Women’s rights? Aimee Semple-McPherson was a woman evangelist back in the 1920’s, scorned, scoffed, ridiculed and controversial even until today, she single-handedly established the second largest Pentecostal denomination in America. She stands a model of amazing success in a time and culture quick to discriminate women (particularly women ministers). From her autobiography:
“Foolishnessis bound in the heart of a child.” Prov. 22:15.
THEN came the days of study in the little white schoolhouse that stood on the corner a mile from our home. I was the only Salvationist child there, the other scholars being church members. At first they teased me about the Army with their shouting, their marching and their drum, for they were still a despised people in those days. I finally won over the hearts of the children, however, when I invented a drum from a round cheese box and with a ruler for a drum-stick and a “Blood and Fire” banner made from a red tablecloth we marched round the school and played “Army”.
Everything went well until it was learned that I had some little talent for elocution. The distance to the barracks being great, and the churches seeming much more popular, I began going to the Methodist church, where my father had formerly been a choir leader. Once invited to take part in their entertainments, I was soon received in other churches and appearing on the programs the country round. We received great help and teaching along the lines of elocution, dialogues and plays by the church instructors in this art. After competing with others in the W. C.T. U. work, a silver and later a gold medal was awarded me.
Except for the temperance work, however, very few of the selections or plays were anything but comic. Upon asking preachers whether they would prefer something sacred they would invariably answer:
“Oh, give us something humorous; something comical to make the people laugh. That last Irish recitation was grand. Give us something like that.”
As I recited, the audience would laugh and clap and laugh again until the tears came to their eyes, and I was very popular indeed with the churches in those days, –a great deal more so than I am now, mayhap.
As years went by I passed from grammar school to high, and became still more interested in the entertainments of the church. There were: the oyster suppers, the strawberry festivals, the Christmas trees, and always the concerts to follow, for which tickets were sold: “to help God pay His debts and help support the church,” I supposed then. But I have learned now that our God is so richly able to supply the funds for His work that He need not resort to any such methods.
The praise and applause of the people was very alluring to some of us younger ones, and we often talked together of going on the stage, arguing that the church was giving us a good training on this line and that anyway there was not much difference whether a play or a concert was given in the church or at the theatre.
My next step on the downward path was when I began reading novels from the Sunday School library (for a novel is a novel whether in a paper or a cloth-bound cover). And when I had devoured them I learned where more could be obtained.
The next luring of the tempter came when I was asked by a member of the choir as to whether I had been to the moving-picture theatre that week. I told her:
“No,”that I had never seen any motion pictures outside of the church. She looked at me in such a condescending, pitying way that my pride was stung and I decided to go. I did not tell my Mother, however, and felt very guilty in entering until I saw several church members and a Sunday School teacher there; then I felt better (it surely must be all right if they were there), and settled down to enjoy the pictures.
Athletic,and fond of out-door sports, next in line came costume skating carnivals and then my first “college ball” – I was now well advanced in the high school. When I brought home the engraved invitation card, Mother flatly refused her permission for me to go and it took a great deal of pleading and coaxing to gain an unwilling consent. My dress and slippers were purchased and I went to my first dance radiantly happy on the exterior, but a little heavy and conscience-stricken on the interior, for I knew that Mother was sad and praying alone at home.
It seemed to be a very proper affair, however. My first dancing partner was the Presbyterian preacher. Other good ( ?) church members were there – surely Mother must be mistaken or a little old-fashioned in her ideas. How lovely it all seemed,the orchestra, the flowers, the attention paid me, the fine clothes, and the well-appointed luncheon!
Ah, sin,with what dazzling beauty, with what refinement and velvet dost thou cover thy claws! How alluring are the fair promises with which thou enticest the feet of youth! How cunning are the devices of the enemy! How smoothly and craftily he lays his plans and weaves the net which he draws ever tighter and tighter,illumining the future and its prospects with rose colors and fair painted promises,the fruit of which, once plucked, crumbles into gray ashes in the hand of him who runneth after it.
