AIMEE SEMPLE MCPHERSON
Another very influential Pentecostal evangelist and faith healer was AIMEE SEMPLE MCPHERSON (1890-1944), founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements calls her "the most prominent woman leader Pentecostalism has produced to date."
She was married three times and divorced twice. Her first husband, Robert Semple, died in China in 1910, where the young couple had gone as missionaries. In 1911 she married Harold Stewart McPherson. He complained about her hysterical behavior and her neglect of him, and in 1921 the marriage ended in divorce (Eve Simson, The Faith Healer, p. 36). Aimee had left Harold to attend to her preaching. Interestingly, Aimee's associate pastor, Rheba Crawford, also left her husband to preach, and Rheba's husband also divorced her.
In May 1926, McPherson disappeared and was thought to have been drowned while swimming off the California coast. A month later she turned up in Mexico, claiming to have been kidnapped, but the evidence led most people to believe that she had an affair with a former employee, Kenneth Ormiston, who was married at the time. The two had been seen together earlier in the year during Aimee McPherson's trip to Europe. At the same time Aimee sailed for Europe, Ormiston disappeared from his job, and his wife, Ruth, registered a missing-person report at police headquarters. She told police a certain prominent woman was responsible for her husband's disappearance (Lately Thomas, The Vanishing Evangelist, p. 29). They had also been seen together checking into the same hotels at various times in California, after her return from Europe, prior to the alleged kidnapping. Though McPherson claimed to have wandered for 14 hours across roughly 20 miles of cruel desert covered with mesquite, cactus, and catclaw to escape her captors, when she was found she showed no sign of having been through such an ordeal. Her shoes were not scuffed or worn; there were grass stains on the insteps (there was no grass in the desert through which she claims to have wandered); she was not dehydrated or sunburned; her lips were not parched, cracked, or swollen; her tongue was not swollen; her color was normal; her dress was not torn and bore no dust or perspiration stains. The dress collar and cuffs, though white in color, were barely soiled. Further, she was wearing a watch her mother had given her--a watch she had not taken with her to the beach! (Epstein, Sister Aimee, p. 299; Thomas, The Vanishing Evangelist, p. 59,66,78). Aimee told reporters that her ankles were bruised and torn by ropes from her captivity, but there had been no sign of such injuries when she was examined. An exhaustive search was made to find the adobe shack with a wooden floor where she claimed she had been held captive and which she described in detail to the authorities, but no such shack was found in a 46-square-mile area. Experienced desert men and trackers (one had ridden that country as a cowboy for 37 years, another for 20), who attempted to find her attackers, traced her footsteps, and they found where she apparently had gotten out of an automobile on a road not far from where she was found. The senior tracker testified that he examined every foot of the ground over which she had claimed to have walked and that her tracks had been found nowhere. As for the shack, he said: "I do not know of an adobe house such as the one described by Mrs. McPherson within a hundred and fifty miles of Agua Prieta, and I know every house in this vast area" (Lately, The Vanishing Evangelist, p. 84). A grocery receipt signed by McPherson was found in a Carmel, California, cottage where it appears Aimee had met Ormiston during the time she was alleged to have been kidnapped. Several eye-witnesses testified that they saw the two together during that period.
The year after this episode, McPherson rejected the social taboos preached against by Bible-believing churches of that day. She bobbed her hair and started drinking, dancing, and wearing short skirts. In her early years she had preached against such things. Her choir director, Gladwyn Nichols, and the entire 300-member choir resigned because of her lifestyle. He told the press that they left because of "Aimee's surrender to worldliness--her wardrobe of fancy gowns and short skirts, jewelry, furs, her new infatuation with cosmetics and bobbed hair, all specifically condemned by the Scriptures" (Robert Bahr, Least of All Saints, p. 259).
In 1931 the divorced McPherson married the divorced David Hutton. He divorced Aimee in 1934.
McPherson's ministry featured the unscriptural spirit slaying phenomenon. One of her biographies, Least of All Saints by Robert Bahr, contains a photo of McPherson followers lying on the floor after she had laid hands on them and they were allegedly "baptized of the Holy Spirit." There were also cases of "spiritual drunkenness" in her early meetings (Epstein, Sister Aimee, p. 162), though her later ministry was not characterized by such displays.
McPherson taught that healing is guaranteed in the atonement.
