whom newspapers continuously wrote, was unexpected. Moreover, the Temple, especially the women, had a look and style uniquely theirs. They would emulate McPherson's style and dress, and a distinct Angelus Temple uniform came into existence, a white dress with a navy blue cape thrown over it. Men were more discreet, wearing suits. Her voice, projected over the powerful state-of-the-art KFSG radio station and heard by hundreds of thousands, became the most recognized in the western United States.
Her illustrated sermons attracted criticism from some clergy members because they thought it turned the Gospel message into mundane theater and entertainment. Divine healing, as McPherson called it, was claimed by many pastors to be a unique dispensation granted only for Apostolic times. Rival radio evangelist Reverend Robert P. Shuler published a pamphlet entitled McPhersonism, which purported that her "most spectacular and advertised program was out of harmony with God's word." Debates such as the Bogard-McPherson debate in 1934 drew further attention to the controversy, but none could really argue effectively against McPherson's results.
The new developing Assemblies of God denomination, Pentecostal as McPherson was, for a time worked with her, but they encouraged separation from established Protestant faiths. McPherson resisted trends to isolate as a denomination and continued her task of coalition-building among evangelicals. McPherson worked hard to attain ecumenical vision of the faith, and while she participated in debates, avoided pitched rhetorical battles that divided so many in Christianity. She wanted to work with existing churches on projects and to share with them her visions and beliefs.
Assisting in her passion was the speedy establishment of LIFE Bible College adjacent to the Angeles Temple. Ministers trained there were originally intended to go nationally and worldwide to all denominations and share her newly defined "Foursquare Gospel." A well-known Methodist minister, Frank Thompson, who never had the Pentecostal experience, was persuaded to run the college, and he taught the students the doctrine of John Wesley. McPherson and others, meanwhile, infused them with Pentecostal ideals. For about a year, Antonia Frederick Futterer, suggested by Los Angeles Times as the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's film character, Indiana Jones, was also a facility member. McPherson's efforts eventually led Pentecostals, which were previously unconventional and on the periphery of Christianity, into the mainstream of American evangelicalism.
By early 1926, McPherson had become one of the most charismatic and influential women and ministers of her time. Her fame equaled, to name a few, Charles Lindbergh, Johnny Weissmuller, Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Knute Rockne, Bobby Jones, Louise Brooks, and Rudolph Valentino. She was a major American phenomenon, who along with some other high-profile preachers of the time, unlike Hollywood celebrities, could be admired by their adoring public, "without apparently compromising their souls."
According to Carey McWilliams, she had become "more than just a household word: she was a folk hero and a civic institution; an honorary member of the fire and police departments; a patron saint of the service clubs; an official spokesman for the community on problems grave and frivolous." She was influential in many social, educational and political areas. McPherson made personal crusades against anything that she felt threatened her Christian ideals, including the drinking of alcohol and teaching evolution in schools.
McPherson became a strong supporter of William Jennings Bryan during the 1925 Scopes trial, in which John Scopes was tried for illegally teaching evolution at a Dayton, Tennessee, school. Bryan and McPherson had worked together in the Angelus Temple and they believed Darwinism had undermined students' morality. According to The New Yorker, McPherson said, evolution "is the greatest triumph of Satanic intelligence in 5,931 years of devilish warfare, against the Hosts of Heaven. It is poisoning the minds of the children of the nation." She sent Bryan a telegram saying, "Ten thousand members of Angelus Temple with her millions of radio church membership send grateful appreciation of your lion-hearted championship of the Bible against evolution and throw our hats in the ring with you." She organized "an all-night prayer service, a massive church meeting preceded by a Bible parade through Los Angeles."
While her mother Mildred Kennedy was a registered Democrat, no one was certain of McPherson's registration. She endorsed Herbert Hoover over Franklin D. Roosevelt, but enthusiastically threw her support behind the latter and his social programs when he was elected into office. She was a patron of organized labor, preaching a gangster's money was "no more unclean than the dollars of the man who amasses his millions from underpaid factory workers". She was more cautious, though, when labor strikes resulted in violent uprisings. She saw in them the possible activities of Communism, which sought to infiltrate labor unions and other organizations. McPherson intensely disliked Communism and its derivatives as they sought to rule without God; their ultimate goal, she believed, was to remove Christianity from the earth. McPherson's opinion of fascism fared no better; its totalitarian rule was wrongly justified by claiming to represent the power of God.
McPherson did not align herself consistently with any broad conservative or liberal political agenda. Instead, she explained if Christianity occupied a central place in national life, and if the components of God, home, school and government were kept together, everything else would fall into place. "Remove any of these," she warned, "and [civilization] topples, crumbles." Current Foursquare Gospel Church leaders qualify the evangelist's views: "McPherson's passion to see America sustained in spiritual health, which compelled her quest to see the Church influence government, must be interpreted in light of the political and religious climate of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. It is not accurate to draw a parallel between today's extreme fundamentalist, right-wing Christianity and the style or focus of Sister McPherson." She was also among the first prominent Christian ministers to defend the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. She related that when Christ returns, the Jews would receive him, their suffering will end, "and they will establish at Jerusalem a kingdom more wonderful than the world has known."
The reported kidnapping of Aimee Semple McPherson caused a frenzy in national media and changed her life and the course of her career. After disappearing in May, 1926, she reappeared in Mexico five weeks later, stating she had been held for ransom in a desert shack there. The subsequent grand-jury inquiries over her reported kidnapping and escape precipitated continued public interest in her future misfortunes.
On May 18, 1926, McPherson disappeared from Ocean Park Beach, in Santa Monica, CA. Presuming she had drowned, searchers combed the beach and nearby area, but could not locate her body. Immediately, McPherson sightings occurred around the county often in widely divergent locations many miles apart on the same day. The Angelus Temple received calls and letters claiming knowledge of McPherson, including demands for ransom. After several weeks of unpromising leads, Mildred Kennedy, regarded the messages as hoaxes, believing her daughter dead.
