Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sister Aimee

Thursday's class will involve extensive discussion and analysis of one of the most important female evangelists in American religious history, Aimee Semple McPherson.

Of the books written about her, one of the most important and most recent is Matthew Avery Sutton's Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America. The book uses the life of Sister Aimee to better understand the politics of early twentieth century America, which it does masterfully. In it we see a complicated and complex woman of deep religious conviction, and a curious preacher concerned with communicating her message in relevant ways.
The PBS documentary on Sister Aimee we viewed clips of in class drew extensively from Dr. Sutton's book, and you can find a link to that here. Read the eyewitness accounts from Sister Aimee's church, Angelus Temple. I've actually taken a tour there with a religious history seminar I took 4 years ago, and it is an amazing building and apparently still a vibrant church.

You can Listen to Sister Aimee's sermons to hear how she presented her message, and you can view some photos here and here. Here's another interesting on-line photo exhibit. And there's even a movie about Sister Aimee, and she has also been the subject of plays and cast as movie characters. Two other sites worth checking out are here and here. You might also listen to this interesting interview with Matthew Avery Sutton.

Your assignment: Watch clips from the documentary posted below. View the first 20 minutes (it focuses closely on her time in California), and then from about 50:00 to 55:00 (you will her actual audio from Sister Aimee's teaching). Click here to view the documentary clips if the video doesn't work below.

Using information about Sister Aimee from our class discussion, as well as what you gleaned from the PBS documentary and Dr. Sutton's article, answer the following questions. Leave your answer in the comments: In what ways was Sister Aimee a woman of her times in early 20th century America? How does her work, preaching, and style of presentation compare to that of George Whitefield, or other ministers or religious celebrities we've discussed in class? Why?


Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee preached at a time in America when it was not popular for a woman to do so. It was practically unheard of to be a female preacher during 20th century America. The Pentecostal religion basically prohibited this, but she was a strong woman who followed her calling from God to spread the gospel. Her style of preaching is similar to George Whitefield and others during the 18th century. She enjoyed the celebrity status, and brought thousands of people to Christ. She traveled extensively (from Canada to Key West and beyond), and held camp meetings anywhere - no matter the time, place or weather. Her preaching was flamboyant and theatrical.

My question for Dr. Sutton:

If Sister Aimee Semple McPherson could see America as it is today, what do you think would be her response?

Corye Sparks

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was also ahead of her time when it came to advertising her messages. She was known use leaflets and signage like no other preacher or ministry of the day. eg. The Gospel Car.
She also brought hollywood into her messege by using the illustrated sermons. She built the first "mega church" and used the radio when it first came out to get her messege out. She clearly wanted to do whatever it took to get her messege out.

My question for Dr. Sutton:
Do you think she was too "hollywood" and/or ever lost sight of who she was because of all the fame she was getting?

Robby Crihfield

Anonymous said...

In the early 20th century American Women were striving to achieve equality and to have the same status and positions as men. In this way Sister Aimee was a woman of her times, she paved her own way in the world as an independent woman, free of her husbands authority. Both Sister Aimee and George Whitefield were very passionate preachers, and both delivered their messages enthusiastically. They both had their own unique alter calls, Whitefield with his "anxious bench", and Sister Aimee with her "sawdust trail". They also both made use of the Revival movements.

My Question for Dr. Sutton:

Why do you think, that at the hight of her popularity as a Pentecostal minister, she tried to separate herself from the elements that signified her as a Pentecost? (i.e. speaking in tounges, etc..)

Aspen Douglas

Anonymous said...

Aimee McPherson was the quintessential woman of the 20th century with big dreams and a desire for big-city life and fame. Without question, she was not only inspired by popular culture, but longed to be a part of it. McPherson contemplated Darwin’s theory of Evolution, as was a popular avenue for people in the 20th century. Thankfully for her future ministry, she met and fell in love with a Pentecostal minister, and chose the path of the “Faithful.” She measures up quite well with the likes of George Whitefield, and today’s Joel Osteen, as she used enthusiastic, fiery speeches to get her message across and inspire her audience. She can be grouped with these “holy mavericks” because of her need to combine her deep sense of purpose in God’s plan with her need to fill the void of leadership in a profitable market place.
My question for Dr. Sutton is: Do you think that the necessity of being inspired by an emotion, which is at the crux of Pentecostalism, was a contributive factor to her pledging herself to three different men?

