Aimee Semple McPherson
In the 1920s and 1930s, Aimee Semple McPherson was a powerful voice in the fundie movement. She was one of the first to effectively use radio to reach the masses, and she was one of the first to try to merge church and state.
She started off life with the handicap of a religious upbringing, but she showed early promise by shaking it off at a young age. According to Wikipedia:
Her mother had been orphaned at an early age, and raised by a couple who worked with the Salvation Army. As a result, young Aimee was raised in an atmosphere of strong Christian beliefs. As a teenager, however, she became an avowed agnostic, and began her public speaking career at the age of 13 in this context, writing letters to the newspaper defending evolution and debating local clergy.
Alas, this was but a remission and not a cure. At age 17, she had a relapse:
In December 1907, she met her first husband Robert James Semple, a Pentecostal missionary from Ireland, while attending a revival meeting at the urging of her father. After her conversion and a short courtship, they were married on August 12, 1908.
They then went to China to try to destroy some lives over there. They contracted dysentery, and hubby died. Ah, those were the days! When Christian missionaries had a significant death rate!
She returned to the U.S., and couple of years later met her second husband, Harold Stewart McPherson. She almost died in 1913, which somehow made her think that God wanted her to run around the country annoying people with her preaching. This paragon of Christian values was divorced from hubby #2 in 1921.
In 1922, she got tired of roaming the country as an active predator and decided to settle in Los Angeles as a passive predator. In 1923, she opened Angelus Temple, which eventually became the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Wikipedia says:
As of 2000, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel … had grown to 1844 churches with 218,981 members in the United States. Worldwide membership is over 3.5 million in almost 30,000 churches in 123 countries.
This shows that her stink is strong to this day.
She was known for the showiness of her sermons. This helped her reach people who would otherwise be reluctant to attend a sermon. Wikipedia again:
Her illustrated sermons attracted people from the entertainment industry, looking to see a “show” that rivaled what Hollywood had to offer. These famous stage productions drew people who would never have thought to enter a church, and then presented them with her interpretation of the message of salvation.
She was also a pioneer in radio, not just radio preaching:
She also began broadcasting on radio in its infancy in the early [1920s]. McPherson was the first woman in history to preach a radio sermon, and with the opening of Foursquare Gospel-owned KFSG (now KXOL) on February 6, 1924, she also became the first woman to be granted a broadcast license by the Federal Radio Commission….
She gained notoriety in 1926, when she disappeared for 35 days. She claimed she had been kidnapped, but all of the evidence points to her having run off with a married man for a month-long tryst. Way to set an example, oh Christian leader!
Continuing with her sterling examples of “do as I say, not as I do”, this moral leader remarried.
On September 13, 1931, McPherson married again, this time to an actor and musician, David Hutton. … The marriage also caused an uproar within the church. The tenets of Foursquare Gospel, which were set up by McPherson herself, stated that no one should remarry while their previous spouse was still alive (which Harold McPherson was at the time). McPherson and Hutton separated in 1933, and divorced on March 1, 1934.
She died in 1944 of an (apparently accidental) overdose of barbiturates.
Finally, here’s a profile of her, aired recently on public radio (it’s the second story on the page). It’s worth listening to, because it goes into a little more depth on her attempts to merge church and state.