Christian heretic surprised to find opposition in a New Thought church.
Rev. Carlton Pearson is no stranger to controversy, and his arrival to Chicago brings a new storm.
Pearson, once regarded as one of the nation’s most influential Pentecostal preachers, was denounced as a heretic for his teaching that everyone goes to heaven: Muslims, Buddhists, gays, even the devil. He lost his followers, his friends and his Oklahoma church. After being shunned as an outcast, Pearson continued preaching his controversial “gospel of inclusion” and built a new following that raised his profile again.
Now, Pearson faces a different battle as he assumes leadership of the 6,000-member Christ Universal Temple, one of the city’s largest congregations.
Several hundred members of the congregation are protesting Pearson’s appointment as senior minister, saying he lacks the theological training to lead a New Thought church like Christ Universal. The movement uses a metaphysical interpretation of the Bible and focuses on healing, meditation and thinking positive thoughts to improve one’s life.
Those opposed to Pearson also criticized the selection process as unfair and charged that the church’s board of directors dismissed all other candidates to lure Pearson to Chicago. More than 1,000 church members signed a petition demanding a special meeting to discuss Pearson.
“Pearson is a fourth-generation Pentecostal, and we are a New Thought church,” said Rev. Fred Randall, a church minister for 40 years. “He could be a student in New Thought. Yes. But a leader? No.”
Rev. Roderick Norton said: “It’s like bringing a Catholic priest into a Baptist church. It’s an insult to us.”
Pearson, who was condemned by Pentecostal leaders, said he was surprised to find opposition in a New Thought church.
“New Thought is not an exclusive group that demeans other movements and expressions,” Pearson said. “I didn’t expect to encounter this in New Thought once I moved away from fundamentalism.”
Christ Universal Temple was founded by Rev. Johnnie Colemon, a New Thought pioneer. After being diagnosed with an incurable disease, she enrolled at the Unity School of Christianity and learned that disease stems from negative thinking.
Upon recovery in 1956, Colemon returned to Chicago as an ordained minister and opened Christ Universal. In 1974 she withdrew from the Unity movement and formed her own denomination, the Universal Foundation for Better Living (UFBL). In 2006, after building a $10 million religious empire, Colemon retired.