Just as the Angelus Temple was preparing for a service commemorating McPherson's death, on June 23, Kennedy received a phone call from Douglas, Arizona. Her distraught daughter was alive resting in a Douglas hospital, and was relating her story to officials.
McPherson stated, at the beach, she had been approached by a couple who wanted her to pray over their sick child. Walking with them to their car, she suddenly was shoved inside. A cloth laced with some type of drug was held against her face, causing her to pass out. Eventually, the revivalist was moved to a small shack in the Mexican desert. When her captors were away on errands, McPherson escaped out a window.
She then traveled through the desert for around 11–13 hours across an estimated distance of 20 miles (32 km); and reached Agua Prieta, Sonora, a Mexican border town at around 1:00 am. Collapsing exhausted near a house, the evangelist was finally taken by locals to adjacent Douglas.
The turnout at her return to Los Angeles was greeted by 30,000–50,000 people, more than for almost any other personage. The parade back to the temple even elicited a greater turnout than President Woodrow Wilson's visit to Los Angeles in 1919, attesting to her popularity and the growing influence of mass media entertainment. Already incensed over McPherson's influential public stance on evolution and the Bible, most of the Chamber of Commerce and some other civic leaders, together with many Los Angeles area churches; saw the event as a gaudy display. To head off developing rumors her disappearance was not the result of a kidnapping, McPherson, against the advice of her mother, who thought the press would continue to unfavorably exploit the story; presented her complaint in court.
While various speculations were proffered as to the reason for McPherson's disappearance, the Los Angeles prosecution settled on the contention McPherson ran off with ex-employee, Ormiston. She was accused of staying with him in a California seaside cottage he rented in a resort town prior to her May 18 disappearance. After leaving the cottage at the end of May, for the next three weeks, the pair traveled elsewhere and remained hidden. Then, around June 22, Ormiston drove McPherson to Mexico, dropped her off 3 miles outside of nearby Agua Prieta where she walked the remaining distance and presented herself to a resident there.
McPherson maintained all along, without changing anything in her story, that she was taken, held captive by the kidnappers, and escaped as she originally described. Defense witnesses corroborated her assertions  or McPherson herself demonstrated how the disputed parts were plausible
Issues of trial by media and court of public opinion were apparent, as much of the proclaimed evidence against McPherson came from reporters who passed it on to the police. Evidence and testimonies were hotly debated by an evenly divided public. Secrecy of the California grand jury proceedings were ignored by both sides as the Los Angeles prosecution freely passed on any new developments to the press, while the evangelist used her radio station to broadcast her side of the story.
On November 3, the case was to be moved to jury trial set for mid-January, 1927. If convicted, the counts added up to a maximum prison time of 42 years. However, the prosecution's case developed serious credibility issues. Witnesses changed their testimonies and evidence often had suspicious origins or was mishandled and lost while in custody Finally, on January 2, 1927, Ormiston identified another woman as his female companion who stayed with him at the resort town seaside cottage. All charges against McPherson and associated parties were dropped by the court for the lack of evidence on January 10, 1927.
Regardless of the court's decision, months of unfavorable press reports fixed in much of the public's mind a certainty of McPherson's wrongdoing. The bulk of the investigation against McPherson was funded by Los Angeles-area newspapers at an estimated amount of $500,000.
Various influential individuals offered their opinions on the inquiry. The Reverend Robert P. Shuler stated, "Perhaps the most serious thing about this whole situation is the seeming loyalty of thousands to this leader in the face of her evident and positively proven guilt."
H.L. Mencken, noted journalist, satirist, cultural critic, and scholar and an ideological opponent of McPherson, opposite each other in the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial, unexpectedly came to McPherson's defense. He wrote that since many of that town's residents acquired their ideas "of the true, the good and the beautiful" from the movies and newspapers, "Los Angeles will remember the testimony against her long after it forgets the testimony that cleared her."
Numerous allegations of illicit love affairs were often directed against McPherson. Suspected lovers generally denied involvement. For example, Kenneth Ormiston, a married man with a small son, could have profited immensely from an exposé about himself and McPherson. That the two had a good working relationship and were friendly with each other was not disputed. During the 1926 kidnapping grand jury trial, reporters and investigators tried to link him amorously to McPherson. Ormiston told newspapers his name connected in such a way to the evangelist "was a gross insult to a noble and sincere woman."
Alarmed by her rapidly changing style of dress and involvement with Hollywood and its "worldly" lifestyle, in 1929, an Angelus Temple official hired detectives to shadow McPherson. Through her windows, the detectives frequently saw McPherson staying up until the early morning hours composing songs, drafting sacred operas, and scribbling diagrams of her illustrated sermons. They were looking for evidence of her indiscretions, but found nothing. No confirmation of adulterous misconduct, with perhaps exception of her third marriage as a violation of Church tenets, was ever presented. McPherson herself, aware of numerous accusations leveled at her throughout her career, responded only to a small fraction of them, conveying the only thing she had time for was "preaching Jesus".
Posthumously, unsubstantiated allegations of extramarital affairs continued to emerge, this time by those who stated to have been her partner, claims not mentioned by them or others while she was still alive. Canadian journalist Gordon Sinclair implied such a claim in his 1966 autobiography, Will the Real Gordon Sinclair Please Stand Up. Sinclair stated he worked on a story with McPherson and during one of those times in 1934, the incident purportedly occurred. Sinclair alluded to a sexual dalliance with McPherson one afternoon along with some gin and ginger.
Thirty years after her death, another claim by comedian Milton Berle, in a 1974 autobiography, alleges a brief affair with the evangelist. In his book, titled Milton Berle: An Autobiography, Berle asserts he met McPherson at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles where both were doing a charity show. Biographer Matthew Avery Sutton commented, "Berle, a notorious womanizer whose many tales of scandalous affairs were not always true, claimed to have had sex with McPherson on this and one other occasion", both during a year when McPherson was often ill and bedridden. Sutton noted that Berle's story of a crucifix in McPherson's bedroom was not consistent with the coolness of Pentecostal-Catholic relations during that era. Another book by Milton Berle, Laughingly Yours, which had autobiographical content that was published in 1939 while McPherson was still alive, did not have this claim.
