June 19, 2013
California and the Rapture-Ready Candidacy of Newt Gingrich
Posted on Jan 19, 2012
During the Jones scandal, Sister Aimee returned from the dead. For the second time. The first time was in 1926, after she faked her own drowning and ran off for an illicit love affair, only to return following her memorial service and claim that she had been kidnapped. She died in 1944 and was buried with her telephone, lest she fall out of touch with her legions of parishioners. Years later, someone may have picked up the phone: This was Susan Carpenter McMillan, an astute and formidable conservative activist who at the time of the Jones scandal lived in San Marino, a wealthy enclave next to Pasadena. To the dismay of liberals, she took up the cause of Jones, whose case was about to go the way of former O.J. girlfriend Paula Barbieri’s memoir until McMillan came along.
As a child, McMillan worshipped at Sister Aimee’s church. McMillan’s mother and grandmother were ordained ministers there, her mother attending McPherson’s seminary for four years. But it was McPherson who attracted the crowds. Every Sunday, legions of the down-and-out converged at Sister Aimee’s Angelus Temple in Echo Park for the melodrama advertised movie-style on the sanctuary’s marquee. Dressed up as a football player, she carried the ball for Christ. As a fireman, she put out the fires of evil. She exploded onto stage as a motorcycle cop, placing sin under arrest. Strange things were afoot in the promised land: Healed devotees heaved crutches, braces and prosthetic devices onto an ever-growing mountain of testimony to McPherson’s powers. The halt, the lame and the sick had a voice, and newspapers had a story.
Although Sister Aimee was no longer alive when McMillan first attended services, such was the religious atmosphere of McMillan’s childhood, the beginnings of the path that could lead to, of all destinations, the public viewing of the president’s private parts. “I loved the Foursquare Church,” McMillan said at the time. “Although as I got older I wanted something a little more sedate. But I grew up with powerful female role models. Aimee Semple McPherson was one of the first feminists of the century, one of the great champions of the downtrodden.” To be sure, her followers had “mall hair” way before there were malls. They were not stylish. They read the wrong magazines. Kind of like … Paula Jones.
Until McMillan came along, the Jones case had nearly faded away. It was telling that the case was born again in Los Angeles, and carried aloft by McMillan. When Jones’ original legal team quit the case, McMillan helped her find representation, despite her first lawyers having rendered the task nearly impossible by filing an $800,000 lien against the pending suit. Whether it was rushing to a deposition or waving to reporters as they left Jones’ Long Beach apartment, McMillan was always right there, hand at her elbow, helping the most ridiculed woman in America walk and talk. She may have even supervised a makeover; Jones went from an afternoon talk show look to evening around the time that McMillan entered this story.
What counsel will Gingrich seek if he’s elected president? If Falwell checks in from the beyond, what will he say? Of course, we do not know, but surely private entreaties for guidance may involve a higher power and perhaps the dear departed as well, for who among us does not seek this light and favor? But regardless of outcome in the election, California will be a factor, urging evangelical voters one way or another, whispering thoughts, suggestions and even commands. After all, it’s the state where the entire population is born again, where everyone goes to start over, reinvent, make up stories about the past, present and future, as far west as you can go without being left behind, the alpha and the omega of end times.
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