Rolf K. McPherson recalls living under media scrutiny

Aimee Semple McPherson’s son, Rolf K. McPherson, shares memories of how his mother handled the media’s constant scrutiny, and how it affected his everyday life.

Rolf McPherson and family on train.

When I was 8 years old, other boys like me sold newspapers on street corners in downtown Los Angeles. I remember the first time I heard one of the paperboys use Mother’s name, Aimee Semple McPherson, to grab the attention of busy passersby in hopes they would buy his paper. It usually worked.

In the 1920s and early years of Angelus Temple, Los Angeles newspapers were mostly kind to my mother and her ministry. Although that would change after a few years, Mother and the press lived in relative peace in those early days. A lady preacher was a novelty, and reporters familiar with the entertainment industry were fascinated by her ability to consistently draw larger crowds than any movie house in Hollywood.

Reporters were mostly kind, at first, and Mother treated them with the same regard. She welcomed reporters into our home, sometimes for lunch and as much conversation as they wanted. Always, her motive was to build friendships and share the gospel, hoping they would trust the Lord in salvation. I’m sure it did not hurt if they wanted to promote the ministry so others might be saved, too.

I remember meeting Mother at Union Station when she returned from a ministry tour when I was around 9. My sister, Roberta, was there along with our grandmother, Minnie Kennedy. Delighted to be back together again, we all hugged Mother, and she kissed us children. We piled in the car for the short drive

home and had so much to share with her. We also wanted to hear all about her travels, but our family time would have to wait because some local reporters wanted Mother’s attention.

She made room in our car for one or two reporters who wanted to hear about her trip. Grandmother, Roberta and I scooted over, and the reporters made themselves at home up front next to Mother. When we arrived at the parsonage, she ushered the reporters into the house, and Roberta and I went upstairs to our rooms.

The press loved Mother for her openness and spoke glowingly about her willingness to welcome them into our family home. In hindsight, she probably should not have been as kind as she was because the stories in the daily paper were not always favorable to her ministry or her character.

Mother believed the reporters were being honest enough, but she realized the city editors had final discretion. When negative stories began to emerge about her, Mother blamed the editors, not the reporters, for the sensational, negative slant.

Reporters were mostly kind, at first, and Mother treated them with the same regard. Always, her motive was to build friendships and share the gospel, hoping they would trust the Lord in salvation.

In time, it became clear to Mother that the press was building its empire on the sensational 4-inch headlines, many times by using her name to sell papers. By that time, Mother became more guarded around the press, and we never saw reporters in our house after that.

When Mother held divine healing services in Denver, some reporters wrote negative stories about her message. Some even tried to get people she had prayed for to recant the testimonies they shared about their healings. Instead, these reporters found people whose lives had been changed by the power of God. The entire front page of one local Denver newspaper was filled with these personal testimonies.

Back in Los Angeles, it was nearly impossible for Roberta and me to play outside the parsonage because crowds of reporters camped out nearby just waiting for some salacious piece of news to spread. We were never left alone after that, and in a desperate attempt to maintain privacy for us children, Mother arranged for us to take a break from living so close to the Temple.

Rolf McPherson at Winters Ranch in NC

I went to live in Northern California with a family on their ranch near Winters. They had a son younger than me, and Mother came to visit the ranch on several occasions. Newspaper reporters had no idea I was there, and I was able to live a normal life for a few years out of the limelight, riding my horse, Rivets, and attending school with other children my age.

When rumors and lies about Mother were printed as fact in the papers, our hopes for a normal family life were over. From that point on, we were constantly on guard, and it was difficult to trust anyone.

Years after Mother’s death, rumors and lies about her life still sell news. Fortunately, I knew the truth about my mother. I experienced the love, grace, strength and resilience of her character. I know the commitment she lived every day for the Lord, the ministry and her family.

This article is adapted from a video interview prior to Rolf K. McPherson’s passing in 2009.

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