Author Raymond L. Cox states: "Mrs. McPherson's daughter, Roberta Salter of New York, told me, 'Mother never had an apartment in her life.' By 1931, she kept herself securely chaperoned to guard against such allegations." During 1930, the evangelist's appearances and whereabouts can be traced almost every day. She was incapacitated with illness a full five months of that year, and there is no place on her schedule as reported in her publications and church and travel records for the benefit Berle alleged. Besides, Roberta also told Cox, "Mother never did a benefit in her life. She had her own charities".
Following her heyday in the 1920s, McPherson carried on with her ministry, but fell out of favor with the press. They once dubbed her the "miracle worker" or "miracle woman", reporting extensively on her faith-healing demonstrations, but now were anxious to relay every disturbance in her household to the headlines. Her developing difficulties with her mother, Mildred Kennedy, were starting to take the front page. Yet, McPherson emerged from the kidnapping nationally famous. As much as 10% of the population in Los Angeles held membership in her Temple. For a time, movie studios competed with each other offering McPherson long-term contracts.
Believing that talking pictures had the potential to transform Christianity, McPherson explored Hollywood culture and appeared in newsreels alongside other famous individuals such as Mary Pickford, Frances Perkins, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. She lost weight, cut and dyed her hair, began to wear makeup and jewelry, and became stylish and well-attired, leading one critic to determine that McPherson "can out-dress the Hollywood stars". The solicitation of fame, justified to draw audiences to her and hence to Christ, was more than some in her church organization could accept. They yearned for Sister Aimee "in the old time dress," referring to her previous "trademarked" uniform of a navy cape over a white servant's dress, both purchased inexpensively in bargain basements. Other members, though, loved it, and her Angelus Temple services were as popular as ever and remained so throughout her life. Unless parishioners arrived at a service early, frequently they could not get in; all seats were taken. Now that she could afford it, McPherson thought, as well, she wanted her apparel and display to be the best she could present to Jesus.
In early 1927, McPherson immediately set out on a "vindication tour", visiting various cities and taking advantage of the publicity her kidnapping story created to preach the Gospel. Her visit to New York in fox-furs and a finely trimmed yellow suit was noted in the society pages. She even visited nightclubs, including a famous speakeasy in New York: Texas Guinan's Three Hundred Club on 54th Street. While McPherson sipped water at her table, Guinan asked if she would speak a few words to the patrons. Delighted, McPherson stood and addressed the jazzed and boozy crowd:
Behind all these beautiful clothes, behind these good times, in the midst of your lovely buildings and shops and pleasures, there is another life. There is something on the other side. "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" With all your getting and playing and good times, do not forget you have a Lord. Take Him into your hearts.
The unexpected speech that did not judge, and had a conciliatory tone between them and the Divine, earned a thoughtful moment of silence from the crowd, then an applause that went on for much longer than the speech took. The revelers were invited to hear her preach at the Glad Tidings Tabernacle on 33rd Street. The visits to speakeasies and nightclubs added to McPherson's notoriety; newspapers reported heavily on them, rumors erroneously conveyed she was drinking, smoking and dancing; and her mother along with some other church members, did not understand McPherson's strategy of tearing down barriers between the secular and religious world, between the sinner and the saved.
In the summer of 1927, Mildred Kennedy, McPherson's mother, left the Angelus Temple. In an attempt to curtail her daughter's influence and officially transfer more power to herself, Kennedy initiated a staff-member "vote of confidence" against McPherson, but lost. The two had heatedly argued over management policies and McPherson's changing personal dress and appearance. For similar reasons, 300 members of the choir left, as well. The choir could be replaced; however, Kennedy's financial and administrative skills had been of crucial importance in growing McPherson's ministry from tent revivals to satellite churches and maintaining its current activities in the Temple. A series of less able management staff replaced Kennedy, and the Temple became involved in various questionable projects such as hotel building, cemetery plots, and land sales. Accordingly, the Angelus Temple plummeted deep into debt. In response to the difficulties, Kennedy came back in late 1929, but because of continued serious disagreements with McPherson, tendered her resignation on July 29, 1930. The following month, McPherson suffered a physical and nervous breakdown. For 10 months, she was absent from the pulpit, diagnosed, in part, with acute acidosis.
When she gained strength and returned, she introduced with renewed vigor her moving "Attar of Roses" sermon, based on the Song of Solomon, with its Rose of Sharon as the mystical Body of Christ. While journalists attending her Sunday illustrated sermons assumed her language was fit only for slapstick or sentimental entertainment, scholars who have studied her work for Bible students and small prayer groups, found instead the complex discourse of neoplatonic interpretation. For example, she had hundreds of pages written about the Old Testament book, the Song of Solomon, each "different from one another as snowflakes".
The October 10–18, 1931, revival in Boston started out sluggishly and many predicted its failure. A Los Angeles newspaper ran headlines of the flop and expected more of the same in the days to come. On opening night, McPherson spoke to fewer than 5,000 persons in the 22,000-seat sports arena, and safety pins and rubber bands abundantly cluttered the collection baskets. The city had large populations of Unitarians, Episcopalians, and Catholics, venerable denominations traditionally hostile to a Pentecostal or fundamentalist message. Afterwards, from her hotel room, McPherson, known to be a sports fan, asked for the afternoon's World Series scores and a Boston Herald reporter sent her a copy of the Sunday edition. The next day, the "Bring Back the Bible to Boston" campaign's tone shifted as McPherson took greater control and attendance climbed sharply.
A reporter took note of McPherson's stage presence, different from any other evangelist who spoke there, gesturing with her white Bible for effect, as well as preaching. Answering him as to why she presented a dramatic sermon, she stated, "Our God is a dramatic God...rolling back the Red Sea...Elijah on the mountaintop...the crucifixion, the resurrection, His ascension,... tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost." The final day of afternoon and evening services had 40,000 persons attending, the stadium was full, and more than 5,000 had to be turned away. A total of 160,000 people attended the meetings, breaking historic attendance records of any nine days of revival services in Boston.
