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Sister Aimee
"God or Gorilla?" return to index

A Crisis of Faith | The Fight for Genesis | McPherson On Trial

She wanted Los Angeles to go to school and to learn the story of Genesis, the traditional six day literal Creation story, with no compromise...

-- Matthew Sutton

William Jennings Bryan sitting at a desk, 1922. By the mid-1920s, Aimee had established herself as the head of a large Pentecostal mission in Los Angeles. "She believed... that American Christians needed to reclaim the state, that they needed to take over the government and exert their influence. And one of the reasons for this was because she continued to struggle with the issue of evolution that had haunted her since her teenage years," according to historian Matthew Sutton, author of Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America.

What most disturbed McPherson about Darwin's theory were its misuses. One pro-evolution argument asked: If evolution favors the survival of the fittest, why should the strong help the weak to survive? In a sensational trial of the day, attorney Clarence Darrow called on this idea to defend two wealthy teenagers, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who had murdered a small boy. Darrow argued "that [Leopold and Loeb] were influenced by social Darwinian ideas, the idea of survival by the fittest, the idea that certain people are more valuable than others," Matthew Sutton explains.

"These ideas horrified McPherson and her anti-evolutionist allies. They believed that any ideology that promoted one set of humans over another set of humans as more valuable... was against God's creative order." McPherson used her media empire to mobilize followers against Darwin's theory. "She wanted it out of the public schools, she wanted it out of the classrooms," Sutton explains.

Scopes Trial Lawyers William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow in courtroom during Scopes trial, 1925. In July 1925 a high school biology teacher named John Scopes went on trial for teaching his students evolution in violation of a Tennessee statute. McPherson watched the controversy over evolution unfold with keen interest and stood ready with financial and spiritual aid. To show her support, she held a parade which culminated with the hanging and burial of "monkey" teachers in effigy, in honor of her friend and ally William Jennings Bryan, the special prosecutor in the case against Scopes.

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