She falsely promised to the eager crowds: "Your chains will be shattered, your fetters crushed, your troubles healed, if you only believe--for where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (Epstein, Sister Aimee, p. 221). It is blessedly true, of course, that the Lord is a very present help in time of trouble and that He goes with His children through all their trials, but to promise that in this present life all problems will be removed and all sicknesses healed if one only has enough faith is a deception. McPherson warned that the attitude "if it is His will to heal me, I am willing" brings no results (Epstein, p. 224). In fact, McPherson claimed that physical healing is part of the gospel.
The "foursquare" gospel she promoted was Jesus Christ as Savior, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, Healer, and Coming King. She claimed that she had obtained this gospel through a vision in 1922, in which God showed her that the Gospel was for body and soul and spirit. It was the same "foursquare gospel" being preached by the Elim Foursquare Gospel Association in Ireland (McPherson had worked with Elim's founder, George Jeffrys), the Assemblies of God in the United States, and other Pentecostal groups. The "full" Gospel, though, is simply the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
Aimee McPherson promised that physical healing is available to those who have complete faith. In spite of this, most who came to her meetings in search of healing left disappointed. To go through McPherson's healing line required that one obtain a card, and these were normally limited to 75 people.
The following sad case of a little girl who attended a McPherson revival crusade illustrates the plight of those who are duped by this false teaching:
"A little girl wore a pair of glasses one-half of which was entirely black. I gathered that she was totally blind in one eye and almost blind in the other. I sat upon the stage very close to the whole procedure. While prayer was being made for her, the little girl, who appeared to be about 11 years of age, wept and sobbed and writhed in her eagerness to secure the help that she had been led to expect. She left the platform and public claim was made by one of the workers that she had been healed, and the little girl verified the claim by a nod of the head given in reply to the question of the workers. An hour later, when the meeting was out, I noticed a small cluster of women near the platform. I thought I saw the blind little girl in their midst, so I asked my wife to go over and investigate and talk to her if necessary. She found the erstwhile 'cured' girl flat on her face on the floor, sobbing, with shattered hopes and a breaking heart. Her disappointment was complete, and so was her disillusionment. The improved sight that she seemed to have had in the midst of the excitement on the platform had disappeared, and with it the hope of the little girl" (Arno Clemens Gaebelein, The Healing Question, New York: Our Hope Publications, 1925, p. 93).
Though there were some notable healings documented under McPherson's ministry, one of McPherson's biographers, Daniel Epstein (though extremely sympathetic to her), admitted that those healed were "mostly diseases of the immune system, or attributed to hysteria." He said: "Sister Aimee is not credited with raising anyone from the dead, correcting a harelip or cleft palate, or restoring a missing limb, digit, or internal organ" (Epstein, Sister Aimee, New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1993, p. 112).
McPherson preached an unscriptural positive-only message which predated the New Evangelical approach by many decades. Consider the following descriptions of her message by her biographer:
"Anticipating the 'creation theology' of Matthew Fox by sixty years, Aimee would stress grace above original sin, with the bait of love she would go 'fishing for whales.' Her preaching was anecdotal and affectionate, never threatening" (Epstein, p. 118).
"And she took the opportunity to condemn the method of Billy Sunday, the teetotaler who yelled at sinners and threatened them with damnation and hellfire. 'Let us lead them by kindness and sympathy,' Aimee advised" (Epstein, pp. 221,222).
"Aimee built her career by replacing the 'Gospel of Fear, Hellfire, and Damnation' with the 'Gospel of Reconciliation and Love'" (Epstein, p. 283).
McPherson's mother, Mildred (Minnie) Kennedy, worked as a business associate in her daughter's successful evangelistic empire. In fact, they owned the Angelus Temple outright, in a fifty-fifty partnership. They frequently got into terrific fights. In 1927 Aimee had her mother fired from the positions she had long held in her Foursquare church. Mildred returned for a brief time to help during a massive financial crisis created by Aimee's unwise investments, but in 1929 Mildred left her daughter Aimee's ministry permanently "after receiving a broken nose during an explosive argument" (Robert Bahr, Least of All Saints, p. 296). In 1937 Mildred sided with her granddaughter, Roberta, in a highly publicized lawsuit against Aimee's lawyer. The widowed Mildred Kennedy wed in 1931, but the marriage was annulled when it was learned that the man was already married. Later that same year the man obtained a quickie divorce in Las Vegas, Mildred met him there and they were remarried. The strange marriage lasted less than a year. When Aimee McPherson died of a drug overdose in 1944, she left her mother ten dollars with the stipulation that if Mildred contested it she would get nothing (Bahr, p. 282).