Adam Lea

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee's desire to gain higher status and prestige was a common wish for most people in the twentieth century. She was revolutionary in that she welcomed all races in a time of racial inequality. She also recognized the potential of the mass media. Her radio station was a precursor to the numerous radio, television, and internet christian sites that exist today. She was similar to George Whitfield in that she realized that "how" the message is spoken is just important as "what" the message is. Great charisma can radically enhance a message's appeal.
My question for Dr. Sutton is:
Given Sister Aimee's use of radio would it be fair to call her "the mother of mass media"?

Derek Hunter

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a woman of her times because she knew how to appeal to the people during that time. Those who were in need knew that she would help them and her preaching offered comfort and solace in a world where fire and brimstone were the point of many sermons. She didn't turn away people based on their race or where they were from which was also unheard of. In the face of persecution she stood strong and instead of offering public rebuttals she chose to pray for the individual preaching against her. She was a preacher very similar to George Whitefield due to her charisma and ability to draw others in. She was also very much like him because she did what she felt she was called to do in the way she felt she should, not in the way every other preacher was doing it. She had shows and even movie stars came to her sermons.

My question for Dr. Sutton:

Do you think that the strain felt in her family was influenced by media propaganda or simply the fact that she was gone so much from her family's lives?

Amanda Pointon

Andrew Wang said...

Sister Aimee McPherson was hands down the pinnacle of femininity of her time and the precursor of the modern televangelist rolled into one intense being. She was also an American religious leader that captured the values that embodied the American entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. These values drove the nation then in the 1910's & 1920's and continue to drive it to this very day. What especially made her tenacious was in the face of intense scrutiny and criticism, she didn't cease in leading. She resembled Whitefield, as she captured an audience in dire need of a spiritual product and wanted to start an American religious revival of her own. She undoubtedly succeeded.

Dr Sutton:
Let's say she didn't she didn't have her scandal, how do you think she would be seen in the eyes of Americans and American religious leaders today?

Andrew J. Wang

Will said...

Aimee Semple McPherson thrived in the roaring 20's. The was the Flapper Preacher of the Ragamuffin era. Within the religious community, it was unheard of for a woman to be a preacher, especially a traveling extravagant evangelist. Nonetheless, her antics and charisma led her to her theatrical sermons upon the Hollywood-esque stage of Angelus Temple. She was the George Whitefield of the 20th century, comparable by her theatrical antics, personality, and ability to draw the masses by means of curiosity and reputation.

My question for Dr. Sutton:

Do you think fame and fortune were her original goals (even before China), developed amidst her 'McPherson Housewife' years, or wasn't ever a goal at all; just simply a bi-product of her actions and decision?

William Lester

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a flamboyant pentacostal preacher who built one of the larget chuches in Los Angeles. She also found ways to relate to the people of her time by putting out a magazine called Bridal call. During one of her religiouse tours accross the United States as many as every one in five Americans attended her sermons. Sister Aimee was very much like the celebrity preachers of the 18th century such as George Whitfield. She enjoyed being in the spotlight, she was emensely popular, and deeply devoted to her faith.

Question for Dr. Sutton:

Do you think that is Sister Aimee had ran for presidency with Huey Long they wouldve had a chance to win, or at least get a significant amount of votes?

Joseph Baldwin
his 360 tues thurs 11:00

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a woman ahead of her time in the early 20th century. She broke down barriers and stood up in places where women were to quietly submit at the time. As has been stated, it was an outrageous idea for a woman to be preaching, yet she was surprisingly successful. She was much like Whitefeild and other celebrity preachers in her extreme theatrical preaching and use of a symbolic object (Anxious Bench, Gospel Car). Because of her popularity her teachings reached far beyond the doors of her temple, and everyone wanted to see what she had up her sleeve next.

My question: Do you think that becoming as big a name as Sister Aimee in a religious setting is dangerous or beneficial to the actual religion being practiced?