Her revival in New York City was not very fruitful, as her sensationalistic reputation preceded her. The third marriage to David Hutton, rumored romances, and her kidnapping was what its press and citizens wanted to hear about. Therefore, after a brief pause in New York and Washington, D.C., she went on to Philadelphia and other cities, traveling to 46 of them in 21 states, speaking to as much as 2% of the entire population of the United States. A full crew of musicians, scene designers, and costumers accompanied McPherson. In this, her last national revival tour, between September 1933 and December 20, 1934, two million persons heard 336 sermons. Many more were reached by 45 radio stations.
The Boston Evening Traveler newspaper reported:
Aimee's religion is a religion of joy. There is happiness in it. Her voice is easy to listen to. She does not appeal to the brain and try to hammer religion into the heads of her audience. Rather, she appeals to the hearts of her hearers. She radiates friendliness. She creates an atmosphere that is warming. She is persuasive, rather than forceful; gracious and kindly, rather than compelling. Fundamentally she takes the whole Bible literally, from cover to cover.
Nevertheless, she was not a radical literalist. In an informal meeting with some Harvard students, McPherson told them that Genesis allowed great latitude of interpretation, and that neither she nor the Bible insisted the world was created only 6,000 years ago. In another meeting with students, she heard their assertion the teachings of Christ have outlived their usefulness; education, science and cold reasoning were the new saviors of the world. Thus compelled, McPherson decided to travel and look at the world with new eyes. In 1935, McPherson embarked on a worldwide six-month discovery tour to examine the social, religious, and economic climates of many countries. At one point, it was earlier reported she wanted to study the women's movement in connection with the campaign for the independence of India, and was anxious to have "a chat with Mahatma Gandhi". She received an invitation from him and he gave her a sari made from threads woven from his simple spinning wheel. Impressed with Gandhi and his ideas, McPherson thought he might secretly lean towards Christianity, his dedication possibly coming from catching "a glimpse of the cleansing, lifting, strengthening power of the Nazarene".
Other highlights included traversing barefoot, in Myanmar, the lengthy stone path to the Great Pagoda, a gold-covered 325-ft tiered tower enshrining relics of four Buddhas, which caught and reflected the rays of the sun, a "vision of breath-taking glory." She heard Benito Mussolini speak in Italy, and fretted war would again ensue. In the rain, at Verdun, France, she sat on a wrecked military vehicle in mournful contemplation of the hundreds of thousands who died on the still-uncleared battlefield. White, bleached bones of the fallen poked out of the earth, and nearby, laborers toiled carefully at their dangerous iron harvest, collecting old munitions for disposal.
In mid-1936, a delegation who had been involved with the 1906 Azusa Street Mission Revivals, including Emma Cotton, asked if they could use the Angelus Temple for their 30th Anniversary Celebration. The original mission building was demolished and its land unavailable. African American Evangelist Emma Cotton and McPherson therefore organized a series of meetings which also marked her enthusiastic reidentification with the Pentecostal movement. McPherson's experiments of Hollywood celebrity ambitions coexisting with her ministry were not as successful as she hoped. Alliances with other church groups were failing or no longer in effect, and she searched for ways to start again. Therefore, she looked to her spiritual origins and allowed for the possibility of reintroducing even the more alarming aspects of the Pentecostal experience into her public meetings. Temple officials were concerned the Azusa people might bring in some "wildfire and Holy Rollerism". McPherson indicated she would turn hand springs with them as needed to see the power of God manifest.
The Azusa Street Revival commemoration events brought numbers of black leaders to her pulpit. The original attendees of the Azusa revivals filled the Angelus Temple along with every ethnic minority, "the saints who were once smelted together with the fires of Pentecost" were "being reunited, rewelded, and rejuvenated." McPherson recommitted herself to the dissemination of "classic Pentecostalism", and her concern now was that Foursquaredom was in danger of becoming too "churchy". For the first time since the Temple opened, McPherson began to publicly deliver some of her messages in tongues. McPherson traversed the line between cold formality and wildfire and now decided "it was easier to cool down a hot fanatic than to resuscitate a corpse." Future meetings to celebrate the Azusa Street Revivals included guest Charles H. Mason, a founder of the Churches of God in Christ. Mason, an Azusa leader, was also one of the most significant African American religious figures in United States history and was frequently hosted at the Angelus Temple.
Also in 1936, McPherson reassigned staff responsibilities in an effort to address the Temple's financial difficulties. This, together with other unresolved issues, accelerated simmering tensions among various staff members. Rumors circulated that "Angel of Broadway", charismatic evangelist Rheba Crawford Splivalo, who had been working extensively with McPherson for several years, planned to take the Angelus Temple from her. McPherson asked Splivalo to "leave town". In the course of the staff controversy, McPherson's lawyer issued a strongly worded press release that upset Roberta Star Semple, McPherson's daughter, and led her to initiate a $150,000 lawsuit against him for slander. Splivalo also sued McPherson for $1,080,000 because of alleged statements calling her a Jezebel and a Judas and "unfit to stand in the Angelus Temple pulpit".
The two lawsuits filed by Semple and Splivalo were not related, but McPherson did not see it that way. She saw both as part of the Temple takeover plot. McPherson's mother was also involved and sided with Semple, her granddaughter, making unflattering statements about McPherson to the press. In these charged circumstances, McPherson's defense of herself and her lawyer in a public trial was dramatic and theatrical. She testified tearfully with swoons and faints about how her daughter conspired with others against her. Her daughter's lawyer, meanwhile, mocked McPherson by imitating her mannerisms and making faces at her. The trial did much to estrange McPherson from her daughter. The judge ruled for Semple, giving a $2,000 judgment in her favor. Semple then moved to New York. Splivalo and the Temple settled their suit out of court for the "cause of religion and the good of the community."
