Tag Archives: aimee semple mcpherson

Aimee Semple McPherson (on Prohibition)

Radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). A modern day Deborah? Or a sensational character leading evangelicalism into the tragic morass of contemporary feminism?
(Photo credit: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

“Sister Aimee” Semple McPherson was the most famous female evangelist of the early 20th century. In an age when many Christians believed then (just as many still do) that women were not to be preachers, Sister Aimee broke all of the rules, becoming a founder of a leading Pentecostal movement, the International Church of the Four Square Gospel, and one of America’s best known and celebrated radio evangelists. Here is Sister Aimee speaking about prohibition:

She was not simply a leading church figure, she was a public celebrity, with a broad-based appeal. Take a look at this 90-second video news report of Sister Aimee returning to Los Angeles, from a preaching tour.

But according to historian Timothy Gloege, the author of Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism, Sister Aimee’s use of theatrics and elaborate props and costumes had overshadowed the more “respectable evangelicalism” headquarters on the West Coast, at the nearby Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA). Sister Aimee’s pomp and flair embarrassed the more reserved, yet still determinedly evangelistic disposition of those Christians, who found the vaudevillian drama of Sister Aimee’s style rather off-putting.

Sister Aimiee had become a symbol of what a certain strand of evangelicalism was becoming. She was a bolster to an emerging egalitarianism, affirming the validity of women serving in top positions of Christian leadership, a movement having its roots in the Holiness and Pentecostal traditions, of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But her ministry reputation was deeply tarnished due to a serious scandal. In May, 1926, Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared, while taking a walk near a California beach. After she had gone missing for five weeks, she reappeared in an Arizona hospital. Sister Aimee claimed that she had been kidnapped and taken to Mexico, where she was able to escape from her captors, and made her way by foot to the Arizona border, where she collapsed and became hospitalized.

Her most loyal supporters believed her story, but others were more cynical, believing that she had been having an affair with a married man. The folk song writer, Pete Seeger, takes the more cynical view in his “The Ballad of Aimee McPherson” (WARNING: SOME CONTENT MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR SOME AUDIENCES).

Regardless of the controversy, the story of Aimee Semple McPherson continues to fascinate to this day.

Read these other Veracity posts for more on Sister’s Aimee’s contribution to the egalitarian movement, and lingering questions about her personal reputation.

Aimee Semple McPherson: Disappearing Woman Evangelist

As a follow-up piece to the previous post (please be sure to read it first), I thought I would link to some resources regarding Aimee Semple McPherson, for those who want to learn more.

Sister Aimee was perhaps the most popular American evangelist between World War One and World War Two. She was a mother, an ardent anti-evolutionist, a persistent advocate for a vision of a “Christian America,” a faith healer, and one of the leading supporters of the contemporary revival of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, bringing a marginalized (and still contentious ) Pentecostalism into the very mainstream of American culture. She was also an extreme controversialist in her time: a divorcee who nevertheless pursued full-time Christian ministry and brought sensational headlines during her “infamous” disappearance off the coast of Los Angeles in 1926. Did she run off to have an affair with a married man, or was she kidnapped?

To the point of the last post, she was a female preacher. Was Sister Aimee using her public speaking gifts and following her God-given calling? Or was she in rebellion against the Word of God, failing to heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition for women not “to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man” (1 Timothy 2:11-12 KJV)? Did biblical doctrine take a back seat to some degree to her experience, or was she following in the footsteps of the prophetess and judge, Deborah? I find Sister Aimee’s legacy to be a mixed bag, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Christian History magazine has a nice write-up on her. The PBS program American Experience did a film about her life. The following YouTube video includes the PBS program, followed by one of her recorded radio sermons.

%d bloggers like this: