I had not heard of Carlton Pearson before listening to a profile of him on the NPR program "This American Life" last year. His story is a fascinating one. He had been a protege of Oral Roberts, a rising start and a leading African American figure in Roberts's organization. At a certain point, however, he came to question one of the key tenets of the Pentecostal movement that he was associated with. He stopped believing in hell as a place of eternal damnation.
Embracing instead what he called the "Gospel of inclusion", Pearson 's image of a universally loving God was not well received by his colleagues and many of his church goers. His church lost members, and he became an outcast within his own denomination, branded a "heretic" by the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops Congress.
The web site for his church, the New Dimensions Worship Center, describes the church as "The Friendliest, Trendiest, Most Radically Inclusive Worship Experience!" It also says,
It is not our intention to convert anyone to our beliefs about the Finished Work of Calvary, but to convince everyone of the absolute unconditional love of God for all of humanity. If by chance you disagree with our stance, by all means live according to your own awareness and convictions, as will we. It is not about whether we are right or wrong, but more about being real. We encourage everyone to live your own reality.Carlton Pearson has now been accepted as a minister of the United Church of Christ. According to an article in the Tulsa World, Carlson had this to say about the UCC:
It is expected that his church will join the UCC in the "next several months".
"This is a very well-established, historical American church," Pearson said. "It's radically inclusive. I've never seen an organization that fits my theology better.
"I don't know of any church where I'd be more comfortable."
The article also says,
Pearson's universalism, which got him in trouble among evangelicals and in his own Pentecostal denomination, will not be a problem in the UCC, where many ministers are Universalists.He said the UCC has been a leader in liberal causes for centuries, granting voting rights in church elections to women in 1699, fighting slavery 160 years before the Civil War, ordaining a black minister in 1785, ordaining a woman pastor in 1853, taking a stand for the civil rights of gays and lesbians in 1969, and supporting gay marriage in 2005.
"How the UCC would phrase it would be that God's love will be reconciling for all people, not just Christians," Ashby said. "Universalism in the UCC goes back to the 19th century, when Henry Ward Beecher raised the question, 'If God created us, can't God repair us?' "
I honestly don't know if my theology overall would fit in very well with Carlton Pearson's; my guess is that I am more liberal than he is, but I do like that he embraces universalism and I admire the way he made a break with the intolerance of his original religious background. I think it reflects the inclusive message that embodies the United Church of Christ. One of my favorite television ads was rejected for airing by US television networks. It is known as the "ejector seat" ad. Since I am one who feels like an outsider within the Christian community, I find this ad very moving: