Mention Bishop Carlton Pearson’s name and you will get one of two reactions: “heretic” or “prophet.” Pearson was a Christian mega-star, host of his own TV show and Oral Roberts’ beloved protégé. Then God told him to preach a new message. Pearson told his story titled “To Hell and Back” to Keith Morrison on MSNBC.com.
Bishop Carlton Pearson, a famous African American televangelist, singer and musician seemed blessed. He had a multiracial church membership of 5,000 in Tulsa Oklahoma, was host of his own TV show reaching audiences up to 60 million and preached with the biggest names in the evangelical world. He met with Heads of State and Prime Ministers, including three American Presidents and countless global leaders.
Then God told him to preach a new message. That’s when the trouble started.
Pearson was watching a news story on TV about the refugee crisis in Rwanda. Assuming that the African people with their swollen bellies and skeletal bodies were Muslims Pearson asked God, “How can you call yourself a sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this crisis and just suck them right to Hell?”
To his surprise he heard a voice within say, “So that’s what you think we’re doing?”
“That’s what I’ve been taught,” Pearson replied. Thinking he was being asked to preach the Gospel in Africa he tearfully told God, “I can’t save the world, I’m doing the best I can.”
“Precisely,” said God. “You can’t save the world. That is what we do. Can’t you see they are already in Hell?”
“Clear as a bell,” says Pearson. He heard God telling him to preach a new message that hell is a place in life and that everybody is redeemed after death.
Pearson began to preach God’s new message.
To Pearson’s dismay his congregation dropped to 200. Without the $60,000 a week collection income he lost his staff and the church building.
Friends and colleagues disappeared. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts, who had once called Pearson his “black son,” and other big names in the evangelical world called Pearson a heretic.
The attacks were blistering.
When things were at their bleakest he was invited to speak at a Christian church in San Francisco. He told the congregation of AIDS patients, gays and abused women that heaven was waiting for everybody¾ including them.
And when he was through the minister asked him to take off his shoes. She knelt down with a bowl of water and began to wash his feet.
“Now I was a hurting man,” Pearson said. Everyone I knew had thrown me away. And they were singing and weeping and washing my feet. Talk about a holy moment. The room began to spin. And everybody in there suddenly became an angel. Everybody was Jesus. It was powerful.
These people have been so hurt and so broken and so rejected and so bruised, they healed me. They literally healed me.”
“Once my eyes were opened by God I had to live and preach the truth even if I lost everything,” he said firmly.
Back in Tulsa Pearson got a second invitation. The priest of an old Episcopal church downtown told Pearson’s he liked his message and invited him to use the church sanctuary on Sundays.
Pearson’s new congregation grew rapidly. He is now looking for a new church building.
Pearson also published a book titled, “The Gospel of Inclusion” where he shows that all of God’s children are already saved by the sacrifice of Christ¾ gays, Muslims, Jews, atheists, everyone. Weaving theology, biblical scholarship and cultural history Pearson shows that the dogma of Hell is a device to control the faithful, that authoritarian religion is at the heart of the world’s troubles, that God is not a Christian, but indeed belongs to all humankind.
Dr. Mark Hanby said Bishop Pearson’s book “has nailed a thesis to our church door and demanded reformation. He comes with the spirit of Elijah and the courage of John the Baptist and Paul the Apostle.”
Pearson says a new more loving life in Christ has opened to him, a life that is not motivated by fear or the threat of Hell. For the first time as a Christian he really not only loves God but has started to like him.
Pearson explains, I’ve always had something to live for. This is the first time I’ve ever had something to die for.”