My future and educational prospects looked promising. No effort or labor was counted too great upon the part of my parents to send me to school, and indeed it was no little matter for them – ten miles must be covered each day, five in the morning and five at night, on the train or with horse and carriage, despite country roads, with their mud or rain or snow.
There was introduced into our class room at this time, a text-book entitled “High School Physical Geography,” which delved into the problems of earth formation, rock strata, etc., and learnedly described the origin of life and the process of evolution. There were quotations from Darwin and other authorities on these weighty subjects. Explaining the origin of life upon this planet, it taught us that from the sea, with its slime, seaweed and fungus growth, insect life appeared. From insect life came animal life, and through continuous processes of evolution at last man appeared, who, of course, was higher than the monkeys or any other creature.
How these theories or teachings impressed other students I cannot say, but they had a remarkable effect upon me.
“Man?a process of evolution? Why, then God had not created him at all, as the Bible said He did – preachers were true when they said there were errors and mistakes in the Bible.” On and on raced the thoughts in my young mind until I reached the point:
“Well,then, if the Bible is mistaken in one place it is very apt to be mistaken in others. Its information is not reliable, and I guess there’s no God at all, and that’s why Christians act so pious in church on Sundays and do as they please through the week.”
“No,I guess there is no God.” Even the existence of the big moon and the twinkling stars had been explained by science.
The sun,once a great mass of molten lava, had acquired a whirling motion and thrown off all these other planets, earth, moon and stars. Nothing about God, just science and a logical outcome of conditions now revealed by wise astronomers who had studied it all out through great telescopes (which had cost fabulous sums of money and taken many years to invent); and therefore they knew all about it.
This book raised so many questions in my mind that I delved deeper into other infidelistic theories. So interested did I become that I wrote an article to the “Family Herald and Weekly Star,” published at Montreal, then Canada’s leading paper. My inquiries were answered by Archbishop Hamilton and many others. Arguments both for and against the book and its teachings were brought out.
Is it any wonder that our pulpits are filled with infidels and higher critics today?
Out of the letters that poured in for months from England, New Zealand, Australia, and all parts of America, as well as from my own land, each containing a different explanation, not one said:
“Child,the Bible is true. Take the simple Word of God and believe it just as it reads.”
The more I read and observed the lives of Christians, the more skeptical of the reality of God I became. (How I could ever have doubted is today a puzzle and a shame tome). The devil must have blinded my eyes for a time to the genuine Christians about me. All that I could see was empty profession. I saw men singing in the choir or sitting in the pews on Sunday and attending all sorts of worldly functions during the week. I began reading my Bible, to see whether it contradicted itself and how it compared with the books which I had read. Oh, I must know the truth – was there anything in religion?
Every time I had an opportunity I questioned and cross-questioned each Christian that I could get hold of. But I did not seem to get far. My first attempt was made upon my Mother. I had been thinking earnestly upon the subject, and just as she was coming up the steep cellar steps with a pan of milk in her hands, I met her with the question:
“Mother,how do you know there is a God?”
Poor dear,she was so surprised that she nearly fell backwards, down the steps. She explained things the best she knew how, bringing forth Scriptures, and pointing to creation with all its wonders as proving the handiwork of a Creator.
Each attempt at explanation I met with the learned words of those books and the superior (?) twentieth-century wisdom of my seventeen summers – books and wisdom which left mothers and Bibles far behind. Her arguments seemed to shrink to nothing, and her eyes opened with astonishment as she sat down suddenly on the kitchen chair, unable to get a word in edgeways.
My next attempt was made upon the minister when he came to our house to tea. Mother was out in the kitchen preparing the proverbial ministerial chicken dinner, but I had business in the parlor, ostensibly displaying the family album, but in reality endeavoring to probe him with the questions upon my mind.
“Does the Lord ever perform any miracles or heal any sick folks now?” I asked.