Zach Brumley

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a pioneer and ahead of her time. She not only was a female preacher, which is unheard of at this time, but she was also one of the most popular preachers there ever was. She did great things across the world to help people and to get them to listen to her message.

My question for Dr. Sutton:

If Sister Aimee Semple McPherson were alive today, do you think she would be as popular today as she was in those days?

Kevin Waguespack

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a woman of her time because women were not doing this sort of thing at that point in time. Most of the preaching was done by a man. Sister Aimee's style of preaching was like George Whitefield since Sister Aimee traveled at first preaching the word. The way that she traveled in her car made the poeple know that she was serious about spreading the word.

Anonymous said...

For being a successful woman minister at the height of the first woman's suffrage movement, Sister Aimee did very well for herself. Only a strong-willed woman could have been as successful as she had. She even surpassed many male ministers of the time. She was very charismatic and liked theatrics, as did George Whitefield.

My question to Dr. Sutton:

Being that Aimee put on such a show for everyone, do you think that the dozens of people flocking to the front at her alter call were really wanting to receive Jesus or could they have just wanted to meet this “celebrity”? How "real" was this ministry?

Kathryn Kelley

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was exuberant, excited to share her faith, and was good at selling it. Aimee was such a charismatic person and did great things, such as providing relief for Great Depression victims and rallying for war bonds to support WW2, but her acts were always highly publicized. Even in her sermons she would link Christianity with American patriotism, and how supporting the war was the Christian thing to do. It seems like behind closed doors there was a completely different person - one who, despite her Christian beliefs, felt free to move from husband to husband, as long as she kept on doing what she wanted to do. There was more than one rumored affair involving Aimee, one of which was covered up by an alleged kidnapping, and she ultimately died of a drug overdose. I tend to agree with Robby and Kathryn when they question her motives.
My question is: While she may have started out innocently enough, was Aimee ultimately just another "Christian" wearing the mask of ethics?
L Wall

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee embodied the emotions of womens rights and the desire to succeed. In the 20th century she went out and preached in a predominantly male profession. She not only preached but did it in such a way that thousands came to see her. Like Whitefield she had charisma and a presence about her. Unlike other preachers she was smart by using advertising, leaflets even radio. Her modern approach helped her succeeded in undreamed ways. Her sermons brought about raw emotions unlike the fire and brimstone sermons. Her preaching combined many medias to enrapture her congregations.

My question for Dr.Sutton:
Do you think Sister Aimee encouraged other women to preacher is there any evidence of this?

Chris Peel

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a pioneer in the 20th century as an evangelist because of her innovation and intuition. Unlike George Whitefield and other preachers, Sister Aimee finally settled down in one spot and formed her own church. The mega church was born and today has revolutionized the idea of organized religion. Her preaching style seemed to be more effective and drew a bigger crowd every week. As a woman in the early 20th century she was respected at a time when preachers and evangelists were predominately men. Sister Aimee used her surroundings as an advantage and ultimately became a success in a huge way.

Question for Dr. Sutton:

If Sister Aimee was around in the George Whitefield era, do you think she would have been as effective, especially if she settled down and built her own church? Would America have been ready for a mega church in the mid 1700s?

Katie Newman

Anonymous said...

From a social perspective, Sister Aimee was a 20th century a women. After arriving in California Sister Aimee became very active in the community through the use of soup kitchens and her temples commissary. Sister Aimee’s philanthropic good of society over the individual fits in to the early 20th century mentality.
While Sister Aimee was not the first travelling or evangelic religious leader, the method in which Sister Aimee did so sets her apart. Sister Aimee’s extensive use of forms of communication helped her spread her message far away from those gathered directly around her. Sister Aimee also spread a message of a kinder and loving god compared to the hell fire and brimstone preached by early evangelists.

Douglas R.

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a woman of her time because during the time she preached women were wanting to have more rights. They weren't seen as much in public speaking like Sister Aimee was. Her preaching style is like Joel Osteen. He has all these people come together to worship. She did the same thing. It didn't matter what race you were to her.

My question for Dr. Sutton:

Why do you like Sister Aimee had such an impact on people as a female preacher?

Abby Flores

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a woman of her times because she used the latest technology to preach. While she was not like most of the women during that time period. She did not stay home with the children. She also had been divorced. This was unusual for the time. Moving to Hollywood was another example of being a woman of her time. She was a visionary in the Los Angeles area. I think one of the things about her that most people loved, was that she not only preached, she carried out what she preached. Making everyone in the church feel welcome was something that was not very popular. If a Catholic went to a Methodist Church, most likely they were not welcome unless they were going to convert.

My question to Dr. Sutton is:
If Sister Aimee had settled in a rural area, would she have become so popular? Was her celebrity status stemmed directly from being located in Hollywood or was it from being herself?

Jennifer Scazzero

Erica said...

Though she may of had the original intention of preaching the "oldtime gospel" and Awakening Americans to the light of God, Sister Aimee becam a celebrity preacher and political figure as one of the rew Women preachers of the time. Being the first madia evangilist she ganined the ability to influence the politcal arena and used it to her advntage, even claiming that whpm she chose for a political office would be backed by her followers because she told the whom to vote for. She did good for her community by making avaliable food and employment services to people of all nationalities, yet i feel she seemed to loose her original cause as she ganied in celebrity status. she was as much a producer as she was a preacher with the performance of her elaborate productions. she had the ability to attract massive crowds, followers, and support, smiliar to the way George Whitefield did in the 1700s. Traveling not only across the country but also around the world to spread her message that with out the hand of God to guide a person or country all was lost.

My Question:

With her influence and close relationship with many in political office during her time, including frequent messages to FDR, what do you thaink would be her message to the political leaders of today, not just of the United States but to other countries as well?

Erica Eaves

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a woman of her times in early 20th century America because she saw social work as a means to cure the ills of the nation. She also sought a way to use biblical teachings as a way to find her political voice. She incorporated politics into her early preaching as social commentary on issues of the day. Like George Whitfield, Sister Aimee used her charismatic style of preaching to entice audiences, and educate them on the pressing matters of the country. Her understanding of the importance of mass communication only served to solidify her goals and spread her message to the nation.

My question for Dr. Sutton:

Why didn’t Sister Aimee’s high-profile preaching style and revolutionary use of mass media lead to other American women taking up the mantle of religious politics in the early 20th century?
Duane Langer

Anonymous said...

I study history; however, I have not until now heard of a Sister Aimee. If she was for the congregating of African Americans and whites during this time, Why is she mentioned during civil rights movements?

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was a woman of her times in the way that she progressed the ideas of women's rights, racial integration, religious political activism. She had taken advantage of developing technology as well to suit her aims. Her style of preaching compares to other ministers we have studied, insomuch that she was a traveling evangelist, at times, and she had a say about the political events going on in her time. I think that it was similar in the sense that revival requires the drive and commitment as well as the desire to take risks in order to affect the hearts of the people.

My question for Dr. Sutton:

How effective were the healings that people experienced in converting others to her denomination?

Devin Shanley

Anonymous said...

Sister Aimee was actually not the typical woman of her day. In a time when women were just beginning to speak out for equality, she defied the traditional barriers of a woman's role in marriage, in the church, and in society. She preached love to her congregation while other male preachers spewed condemnation. Her style was subject to scrutiny, similar to Whitefield and other controversial preachers with new-age sermons that drew large crowds.

Question for Dr. Sutton:

While your article states that Sister Aimee sought equality for all groups, would you still consider her to be an early feminist, considering she rejected the tradition role of women during her time?

--Christien Perry

Anonymous said...

She was an inspiration to all women of her time. In the 1920's women were starting to showcase their "womanhood" and independence. Aimee was a perfect example of the beginnings of woman's independence in America. She was raise in a Pentecostal setting which prohibited women preachers and remarriage if the husband was still alive. But despite her lack in keeping these rules, she was still one of the most influential preachers of her time. Like George Whitefield, Aimee started as an itinerate preacher, meaning she traveled from town to town not really having a home, but soon settled down to a home church in California. Also unlike Whitefield, she preached of God's love and peace, not of fire and brimstone.

My question for Dr. Sutton:

If Sister Aimee was to attend all the mega churches today, what would she like and dislike about them?

Ted Burnett