With Kennedy, Semple, and Splivalo gone, the Temple lost much of its talented leadership. However, McPherson found a competent and firm administrator in Giles Knight, who was able to bring the Temple out of debt, dispose of the 40 or so lawsuits, and eliminate the more spurious projects. He sequestered McPherson, allowed her to receive only a few personal visitors, and carefully regulated her activities outside the Temple. This period was one of unprecedented creativity for McPherson. No longer distracted by waves of reporters, reams of lawsuits, and innumerable individuals demanding her attention, she became very accomplished in her illustrative sermon style of Gospel preaching. The irreligious Charlie Chaplin would secretly attend her services, enjoying her sermons. She later met and consulted with Chaplin on ways to improve her presentations. McPherson, who earlier blared across newspaper headlines as many as three times a week, in one alleged scandal or another, had her public image much improved. Her adversary, Reverend Robert P. Shuler, who previously attacked her by radio, magazine, pulpit, and pamphlet, proclaimed "Aimee's missionary work was the envy of Methodists". He also expressed his support of her Foursquare Church application admittance into National Association of Evangelicals for United Action in 1943.
Her efforts at making interracial revival a reality at Angelus Temple continued. She welcomed blacks into the congregation and pulpit. While race riots burned Detroit in 1943, McPherson publicly converted the notorious black former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson on the Temple stage and embraced him "as he raised his hand in worship".
Pacifism, which was a component of Pentecostalism, was evaluated by the Foursquare Gospel Church in the 1930s with official statements and documents which were further revised by McPherson. A press quote attributed to McPherson, in reference to Mahatma Gandhi, appears to explore the concept, "I want to incorporate the ideals of India with my own ..." Additionally, Clinton Howard, the chairman of the World Peace Commission, was invited to speak at the Angelus Temple. In 1932, she promoted disarmament, "If the nations of the world would stop building warships and equipping armies[,] we would be all but overwhelmed with prosperity."
Foursquare leaders, alarmed at rapid changes of technology, especially sea and air, which challenged the United States' isolation and security, decided to officially draw up an amendment inclusive of varied opinions in regards to military service. The idea that one could trust to bear arms in a righteous cause, as well as believing the killing of others, even in connection to military service, would endanger their souls; both views were acceptable.
McPherson kept a canny eye on the international events leading up to the Second World War, citing the probability of a much more terrible conflict than the one that passed 20 years earlier. In a sermon, she described a recently conquered country which had the Cross and other religious symbols in their schools removed; in their place was a portrait of a certain man. Instead of prayer, their school day began with a distinctive salute to this person. The destructive apocalypse of John the Apostle, with its expected high civilian casualties, followed by the Second Coming of Christ, it seemed, was at hand. Even if submarines were hiding in the depths of the sea, they could not escape the terror that would befall them.
All-night prayer meetings were held Friday nights at the Angelus Temple, starting in 1940, the year when Germany was overrunning Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. She asked other Foursquare churches around the country to follow suit. She sent President Franklin Roosevelt's secretary, Mr. Stephen Early, as well as some other leaders, an outline of her plans. Prayer, to her, was even more powerful than the implements of war. Various officials expressed their appreciation, including the governor of California. Early passed on a reply back from Roosevelt: a message of thanks for her work. A month later, Roosevelt declared a National Day of Prayer to "beseech the Ruler of the Universe to bless our Republic." Foursquare leaders thought McPherson may have inspired it, and perhaps the President of the United States was looking to her for spiritual leadership of the nation.
At the outbreak of World War II, McPherson rejected the Christian pacifism of many in the Pentecostal movement, including those of her own church. Her mind was set on doing what ever it took to assist the United States in winning the war, "It is the Bible against Mein Kampf. It is the Cross against the Swastika. It is God against the antichrist of Japan...This is no time for pacifism." The Angelus Temple itself became a visible symbol of home front sacrifice for the war effort. If necessary, it was announced, the building could be used for an air raid shelter. The distinctive white dome was painted over with black paint and its beautiful stained-glass windows were covered up. The Temple, like other buildings in the city, had to have any opening or window that could emit visible light at night, covered. One evening in May 1942, to advertise the need to conserve gasoline and rubber, McPherson herself drove a horse and buggy to the Angelus Temple.
Rubber and other drives were organized, and unlimited airtime on her radio station, KFSG, was given to the Office of War Information. She asked parishioners and other listeners to donate two hours a day for such tasks as rolling bandages "so that a soldier's bandage could be changed.... And let us give our blood to help every one." Money was raised to provide local military bases with comfortable furnishings and radios. Newsweek published an article about McPherson, "The World's Greatest Living Minister", on July 19, 1943, noting she had collected 2,800 pints of blood for the Red Cross; servicemen in her audience are especially honored, and the climax of her church services is when she reads the National Anthem.
McPherson gave visiting servicemen autographed Bibles. She observed they often had no religious affiliation and did not even own a Bible. She wrote:
What a privilege it was to invite the servicemen present in every Sunday night meeting to come to the platform, where I greeted them, gave each one a New Testament, and knelt in prayer with them for their spiritual needs, and God's guidance and protection on their lives. Later, when the altar call would be given, many of these same servicemen would make another trip to the platform publicly to receive Jesus Christ as their personal savior.
She insulted Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tōjō, and became involved in war bond rallies. Pershing Square's Victory House in Los Angeles never saw a bigger crowd. McPherson sold $150,000 worth of bonds in one hour on June 20, 1942, breaking all previous records, then repeated the performance again on July 4, 1944. The U.S. Treasury awarded her a special citation. The Army made McPherson an honorary colonel.
Her wartime activities included sermons that linked the church and American patriotism. McPherson spoke to the men in uniform of her belief that military action against the Axis powers was long overdue. And more so than in almost any war previously, she felt that if they did not prevail, churches, homes, and everything precious and dear to the Christian would absolutely be destroyed.
McPherson's embrace of the total war strategy of the United States left her open to some criticism. The line between the church as an independent moral authority monitoring government became blurred, perceived instead, as complicit with that same governance. Wrongs being done to Japanese Americans through their internment in relocation camps were being overlooked, for example. And she refused to allow her denomination to support Christians who remained committed pacifists. Even if conscientious objectors were willing to participate in noncombat roles, more was needed. Church members and leaders had to be willing to take up arms and fight for the United States. The pacifist clause which earlier existed was, by her proposal, voted upon and eliminated by Foursquare Gospel Church leaders.
On September 26, 1944, McPherson went to Oakland, California, for a series of revivals, planning to preach her popular "Story of My Life" sermon. When McPherson's son went to her hotel room at 10:00 the next morning, he found her unconscious with pills and a half-empty bottle of capsules nearby. She was dead by 11:15. It was later discovered she previously called her doctor that morning to complain about feeling ill from the medicine, but he was in surgery and could not be disturbed. She then phoned another doctor who referred her to yet another physician. However, McPherson apparently lost consciousness before the third could be contacted.
The autopsy did not conclusively determine the cause of McPherson's death. She had been taking sleeping pills following numerous health problems – including "tropical fever". Among the pills found in the hotel room was the barbiturate Seconal, a strong sedative which had not been prescribed for her. It was unknown how she obtained them.
The coroner said she most likely died of an accidental overdose compounded by kidney failure. The cause of death is officially listed as unknown. Given the circumstances, there was speculation about suicide, but most sources generally agree the overdose was accidental, as stated in the coroner's report.
Forty-five thousand people waited in long lines, some until 2 am, to file past the evangelist, where, for three days, her body lay in state at the Angelus Temple. Within a mile-and-a-half (800 m) radius of the church, police had to double park cars. It later took 11 trucks to transport the $50,000 worth of flowers to the cemetery which itself received more telegrammed floral orders than at any time since Will Rogers' death almost 10 years earlier. A Foursquare leader noted that to watch the long line pass reverently by her casket, and see tears shed by all types of people, regardless of class and color, helped give understanding to the far-reaching influence of her life and ministry.
An observer, Marcus Bach, who was on a spiritual odyssey of personal discovery, wrote:
Roberta, who had married an orchestra director, flew in from New York. Ma Kennedy was at the grave, Rheba Crawford Splivalo had returned to say that there was never a greater worker for God than Sister. A thousand ministers of the Foursquare Gospel paid their tearful tribute. The curious stood by impressed. The poor who had always been fed at Angelus were there, the lost who had been spirit-filled, the healed, the faithful here they were eager to immortalize the Ontario farm girl who loved the Lord. Here they laid the body of Sister Aimee to rest in the marble sarcophagus guarded by two great angels on Sunrise slope.
Millions of dollars passed through McPherson's hands. However, when her personal estate was calculated, it amounted to $10,000. To her daughter, Roberta, went $2000 the remainder to her son Rolf. By contrast, her mother Mildred Kennedy had a 1927 severance settlement of as much as $200,000 in cash and property; the Foursquare Church itself was worth $2.8 million
McPherson is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Following her death, the Foursquare Gospel church denomination was led for 44 years by her son Rolf McPherson. The church claims a membership of over 7.9 million worldwide.
McPherson's ministry continued to flourish even in the face of scandal. The newspapers which served to propel McPherson to fame and advertise her message, also were used to highlight her faults, real and imagined. Some modern televangelists who transgressed and faded into obscurity because of high-profile news coverage, also learned how quickly modern communication media could hurt as well as help them. After her death, the largely negative aspect of her media image persisted, was cultivated and became the dominant factor in defining McPherson for many in the public today.
Reverend Robert P. Shuler, whose caustic view of McPherson softened over the years, wrote he could not figure out why God chose such a person. The flaws he observed in McPherson, were by his opinion, many, yet she ultimately made a positive impact on Christianity, long lasting and enduring. He recognized her appeal was a combination of identifying with the average citizen as well as an ability to explain the gospel in simple, easily understandable terms, drawing them irresistibly to her services:
...while great cathedral churches closed their doors on Sunday night, the crowds pushed through her portals in one ever-flowing stream.
He saw her legacy extend far beyond the glamor of Hollywood, exerting itself through the thousands of ministers she trained and churches planted throughout the world. McPherson, together with the alliances she made, worked to reshape the evangelical Christian faith, making it relevant to American culture and personally involving for those in the audience.
In Fresno, California, 1921, nine-year-old Uldine Utley (1912–1995) soon became a Christian revivalist after hearing McPherson's dramatic retelling of the David and Goliath story. With her parents as managers, using the same metaphors as McPherson, referring to Christ as "the Rose of Sharon" and invoking "Bride of Christ" imagery, she went on to preach to millions of people, the most notable of whom was John Sung, a Chinese scientist who attended one of Utley's meetings and became so inspired that he went back to China, an early mission field for McPherson, and introduced millions to the Christian message. Sung became alternately known as the "Billy Graham" or the "John Wesley" of China.
During the Great Depression years, as a child, Dr. Edwin Louis Cole's mother attended LIFE Bible College and as he grew up, Cole participated in various Angelus Temple activities "witnessing the miraculous." Cole went on to found the Christian Men's Network and influenced many, including Bill McCartney (founder of Promise Keepers), Pat Robertson, John Maxwell (president of Injoy Ministries), Kenneth Copeland, Oliver North, and Chuck Norris.
According to biographer Matthew Avery Sutton, in the early 1900s, it was expected that traditional Protestantism would give way to rapidly developing new philosophical ideas and sciences that were being widely taught. McPherson contributed immensely to the forestalling of that predicted inevitability. Liberal Christianity, which enjoyed strong growth starting in the late 19th century, regarded many of the miracles of Jesus to be superstitious interpretations of what actually occurred or metaphors for his teachings. McPherson's faith-healing demonstrations instead gave credence to onlookers that her claim was true: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This Bible verse of Hebrews 13:8; as biographer Daniel Mark Epstein noted as per McPherson, meant Jesus still had power and could heal as in ancient times, and the verse become the motto of her Foursquare Gospel Church. Sutton wrote that it was easy for many people to deny a God who did something 1,900 years ago, but large crowds of people were now witness to the blind seeing, the lame walking, and the deaf hearing. Healings at her services, according to Epstein from period news sources, were occurring faster than the journalists could write them down. Crowds clamored to reach her altar to experience a New Testament conversion that transformed many of their lives. Even large portions of the secular public admired her. The old time Gospel message was being dramatically marketed by the most technologically advanced means possible, reconstructing it into something far more interesting and desirable than it was previously.
