Controversial Minister: One On One With Carlton Pearson

Thursday, November 15th 2007, 10:00 pm
By: News On 6

Evangelical Christianity may be littered with pastors who have fallen from grace, but Carlton Pearson's story is one of a kind. Pearson did not have an affair, embezzle money, or get hooked on drugs. News On 6 anchor Terry Hood reports Pearson began to preach that God's grace was powerful enough to send everyone to heaven. What happened next imploded his church in Tulsa and that may be just the beginning.

If you have not heard Carlton Pearson preach lately you have not heard Carlton Pearson.

“It’s not only obscure and absurd, its obscene to believe that God tortures people infinitely when he tells you to forgive your enemy and to love them,” said Carlton Pearson.

A fourth generation Pentecostal preacher, Pearson was born for the pulpit. However, never did he expect to find himself on this kind of stage.

“That's my background. That's all I preached until I started hanging out with weirdoes, like unity folks,” said Carlton Pearson.

Recently, Carlton Pearson was in Houston, telling his story to a packed house at a Unity church, a visit sponsored by Rice University. Before this month is out, Pearson will speak in Georgia, Ohio and California and travel to New York to talk about a movie and a book deal.

Carlton Pearson may be a preacher without a church in Tulsa, but outside of Oklahoma, he is a rock star. Folks will wait in line for well over an hour just to shake his hand. Carlton Pearson was preaching by the time he was 16, but his formal education was at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. His natural talent quickly took him to the top and he became the protégé of Oral Roberts himself.

Pearson left Oral Roberts University without a degree, but enough charisma to start his own church, Higher Dimensions. Within just a few years, the congregation bursting at the seams, they moved into a big new building near 91st and Memorial. Carlton Pearson was on his way. His congregation numbered in the thousands, weekly collections were in the tens of thousands and Pearson’s annual Azusa Conference gave him a national platform, drawing as many as 40,000 people from around the world. Pearson was invited to White House prayer breakfasts. And hobnobbed with the most famous televangelists of the day.

Yet through it all, he was haunted by a lingering doubt.

“I fought it for years. It didn't fit into what I was doing. It didn't fit into my pulpit. It didn't fit into my image and dogmas and even my disciplines. I ignored it,” said Carlton Pearson.

Watch the video: Carlton Pearson Explains How His Questions Of Faith Shifted

At issue were the question of salvation and the ultimate punishment of a loving God.

“How can mercy endure forever and horror endure forever? I can't enjoy heaven knowing that my parent, or my child or my brother or best friend is infinity tortured,” said Carlton Pearson.

Watch the video: Carlton Pearson Talks About The Concept Of Hell

Pearson calls his new way of thinking the "Gospel of Inclusion." It rejects the concept of hell and questions the literal truth of the bible. The theology has its roots in an ancient dogma known as universalism. By the late 1990's, these teachings were becoming part of his sermons and many in his congregation were stunned.

“I’ve prayed for him. I've wept for the people, you know so many people don't know what they believe now,” said Carlton Pearson.

Among them was Rhonda McDaris, who was no ordinary parishioner. McDaris holds a master of divinity and a master of historical theological studies from Oral Roberts University. Her thesis topic, the theory of universalism.

“The teaching of Universalism, in a nutshell undermines the very foundation of Christianity,” said Rhonda McDaris.

Watch the video: Rhonda McDaris Explains Universalism vs. Christianity

McDaris says the Bible is clear that accepting Jesus is the key to salvation and that makes Carlton Pearson a dangerous man.

“I love the man, he was my pastor. But the message itself comes down to this at the end...if the Universalist view is wrong, how many people will be in hell because they were never told the truth,” said Rhonda McDaris.

Watch the video: Rhonda McDaris Asks, If Universalism Is Wrong, What Happens Then

Pearson admits he has been tormented by that very question. As old friends turned away and his congregation dwindled, the world he had so carefully built was left in shreds.

“My house was in jeopardy, my marriage was in jeopardy, my future was in jeopardy. I lost so much so quickly,” said Carlton Pearson.

Then came a diagnosis of cancer.

“I actually thought if I am wrong and this cancer is terminal, then I should accept that. And I told God, if I’m wrong, if I can really lead millions to hell with this, take me, said Carlton Pearson.

Watch the video: Carlton Pearson Talks About The Impact Of His Decisions

Pearson survived the cancer. He survived losing his church and he is trying to rebuild his congregation. However, one wound has yet to heal.

“I love that man so much its crazy,” said Carlton Pearson.

His new faith cost him his mentor, it cost him Oral Roberts.

“That’s a real tender spot for me, because not so much because he rejected me. But because I hurt him. I would never hurt oral Roberts,” said Carlton Pearson.

Watch the video: Carlton Pearson Talks About Oral Roberts

Yet, Bishop Carlton Pearson is moving on. He has borrowed church space from the Episcopalians in downtown Tulsa. He preaches every Sunday afternoon.

“I want to know the indefinable, infinite me. the one nobody can put limits on,” said Carlton Pearson.

His story is getting national media attention, book sales are brisk and he is talking to Hollywood about a movie deal. Pearson says he is a man at peace with his God.

“What if you're wrong about all this?” asks Terry Hood.

Pearson responds, “For the first time in my life Terry, I'm not so interested in being right as I am in being real. My authentic self and soul says this basic almost trite reality. God is good and God is love and anything else is an illusion.”

Watch the video: Carlton Pearson Says He Is At Peace With What He Preaches