For Pearson, gospel of inclusion is costly and joyful

The friendliest, trendiest, most radically inclusive worship experience in all of Tulsa, Oklahoma, takes place at Trinity Episcopal Church. No, not at that service! The other one…the one that meets at 1 p.m. Sundays and on Wednesdays at 7. The New Dimensions Worship center led by Bishop Carlton Pearson, worships at Trinity with a blend of Gospel Music and Pentecostal worship that also preaches what their pastor calls a Gospel of Radical Inclusion.

Pearson was a rising star in the Church of God in Christ, the largest African-American denomination in the US and also on the evangelical-pentecostal circuit. Known for his music, dancing and flamboyant preaching style. But that was until he began to preach a “Gospel of Radical Inclusion.”

Soon he found himself having to defend his views before the congress of the Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops, a group made of leaders of independent Pentecostal churches and congregations affiliated with the American Baptist Churches U.S.A. and the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.

He told the panel, “In the biblical and classical Christian theology, salvation is sometimes pictured in a restrictive sense, belonging only to those who respond in faith. A more careful study of Scriptures will reveal that salvation is also. … pictured in a universally inclusive way, in which God is redeemer of the whole world or creation, including all human beings.”

At the time, he was pastor of a 5,000 member mega-church called Higher Dimensions Family Center. But as he began to preach and teach his Gospel of Radical Inclusion, he found that his speaking engagements on the evangelical circuit went away, he was condemned in the evangelical press and, he said, “everything I spend my whole life working for went up in smoke.”

Now his smaller group now rents space from Trinity Episcopal Church, Tulsa, but, as Toby Jenkins of Oklahomans for Equality said to CNN, “he is courageously suffering and lost so much… for people like us… Now that’s our hero.”

He used to preach that homosexuality is an unqualified sin, prayed for the healing of gay and lesbian people, until his best friend—whom Pearson describes as a believer and deeply spiritual person—came out to him. In an interview on CNN, Pearson said he also looked around Tulsa and saw that with the levels of divorce, substance abuse and teen pregnancy in the area, and concluded that “all this hyper conservative fundamentalist religion is probably not working.” In the video clip he asks that if God does not count sins against us, then why do Christians and religious leaders?

He says “I thnk we have idolized the Bible, turned it what I call Bible bullets to shoot down anything we don’t like, anything we are comfortable with. I would like for that to be corrected in the Christian consciousness.”

Here is a longer, more in-depth profile on NPR’s This American Life.

Beliefnet ranks Pearson as one of the ten most influential African-American religious leaders. He is now associated with the United Church of Christ.

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