It is the 6th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1973.
It was the year that the Cold War got hot in South America. South America seemed to be the great untapped resource for the Cold War, with the European and Asian theaters being primarily played out.
It had been three years since Salvador Allende was democratically elected in Chile in an election that displayed the country's deep divisions. The Soviets had backed the famous socialist Allende, who was countered by American and British support of a more moderate independent. Tensions between domestic political factions and international support for opposing parties exploded on the 11th of September of 1973. With the backing from the Chilean air force, Augusto Pinochet bombed the presidential palace, and Allende shot himself before he could be captured. The Pinochet administration would go on to be one of the most murderous in modern South American history.
In Argentina in 1973, the cult of Juan Peron was still alive and well, despite the diminishing returns from an increasingly divided electorate. Peron had been a very popular president from 1946 to 1955 when a military coup overthrew him. In his absence, the Peronists' party came to prominence, but they had internal divisions. Juan Peron returned to Argentina in 1973 upon the election of his hand-picked successor. But the heat between the left-wing Peronists and right-wing Peronists led to the Ezeiza Massacre in 1973, wherein hundreds of left-wing Peronists were shot at, injured, and killed by right-wing Peronists.
It should be no surprise that Juan Peron would be embraced by groups with different ideologies. He had made a career of playing groups off of one another. Peron had famously benefited from the support he received from the Catholic Church. But as faith in that institution was waning, he made a move to garner support with a new popular Christian movement: the Pentecostals.
Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity's growth in South America and Africa is partly a result of the most influential missionary movement in a century. And for a brief moment, it was the story of revival in Peron's Argentina that grabbed the world's attention. And this revival was led by an enigmatic and shadowy itinerant preacher who got his start with Sister Aimee Semple MacPherson and the Angelus Temple. This was Theodore "Tommy" Hicks, who died on this, the 6th of January in 1973.
Hicks was likely born in 1909, but the first record is as a student at Sister Aimee's LIFE Bible college in 1935. The details of this life are shady until the late 1940s when he claims that a vision of South America came to him in a dream. By 1954 he was in Argentina, but his ministry was stalled without a license to preach or hold gatherings. And then we get the first of many stories that have been contradicted and corrected. Hicks claimed that he was told to find a man named "Peron," not knowing this was the president in a vision. And then when Hicks went to the palace, he would not be let in, that is until he healed a guard's bad leg. And then Hicks tells the story that Peron would not listen to him until Hicks prayed over him and Peron's facial eczema disappeared.
These claims are contested, but Peron did see the popularity of Pentecostalism as something he might exploit. Peron gave Hicks a license to preach, and over the next year, Tommy Hicks would preach to some six million Argentinians. Pentecostalism in South America was a popular antidote to what was an elitist and distant Catholic church. While often sparked by foreign missionaries, these Pentecostal movements would take on a native and populist approach to Christianity. The LA Times reported in 1955 that more people had heard Tommy Hicks than had heard Billy Graham. Hicks returned to Argentina once more but was unsuccessful, perhaps because native speakers had stepped up in his absence, possibly because political and ecclesiastical marriages hardly ever last.
Hicks returned to Los Angeles but was increasingly erratic in his later years, disconnected from a church body, he sank into end-times conspiracy theories and substance abuse. Tommy Theodore Hicks, once the biggest name in South American missions and a one-time friend of Juan Peron, died on this day in 1973. He died from unknown causes and was buried in an unmarked grave.
The reading for today, the feast of Epiphany, comes from Peter Chrysologus.
"Today, the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body.
As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher "Don't Cry for Me" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember…the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.