“Why no, child, the day of miracles is over,” was his surprised reply.”People are expected to use the intelligence and wisdom the Lord has given them along medical and surgical lines – these are really miraculous, you know.”
“But doesn’t it say, over here in James 5:14, if any are sick among you to ‘let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick,and they shall recover?’
“And is there not a scripture that says, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever’? and ‘He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father’?
“How do you reconcile the fact that the Lord no longer does such miraculous things,with these scriptures?”
My questions were evaded, and I was made to feel that I was but a mere child, and therefore could not understand these matters. They were never explained to my satisfaction.
Alarmed over my attitude and questions, my Mother asked me to join some church. When I made excuses she offered to take me to all the different churches, asking me to study the teachings of each of them and to join the one that seemed best.
I replied that I felt I was doing enough church work now, with the entertainments and concerts, and added, in a self-righteous way, that I thought I was just as good as any of the others – I didn’t see any particular difference in our lives, whether I was a member of the church or not did not matter.
“Well,let us go to the Salvation Army special meetings tonight. It is a long time since we have been there together.”
Poor Mother! Will I ever forget her face when she found they were having an entertainment there that night, and the first selection rendered after we entered was:
“High diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon!”
acted out by one of the local officers, amid the applause of the laughing audience. He was dressed to represent a colored minstrel.
Later we attended the special services being conducted by the Brigadier, his wife and daughter, who invited me very sweetly to give my heart to Jesus. I argued with her that there was no God, nothing in the Bible. She seemed to get into deep waters and went for her mother, who also begged me to come to the altar. Then they sent for the father, and before long I was the center of a group, my Mother on the outskirts, listening with blushing face while I set forth, in my ignorance,my opinion regarding evolution.
Oh, dear Jesus, how could I ever have doubted You when You have been so good, so merciful and so true to me all the days of my life!
Mother cried bitterly all the long drive home, and all the reproach she laid upon me was:
“Oh,Aimee, I never dreamed that I should bring up a daughter who would talk as you have before those people tonight! After all my years as a Christian, after my prayers and my work in that corps, you of all people, to talk like this! Oh, where have I failed? Oh! OH!! O-H!!!”
Conscience-stricken,and shamed before her grief, I fled to my room, as soon as we arrived, to think things over. I certainly loved my Mother; to cause her grief and sorrow was thel ast thing in this wide world which I wished to do – “and yet – and yet.”
Not pausing to light the lamp, I went over to my bedroom window, threw it open wide and sat down on the floor with my elbows on the window-sill, my chin propped on my hands, and gazed reflectively up at the starry floors of heaven and at the great white silvery moon sailing majestically toward me from the eastern sky,before I finished my broken sentence “I wonder if there really is a God?Who is right? What is the truth?”
The white mantle of snow which covered the fields and the trees, glistened in the clear,frosty air, and –
My! how big that moon looked up there, and how ten million stars seemed to wink and blink and twinkle! I drew a comforter round me and sat on and on, unmindful of the cold, looking up at the milky way, the big dipper, and other familiar luminaries.
–Surely,there m-u-s-t be a God up there back of them all. They seemed to breathe and emanate from His very presence and nearness.
At school we had studied the planets and how each rotated and revolved upon its own axis,and in its own orbit without friction or confusion. It was all so big, so high,so above the reach and ken of mortal man – surely a DIVINE hand must hold and control this wonderful solar system –
Why! how near God seemed – right now!
Suddenly,without stopping to think, I threw both arms impulsively out of the window and,reaching toward heaven, cried:
“Oh God! – If there be a God – reveal Yourself to me!”
The cry came from my very heart. In reality, a whisper was all that came from my lips –but just that whisper from an honest, longing heart, was enough to echo through the stars and reach the Father’s throne. Up there, He whose ear is ever open to the cries of His little children, heard me and answered. Bless His Name.
Oh, if every doubter and professed infidel would just breathe that one sincere prayer to God, He would reveal Himself to them as He did to me, for He is no respecter of persons. Hallelujah!