Who Was Aimee Semple McPherson?

In the early 20th-century, Aimee Semple McPherson was a woman far ahead of her time. Driven, passionate and even controversial, she was the first woman evangelist to build a worldwide following of millions, at a time when women were expected to marry, have children and leave religion and other important pursuits to men. Considered by some to be a charlatan and others to be a saint, Aimee Semple McPherson is still a subject of controversy.
Although she was reared in a Christian home, as a teenager Aimee began to question the Bible. When she was 17 years old she attended a revival service conducted by evangelist Robert Semple. That revival meeting changed her life not only spiritually, but romantically as well. Aimee continued to attend the revival and became personally acquainted with the evangelist. Before long, Robert Semple had won her heart. The two were married within the year and began ministering together in nearby towns.
But two years later while the couple was serving as missionaries in Hong Kong, Robert died from malaria and Aimee was left broke and alone, waiting for the imminent birth of her first child. When her daughter was a month old, Aimee returned to the United States, facing life as a single mother.
Not long after her return, she met and married a Christian businessman, Harold McPherson, and tried to settle down to a “normal” home life. But after a long illness, she made a promise to God preach the gospel, despite her feelings of inadequacy, and began evangelizing with her husband by going into the bars, wrestling arenas, movie houses and brothels to invite lost souls to her tent revivals on the east coast. However, life as traveling evangelists was difficult. Clothes were washed in streams and many nights were spent fighting off mosquitoes, sleeping in train depots, leaky tents, or their car, often with very little to eat. Eventually Harold decided that this was not the life he desired and he left Aimee in the middle of a campaign in Key West, Florida.
Aimee continued on and soon expanded and held revivals in other parts of the country, to surprising success. People gathered in ever-increasing numbers to hear the remarkable lady evangelist. Soon she was forced to rent the largest auditorium in whatever city she was in so that she could accommodate the record number of people who attended. Once, in San Diego, the National Guard had to be brought in to control the crowd of more than 30,000. People often stood in line and waited for several hours so that they could be assured of seats for her revival services.
In 1923 at age 33, she opened the doors of Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. The church held 5,300 people and was filled to capacity at every service. There, she developed an extensive social ministry, feeding more than 1.5 million people during the Great Depression.
Angelus Temple quickly became the spiritual home for thousands and a base for Aimee’s worldwide evangelistic ministry. With Aimee at the helm as its mesmerizing leader, what grew out of an initial desire to have a place from which to send forth the gospel, quickly evolved into a massive mega-church organization.
Aimee presented elaborate illustrated sermons that attracted even those from the entertainment industry, looking to see a “show” that rivaled anything Hollywood had to offer. Her famous stage productions drew people who would never have otherwise thought to enter a church. She believed that the gospel was to be presented at every opportunity, and she used all the means at her disposal to present it to as many people as possible.
In April 1922, Aimee became the first woman to preach a sermon over the radio and in 1924 broadcasts from her own radio station could be heard from Australia to the islands of Cape Verde just off the coast of Africa.
Sister McPherson had one of the most recognizable voices in the world and she was as well-known in the 1920s and 1930s as someone such as Paul McCartney is today. Civic leaders, politicians, actors and actresses, pastors from every denomination, as well as average citizens all attended her services.
On May 18, 1926, the citizens of Los Angeles and her Angelus Temple congregation were stunned to hear the news that Aimee had disappeared while swimming near Venice Beach. Members of her congregation went to the waters where she disappeared. No trace of her body was found. The local police investigated hundreds of leads – including a ransom note signed by “The Avengers,” which demanded half a million dollars for her safe return.
Thirty-two days later, Aimee was found walking out of the desert near Douglas, Arizona. She told how she had been kidnapped, tortured, drugged and held for ransom in a shack somewhere across the Mexican border. Only after her kidnappers became careless did she manage to escape and walk for over 13 hours back to civilization. Some noted at the time in what good condition Aimee was as were her clothes for having been held captive for a month and then walking 13 hours through a desert.
While she had gone missing, rumors of sightings came in to newspapers all across the country. She was reportedly seen in sixteen cities on the same day! When it was learned that an employee of the Angelus Temple radio station, who had left his job the previous December, was in Carmel during the month of May the media immediately began writing articles insinuating that Aimee faked her kidnapping in order to have an affair with him. Witnesses at the time claimed they had seen a woman matching Aimee’s description at a cottage rented by the radio station employee.
A media circus erupted and soon Aimee found the district attorney working hard to try her on charges such as “conspiracy to commit acts injurious to public morals.” During the preliminary hearings, the witnesses that the DA brought forth were either found to be untrustworthy or had their testimony soundly refuted. The charges that she had been in Carmel having an affair were also proven to be false when the two parties involved in the affair actually confessed to the judge. With the Carmel episode resolved and the rest of the witnesses’ testimonies refuted, in January of 1927 the DA ceased his efforts to try Aimee as a criminal, acknowledging that he did not have even one witness who could testify against her. During the entire episode and the ensuing years Aimee continued to minister in Angelus Temple.
In 1931 she met David Hutton and she knew she was going to like him. Eventually love came to the surface and he proposed. Since she was no longer bound to her prior husband who had divorced her and remarried years earlier, she said “Yes.” On the night of their wedding a newspaperman informed them that David was being sued by another woman whom he had promised to marry! In July 1932 David was found guilty and was ordered to pay $5,000. He eventually left Aimee and filed for divorce.
Though her heart was broken and human love had failed her, the love of God had not and God continued blessing her ministry and working through her.
While ministering in Mexico in 1943 she contracted a bacillus that began eroding the walls of her intestinal tract. When the tube running to her kidneys ruptured on September 27, 1944, the medication in some sleeping pills she had taken went directly into her system and Aimee Semple McPherson passed away.
Aimee Semple McPherson is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. Angelus Temple, along with the Dream Center, is still thriving, caring for more than 30,000 people each week in Los Angeles. The Foursquare denomination she founded has more than eight million members and adherants and has churches in more than 140 countries.
ABOUT THE FOURSQUARE FOUNDATION: The Foursquare Foundation exists to accelerate worldwide interdenominational evangelism. Its mission is to resource fruitful evangelism which reaches and disciples people in all regions of the world to be followers of Jesus Christ.

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