Evangelical bishop who preaches ‘people are loved by God regardless’ speaks at Cathedral of Hope
Bishop Carlton Pearson was mentored by Oral Roberts, was pastor of
Tulsa’s largest mega-church, is a fourth generation Pentecostal preacher — and believes gays and lesbians are loved by God.
That last one has gotten him into a little trouble.
The author of the best-selling book The Gospel of Inclusion and millions of CDs and videos said this week he changed his philosophy to full inclusion around 2002-03.
Pearson said his TV hero is Ellen Degeneres, because “She ends each show telling people to go out and be kind to each other” He called that the message of Christianity.
Pearson will be at Cathedral of Hope at both the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services on Sunday, on March 22, preaching the gospel of inclusion.
Among the radical ideas that have gotten Pearson in some hot water with other evangelicals is the idea that everyone can go to heaven — Jews, Hindus, agnostics, gays, lesbians, trans people, Christians — everyone. He refers to himself as a sacred humanist.
Pearson was raised in San Diego where he saw the collegiate singers from Oral Roberts University perform. That inspired him to apply to ORU where he was accepted. He said the ORU campus reminded him of The Jetsons with its space-age architecture.
“We were used to simplistic,” he said. “Education was frowned upon.”
Pearson said his own pastor in San Diego was a janitor. For the first time, ORU added class and sass and elegance to Pentecostalism.
While Pearson attended the school, he said, its founder, Oral Roberts, took him under his wing.
“He said I had ‘it,’” Pearson recalled, describing Roberts as someone who loved Martin Luther King, who loved lower and working class people and wanted to protect them from liberal Christianity. Pearson said Roberts’ God was a good God, not mean or angry.
But Pearson said his split with Roberts came when Pearson started “hanging out with Republicans.”
That might seem backwards, but Roberts identified with the Democratic Party that got working people out of the Depression. Pearson, on the other hand, identified with the Republican Party that had voted for civil rights legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act, in numbers larger than the Democratic Party.
Pearson said he visited the Governor’s Mansion in Austin when George W. Bush was running for his first term as president, and Roberts remained a Democrat throughout his life, voting for Barack Obama.
Pearson ran for mayor of Tulsa in 2002 as a Republican and came in third out of 13 candidates. The split between the two grew deeper, though, when Pearson stopped demonizing people with different beliefs.
“I started preaching the gospel of inclusion in my church,” Pearson said. “I thought I could make Tulsa radically inclusive. Not only Christians could go to heaven. People are loved by God — regardless.”
At first Roberts wasn’t so much against what Pearson was saying. But he did think it would destroy Pearson’s ministry.
Randy Potts, Oral Roberts’ grandson, attended Pearson’s church as he grew up in Tulsa. He said this week that he remembers Pearson as what was good about his religious upbringing.
Potts, who now lives in Dallas, said his family stopped attending Pearson’s church after a falling out with the pastor. After he moved to Dallas and came out, Potts sought out Pearson again.
“I think he’s a very brave, sincere man,” Potts said of Pearson. “It took courage to say the things he said.”
When Potts attended Pearson’s mega-church in Tulsa, he said the service was pure Pentecostal and the congregation was evenly split between black and white. He described the preacher now as a Pentecostal Unitarian.
“He’s this unique, weird bridge,” Potts said. “He has the spirit of a Pentecostal but none of the theology.”
He said he thinks Pearson understands gays and lesbians so well, because he had to come out himself as not believing that everyone who didn’t share his theology was going to hell.
When Potts married his husband, Pearson performed the ceremony.
“I’ve evolved over the years,” Pearson said of his changing beliefs, using a word that is heretical to many evangelicals. But his message to the LGBT community is clear: “All humanity is divine.”
When Pearson began exploring liberal Christianity, he said he was surprised with what he found. Among the churches he visited was Metropolitan Community Church.
“I was astounded by how intense the worship was among people who have been taught to hate themselves,” he said.
Pearson said the attitude about LGBT people is changing even among evangelicals. Many of them area realizing, he said, that they have LGBT children or grandchildren, and that they don’t have to “like” that fact to keep on loving their children and grandchildren.
Pearson said his New Dimensions ministry is a church without walls. His title of bishop comes from the Churches of God in Christ, although in 2004 he was declared a heretic. In 2006, he was accepted as a minister by United Church of Christ, the denomination with which Cathedral of
Hope is affiliated.
Today, Pearson said, he speaks at UCC, Unitarian and other liberal churches. He’s a frequent speaker at synagogues and at atheist and agnostic groups.
Pearson said he has been featured on NPR’s This American Life, NBC’s Dateline, CNN and ABC’s Nightline. But what he doesn’t do anymore is Christian radio.
“It’s too stupid,” he explained.
Pearson still hasn’t appeared on his TV hero’s talk show, Ellen. Maybe after this week’s Cathedral of Hope appearance he’ll get there.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 20, 2015.