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Whatever else you can say about the Reverend Homer Aubrey Tomlinson, he was definitely a showman. As for his other achievements, real and self-proclaimed, you will have to decide that for yourself...
Born in 1892 in Westfield, Indiana, he was the oldest son and presumed heir of Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson, the founder of the Church of God of Prophecy, one of the earliest Pentecostal denominations. Despite an early career in an advertising agency, Homer joined his father's ministry in 1922, reportedly after a life-changing experience when he was "almost struck by lightning." Along with establishing a congregation in Jamaica, New York and evangelizing across the Northeast, Homer Tomlinson also became well-known for grandiose stunts. This included conducting the world's first parachute wedding at the New York World's Fair. Along with Tomlinson, the bride and groom, best man, maid of honour, and four musicians all took part in the ceremony after they jumped out of a plane together.
Possibly due to his controversial antics, Homer Tomlinson was passed over as his father's successor following Ambrose's death in 1943. The church elders claimed to have received a message in tongues to "bring forth the younger son" and Homer was left out in the cold when his legal battle to control the church failed. Bouncing back from this disappointment, Homer Tomlinson went on to found his own denomination, the Church of God based in New York city.
With his usual flair for self-publicity (did I mention he was a former ad-man?), Homer announced that his mission was to usher in the Kingdom of God by getting church members elected to public office. With little hope of securing a Democratic or Republican nomination as a presidential candidate, he decided to found his own political party instead. The platform for the Theocratic party he founded in 1952 was straightforward enough: unification of church and state, abolishing taxation in favour of tithing, and creating two new cabinet posts, a secretary of righteousness and a secretary of the Holy Bible. Despite running for president in 1952, 1960, 1964, and 1968, his support was never particularly strong. Best estimates suggest that he only got 20 votes in 1964 alone.
Despite the failure of his presidential ambitions, Homer Tomlinson moved on to more grandiose goals. After a 1954 convention of his Church of God reportedly acclaimed him a "almost a new Messiah", he declared himself to be King of the World. Traveling to more than 100 countries, he staged numerous coronation ceremonies to proclaim his royal status. With his gold-plated crown, his blue silk robes, an inflatable globe that he held in his hands, a 15-inch flag featuring the "scepter of righteousness", and a cheap folding chair which served as his surrogate "Throne of David", Tomlinson's coronation ceremonies were certainly picturesque, if nothing else.
Though most of these ceremonies took place at local airports, one of them was held in Moscow's Red Square to the bemusement of the Soviet government (Pravda referred to it as a publicity stunt by "an American actor"). He later claimed that his 1958 Red Square coronation "melted the Iron Curtain" and fostered peace (not that anyone else noted an easing of Cold War tensions afterward). In the years following his first coronations as King of All The Nations of Men, he stated: "I crowned myself in every state, and at 67 colleges, and I visited 101 nations and crowned myself King in every one, including Russia in Red Square, in Moscow on July 12, 1958. Crowds greeted me everywhere." Homer insisted that his traveling to different countries helped usher in the Kingdom of God by preventing revolutions, encouraging world peace, and ending droughts.
As part of his grandiose plan to reshape the world, Homer planned to move the seat of the United Nations to Jerusalem where its ambassadors would be replaced by preachers. Not only would Jerusalem become the world's centre of finance and culture, any nation that waged a war would be struck by drought and plague. The Ten Commandments would be formally enacted into law everywhere and taxation would be replaced by tithing. All laws everywhere would be replaced by his own "48 laws" which, among other things, banned liquor and tobacco, provided equality for all, offered forgiveness for repentant criminals, and promoted love.
The actual size of Homer Tomlinson's congregation, all of whom he dubbed "saints", was always hard to calculate but he confidently placed it at 75,000 with 600 ministers under his control. At other times, he assumed that all the world's Pentecostalists were under his dominion (though they likely didn't share this opinion). As for his actual congregation, many of his followers were apparently dissatisfied with his leadership and one of them, Grady R. Kent, formed a separate denomination, Church of All Nations in 1957.
When he wasn't travelling, Homer ran his world-wide empire from the two-story frame house in Queen's Village in New York City where he had lived since 1920. Homer Tomlinson's "mission" continued right up to his death in 1968. According to an obituary in the New York Times, he died quietly in a Manhattan hospital after a long illness. Described as the "portly, pink-faced, cheery leader of the Church of God", he was survived by his wife Marie whom he had met in an Aimee Temple McPherson tent in 1919. Along with their two sons, he was also survived by their six grandchildren. He is buried in Long Island cemetery.
Though the Church of God still exists, the church website rather downplays the eccentric life of Bishop Tomlinson. After his death, he was succeeded by Voy M. Bullen who then moved the church to Huntsville, Alabama to be closer to the centre of the movement. While Tomlinson's church has undergone various moves and schisms since his death, the Church of God is reported to have over 70,000 followers at present but this figure is considered to be likely inflated.
So, was Homer Tomlinson prone to grandiose delusions or was his "King of the World" campaign nothing more than an elaborate publicity stunt? While his various "coronations" had no actual validity, they certainly kept him in the public eye. Stirring up controversy ensured that Homer A. Tomlinson had greater name recognition than the other competing denominations, even if he picked up a reputation for being a crackpot along the way.
And, perhaps that was enough for him.
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