McPherson's ecumenical approach assisted Pentecostals in learning how better to explain their faith in the context of historic church doctrine. Mainline churches became exposed to the more unusual gifts of the Holy Spirit. They also benefited by borrowing Pentecostal revival techniques such as more emotive expression, joyful praise worship, and testimonials, forerunning the Charismatic Movement.
McPherson challenged what was expected from women. Females as preachers and her status as a divorcee with two failed marriages were of particular concern to many of the fundamentalist churches with which she wanted to work, but her success could not be easily ignored. Meanwhile, secular society broadly labeled women as either Victorian ladies or whores, and she bounced from one category to the other. She had her extensive relief charities and along with it, titillating scandals. Atheist Charles Lee Smith remarked publicly of McPherson, just before a debate, that she had an extraordinary mind, "particularly for a woman".
Her continual work at church alliance-building finally bore fruit in an official way, though she did not live to see it. Foursquare Gospel Church leaders were at last able to join the National Association of Evangelicals in 1952 and from there helped organize the Pentecostal World Fellowship, which exists to the present day. Pentecostalism which once advocated separatism and was on the fringes of Protestantism, became part of mainstream Christianity.
Popular poet Ogden Nash wrote the following light verse:
Said Aimee McPherson to Barbara Hutton,
"How do you get a marriage to button?"
"You'll have to ask some other person."
Said Barbara Hutton to Aimee McPherson
Those of the nobility and gentry and middle classes who reflected upon the matter appeared to feel that the Holy Bible still offers a sufficient choice of Gospels. But of course the London mob, the lower classes, rushed to attend the evangelistic First Night of Aimee Semple McPherson
Aimee Semple McPherson founded Angelus Temple in the early 1920s, when her brand of fundamentalist Christianity, stressing the "born-again" experience, divine healing and evangelism, was popular in the United States. She died on September 27, 1944, of shock and respiratory failure attributed to an overdose of sleeping pills.
Aimee Semple McPherson, famous evangelist who occupied the headlines almost as often as the pulpit, died of shock and respiratory failure "from an accidental over-dosage" of sleeping capsules, a coroner's jury decided today.
Angelo Traina (January 22, 1889 - November 4, 1971), also known as A. B. Traina, was a Biblical scholar, best known for his emphasis on restoring "Semitic proper names to their Aramaic and Hebrew forms".
Traina was born in Sicily, into a Catholic family. They later moved to New York City, where he left home at the age of 13, ending up in Buffalo. Part of a group of drinking and gambling youths, he was part of a conspiracy to disrupt a revival meeting, but instead converted, joining a Protestant church. He later worked for Aimee Semple McPherson.
His Biblical studies resulted in his translating The Sacred Name New Testament (1950), with C. O. Dodd, the first example of a sacred name Bible. He went on to translate the Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures also, in The Holy Name Bible containing the Holy Name Version of the Old and New Testaments (1963). A fifth edition was published in 1989 by the Scripture Research Association, based in New Jersey.
He also wrote many pamphlets and articles, many of which were published in the magazine The Faith. Traina was one of the early figures in the Sacred Name Movement, having been a featured speaker at the 1938 Feast of Tabernacles Camp Meeting near Warrior, Alabama, an event which is seen by some as the launching of the movement.Angelus Temple
Angelus Temple is a Pentecostal megachurch of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles, California, United States. The senior pastor is Matthew Barnett. The attendance is 8,975 persons.As Thousands Cheer
As Thousands Cheer is a revue with a book by Moss Hart and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, first performed in 1933. The revue contained satirical sketches and witty or poignant musical numbers, several of which became standards, including "Heat Wave", "Easter Parade" and "Harlem on my Mind". The sketches were loosely based on the news and the lives and affairs of the rich and famous, and other people of the day, such as Joan Crawford, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Noël Coward, Josephine Baker, and Aimee Semple McPherson.Betsy Struxness
Betsy Struxness is an American actress, singer, and dancer known for her work on the Broadway stage of "Hamilton".
Struxness received her BFA in dance from Juilliard School, before moving to New York.After touring with the musical Oklahoma! and appearing in the ensemble of the tour of All Shook Up, Struxness appeared in the Ensemble of the Chicago production of the musical Wicked. She was soon transferred to the San Francisco production and then to Broadway. Following her gig in Wicked she played the Double Dutch Girl in the Broadway musical Memphis, understudying the role of Mama. She also appeared on The Onion News Network in 2011 as an Applebees customer.
Following this work, Struxness originated the roles of Angel of Mercy and Townsperson in the Broadway musical Leap of Faith in 2012, understudying the role of Sam. The production closed quickly, and later that same year she returned to Broadway in the ensemble of the new musical Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson. In 2013, she appeared in the ensemble in the original Broadway cast of Matilda, understudying the role of Mrs. Wormwood.In 2014, after making a guest appearance on Louie as the character Sunshine, Struxness left Matilda and began working in the ensemble of the musical Hamilton. The show ran off-Broadway for five months in 2015, before transferring to Broadway. After several months in the production, she also became an understudy for the role of Angelica Schuyler. In 2016, she appeared on the TV series Broad City as a yoga teacher.Struxness is also a professional photographer.East Hill Church
East Hill Church is an evangelical Christian megachurch located in Gresham, Oregon, situated in East Multnomah County, affiliated with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The church was chartered in 1938 by Aimee Semple McPherson. Weekly church attendance averages around 4,000, currently making it the largest church in the city.Former active duty Marine Jason Albelo is the church's current senior pastor.
The East Hill Church Family hosts service at 9:15 and 11:15 in the mornings on Sundays. They have services for toddlers, grade schoolers, jr. high, and high school students.
