Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America  (2007), by WSU history professor and chair Matthew Avery Sutton, is among the top five books about American preachers.

Even among the Hollywood stars of the 1920s and ’30s, Aimee Semple McPherson stood out as a celebrity. A master of mass communication and entertainment, she blended both into her spectacular evangelism. One of the first women in radio, McPherson began broadcasting in the 1920s. Her monumental Angelus Temple in Los Angeles was decorated “half like a Roman Coliseum, half like a Parisian Opera House.” Here, the audience watched as she worked miracles: “The blind saw, the paralytic walked, the palsied became calm.”

Matthew Avery Sutton.

A magnetic figure in Matthew Avery Sutton’s portrait, McPherson summoned the fury of critics, who said she caused “hysteria, mob psychology, or religious hypnosis.” Her two divorces and her openness to black ministers preaching from her pulpit — almost unheard of at the time — fueled more controversy. Her sudden disappearance led to a frenzy in the press, as did her explanation, upon her return, that she had been kidnapped — though most of the evidence pointed to a tryst with a married man. A potent mix of religion, sex and mass media, her story “cut to the heart of modern American culture” and made McPherson a template for countless media evangelists to come.

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