Have You Heard About This Christian Scandal?
What if I told you there's a story circulating within the national media today about a controversial female Christian evangelist who's wrapped up in a scandal of major proportions?
Would you be shocked?
Are you cringing right now, wondering who the "she" may be?
To be sure, the details of the story are sordid.
The married evangelist in question has been rumored to have had several extramarital affairs, even one with a well-known Hollywood celebrity. Known for her progressive theology, some have accused her of peddling feminist propaganda in the midst of her preaching. Others have charged her with lying, even under oath. Through it all she's traveled the world to teach others about Jesus, and founded and launched a thriving mega-church in Los Angeles with a seating capacity of over 5,000 people, which reportedly has filled to capacity three times per day.
Care to guess her name?
There's a good chance many haven't even heard about her.
Her name was Aimee Semple McPherson.
Everything I just told you about her is accurate – and truth be told, we've only scratched the surface surrounding the scars of this deeply mysterious and faulted woman. However obscure and forgotten today, Mrs. McPherson was a household name all across the world in the 1920s and 1930s. She died in 1944 of, according to the coroner, an accidental drug overdose.
So why is she now back in the news?
Since 2005, Kathie Lee Gifford, the well-known television host, has been telling Mrs. McPherson's dramatic and admittedly convoluted story in a theatrical production. It's titled "Scandalous," and after several years in smaller venues, the musical opened on Broadway last night.
The show is billed as "one woman's incredible rise to glory … and fall from grace."
What strikes me about this production is that it painfully illustrates the brokenness of humanity and forces us to come to terms with the reality that sin has always been a plague on society and our culture. It's not unusual for us to think that the times in which we live are the most "scandalous" of all-time and that somehow other eras represented "golden ages" of purity and morality. It's just not true.
Yet, beyond the somber realization of the ever-present and timeless nature of sin, the story of the rise and fall of Aimee Semple McPherson demonstrates the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a force that cannot be stopped, even if it's being communicated through broken people.
Which it always is – because all of us are broken and imperfect.
Hundreds of thousands of people heard about Jesus and many accepted him as their Lord and Savior after hearing Mrs. McPherson talk about Him. I know there are some people who might think the Gospel is compromised when it's communicated by sinful people, but again, 1) we're all sinful and 2) so long as it's truthfully relayed, the Holy Spirit often finds a way to work through very faulted people.
Of course, this truth doesn't mean it's acceptable to behave as we please. Our obedience to the Lord matters! Our witness to others matters, too.
Yet, this is an important message for today, I believe. There's a lot of heaviness out in the culture today, from political depression to economic uncertainty. But, "Lift up thine eyes to the high places …!" (Jer. 3:2) If you are beginning to grow weary and anxious that somehow the evilness of sin has overtaken the goodness of God's grace and truth, remember the words of John:
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
It's ironic, isn't it, that the message of the ultimate "Light of the World," a story filled with heart and hope, now finds a hearing under the bright lights of Broadway? I wish Mrs. Gifford and her team well. If you live in the New York area or have plans to visit soon, you might want to consider attending the show. As you know the area continues to recover from the impact of Hurricane Sandy and greatly benefits from tourism. Let's continue to keep those families affected in your prayers.
Getting back to the show, what's truly miraculous and glorious, I think, is that however "scandalous" Aimee Semple McPherson's (or your life) was or yours is, there is no scandal that Jesus Christ cannot redeem.