The church also allows for former students to come back as volunteers for other kids once they take a security check and complete a small training activity.Emma Cotton
Emma Cotton (1877 – December 27, 1952) was a famous evangelist and preacher born of Creole descent in the U.S. state of Louisiana. She first appeared in history in 1906 during the Azusa Street Revival. She was the founder of the Azusa Temple as well as other Pentecostal churches across the United States. Cotton's preaching and involvement in the Pentecostal circuit, as well as her friendship with famous evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson, paved the way for women in church leadership in the 1900s.Faith healing ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson
Aimee Semple McPherson was widely known for her work in faith healing ministries. This work, especially during her early revival meetings, helped catapult her career. Tremendous amounts of documentation attest to sick people coming to her by the tens of thousands. Many were healed temporarily, others for the rest of their lives. She would take no credit for the results and always insisted Christ the Great Healer was responsible. Biographer Daniel Mark Epstein writes:
The healings present a monstrous obstacle to scientific historiography. If events transpired as newspapers, letters, and testimonials say they did, then Aimee Semple McPherson's healing ministry was miraculous.... The documentation is overwhelming: very sick people came to Sister Aimee by the tens of thousands, blind, deaf, paralyzed. Many were healed some temporarily, some forever. She would point to heaven, to Christ the Great Healer and take no credit for the results.International Church of the Foursquare Gospel
The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (ICFG), commonly referred to as the Foursquare Church, is an evangelical Pentecostal Christian denomination founded in 1923 by preacher Aimee Semple McPherson. As of 2000, it had a worldwide membership of over 8,000,000, with almost 60,000 churches in 144 countries. The headquarters are in Los Angeles, California, United States.John Robert Stevens
John Robert Stevens (August 7, 1919 – June 4, 1983) founded The Living Word Fellowship in the 1950s and was the movement's leader until his death.
Stevens was born in Story County, Iowa. His parents, Eva Katherine and William J. Stevens, moved the family to California in 1929, during the Great Depression. In Los Angeles they attended the Angelus Temple, founded by Aimee Semple McPherson. In 1933 they returned to Washington, Iowa, where William Stevens founded the Christian Tabernacle church, in which young John Stevens taught children's Bible study and helped his father prepare sermons. John Stevens began preaching on his own in Gladwin, Iowa, in 1935, before his sixteenth birthday, under the auspices of the Four Square Gospel denomination. After his high school graduation in 1937 he also traveled locally and regionally as an evangelist and was ordained in the Assembly of God in September 1937. Stevens was first married in 1939 and had two daughters by this marriage, which ended in divorce.Stevens moved to the Los Angeles area in 1946 and later became pastor of an Assemblies of God church in Lynwood, California. Around 1950 he was dismissed from that position and the Four Square Gospel and Assemblies of God denominations after propounding unorthodox beliefs, which he said were based on divine revelations. In 1951 he established his own church in South Gate, California, and by 1955 he had expanded his ministry into a new movement, initially called the Church of the Living Word and later called The Living Word Fellowship. For the remainder of his life he was the group's spiritual leader, expanding it in the United States and into several other countries.After Stevens' death, his widow, the former Marilyn Holbrook, led the Living Word Fellowship together with Gary Hargrave, who married Marilyn Stevens in 1984. Stevens' writings and recordings of his sermons continue to be disseminated by Living Word Publications, a branch of Living Word Fellowship.Millions Now Living Will Never Die
Millions Now Living Will Never Die is the second studio album by American post-rock band Tortoise. The album was released on January 30, 1996 by Thrill Jockey.
The album's title is a reference to a phrase used in the Jehovah's Witness faith in the 1920s. It is, for instance, the title of an essay by Joseph Franklin Rutherford, who was the second president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. It was also the slogan of the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.By March 1998, the album had sold over 50,000 copies, with 80% as CDs and the remainder as LPs.Mimi Michaels
Mimi Michaels (born February 22, 1983) is an American actress.Reported kidnapping of Aimee Semple McPherson
On May 18, 1926, Christian evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared from Venice Beach, California after going for a swim. She reappeared in Mexico five weeks later, stating she had escaped from kidnappers holding her for ransom there. Her disappearance, reappearance and subsequent court inquiries regarding the allegation that the kidnapping story was a hoax carried out to conceal a tryst with a lover precipitated a media frenzy that changed the course of McPherson's career.Roberta Semple Salter
Roberta Semple Salter (September 17, 1910 – January 25, 2007) was the daughter of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and half-sister to Aimee's other child, Rolf McPherson. Roberta was the original heir to her mother's ministry, which was later taken over by son Rolf.The Disappearance of Aimee
The Disappearance of Aimee is a 1976 American made-for-television biographical drama film directed by Anthony Harvey and starring Faye Dunaway as the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, co-starring Bette Davis, James Sloyan and James Woods. The film originally premiered as a presentation of Hallmark Hall of Fame on NBC on November 17, 1976.The Miracle Woman
The Miracle Woman is a 1931 American pre-Code Christian film directed by Frank Capra and starring Barbara Stanwyck, David Manners, and Sam Hardy. Based on the play Bless You Sister by John Meehan and Robert Riskin, the film is about a preacher's daughter who becomes disillusioned by the mistreatment of her dying father by his church. Having grown cynical about religion, she teams up with a con man and performs fake miracles for profit. The love and trust of a blind man, however, restores her faith in God and her fellow man. The Miracle Woman was the second of five film collaborations between Capra with Stanwyck. Produced and distributed by Columbia Pictures, the film was reportedly inspired by the life of Aimee Semple McPherson.Uldine Utley
Uldine Utley (March 16, 1912 – October 31, 1995) was an American Pentecostal child preacher.Utley was born in Durant, Oklahoma. She was converted in 1921 through the preaching of Aimee Semple McPherson in Fresno, California. Within two years Utley was preaching, and at the age of fourteen she preached to a crowd of 14,000 people at Madison Square Garden.In 1935, she was ordained by the Methodist Episcopal Church. She married Wilbur Eugene Langkop in 1938, but was committed to a mental hospital shortly after her marriage. Utley spent the rest of her life in and out of mental institutions.
Utley was called "the Joan of Arc of the modern religious world".