Saying there’s no such place as hell has cost one of the most prominent spiritual leaders in the country his job, church and place on Christian radio.
What would make Bishop Carlton Pearson of Tulsa, Okla., who was mentored by Oral Roberts and greeted by presidents at the White House, also proclaim that Jesus isn’t coming back just for Christians — but also Muslims, Jews and atheists?
From the Sunday morning pulpits of most Christian houses of worship, the message is you have to accept Christ to be eligible for heaven. And then there are certain things you have to do, namely adhering to the Ten Commandments.
But Pearson says he had a revelation that changed his ministry while sitting in front of his television, watching displaced African refugees. Then he went back to the Bible he had been teaching from for more than 30 years.
“We can’t conceive a ‘hell-less’ Christianity,” says Pearson, who was recently the subject of a “Dateline NBC” segment chronicling the loss of 5,000 of his 6,000 members, the $50,000-a-Sunday collection plate, and even the church building to foreclosure.
“We have no concept of heaven or God without the counter product. It’s hard for us to believe God just for love or faith. Most of us are motivated by an aversion to hell.
“It is OK to be who they are. That’s the thing that scares them.”
Pearson is one of the more vocal leaders of the “inclusion ministry” movement, which turns Christianity on its head: God’s not counting mens’ sins or trespasses against them. Not even Hitler’s.
“If I had a hell to put him in I would, but I don’t,” Pearson says of the leader of the Nazi regime that killed millions of Jews.
Whether we believe it or not, he says, Jesus paid that price at Calvary, where he was hung on the cross.
Christianity has “deteriorated into a cult following that Jesus is protecting us from a ‘good God’ who has a ‘bad god’ in the devil … and he’s making a list, checking it twice. That’s why we have so many paranoid Christians. … They have high expectations and extreme demands on each other.
“The whole world is already saved, they just don’t know it,” Pearson says.
The role of Christians?
“Our responsibility is not to transform people, but to inform people of God’s attitude which is good.”
Pearson has gotten letters from others who agree: “I’ve actually had people tell me, ‘Man I’m listening and studying.’ I get letters from retired pastors… (who said) God showed me this 30 years ago but I couldn’t afford to talk about it.”
Since his change in theology, Pearson has come under attack by evangelical Christians. Roberts has admonished him. Those who he helped groom, including T.D. Jakes, say they do not understand where this is coming from. His congregation has dwindled to hundreds. But Pearson is asking people to challenge their hearts.
“Did you see the Newsweek article? Billy Graham is saying the same thing.” Graham, the face of evangelical Christians, has said he can’t say who will get into heaven and who won’t.
Pearson says his preacher father has come around to his thinking. “My mother stills struggles from time to time. Her dad was a strict, strict holiness preacher. My mother couldn’t iron clothes on Sunday. She still struggles.”
What about sin?
“You’ll never know you are free from sin until you know you are free to sin and still be advocated.”
Pearson will release a book on the subject in October.