Tag Archives: Matthew Avery Sutton

Review: Sister Aimee biography

Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America

Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America, by Matthew Avery Sutton. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

One cannot help but wish to have been there, centrally seated in the first row of Angelus Temple’s lower balcony, to view the spectacle up close. Imagine the intensity of the moment, the palpable pangs of spiritual bliss, anguish, and surrender all around as Sister Aimee draws your seatmates into her fanciful world of biblical prophets and priests, heroes and villains. And what must it have been like to stand with thirty thousand others gathered at Los Angeles’ train station on that June day in 1926, cheering rapturously at the first sight of Sister Aimee after her return from a mysterious disappearance; or to sit nervously in the court room later that same year as she attempted to answer the mystery and defend herself against charges of conspiracy?

That such sentiments stir frequently when reading Matthew Sutton’s biography of Aimee Semple McPherson is tribute to his rare story-telling abilities. By pricking the emotions as much as intellectual curiosity, Sutton provides us with an opportunity to appreciate McPherson sympathetically as someone trying her best to negotiate the cultural opportunities, pitfalls, and blessings of her day. At the same time, he offers room to feel what it would have been like to be part of McPherson’s multitude of followers or cadre of critics. McPherson was, to say the least, a polarizing figure. All who encountered her during her lifetime thus seemed compelled to declare publicly their feelings of loyalty or loathing for the female evangelist.

Sutton asks us to suspend such judgment and instead carefully measure the intensity of these responses against the realities of the day–against the constantly expanding range of possibilities that seemed only to encourage Sister Aimee’s exploits, well meaning and successful, poorly conceived, or otherwise. Continue reading

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“Sister Aimee” documentary airs on PBS

[splashcast JWJV4127TN AMYE1023CD]

SplashCast with Flickr photos
Produced by iFPHC

After months of diligent research, organizing the story line, and working with a film crew, Public Television’s national broadcast of “Sister Aimee” is less than two weeks away. This film, written, produced and directed by Linda Garmon, is part of the American Experience series. It will air on PBS stations nationwide on Monday, April 2 at 9 p.m. in most markets.

A PBS website for the film includes a synopsis of the film, a gallery of photos, interview excerpts, and other features.

About a year and a half ago the FPHC learned of this upcoming documentary on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson. It is based on the book Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America by Matthew Avery Sutton (Harvard University Press, 2007). A review of Matthew Sutton’s book on Aimee can be found at the Harvard University Press website.

Linda Garmon, a producer with WGBH TV (Boston), first contacted us and came to Springfield, Missouri to do research at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in December 2005. For two days she pored over a large number of newspaper clippings, books by and about “Sister Aimee,” issues of the Bridal Call and the Foursquare Crusader, as well as a number of tracts, photographs, and miscellaneous items relating to the popular yet controversial, charismatic Pentecostal evangelist.

During the course of this project, Garmon and her staff interviewed Aimee’s biographers and noted religious scholars to better present the complex and revealing portrait of one of the most significant religious figures of the early twentieth century. These interviews and insights are part of the film. Garmon’s staff also visited Angelus Temple and the archives of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Los Angeles as well as other repositories.

While at the FPHC, Garmon was especially intrigued by any possible documentation or theories surrounding the disappearance of Aimee in 1926. And to flesh out a broader picture of Pentecostalism, she also studied primary source materials relating to the Azusa Street revival and other early Pentecostal events. According to Garmon, “Aimee was equal parts evangelist, movie star and social activist. She offered a brand of old time religion that people could connect with at a time when Americans were craving something to hold onto.”

A favorable review of the film and comments by Foursquare President Jack Hayford are included in Foursquare News Service #279.

Be sure to watch this first-class documentary!

To view the photoset of Aimee Semple McPherson at Flickr click on the link below:
Flickr Photoset

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Posted by Glenn Gohr

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