OKLAHOMA CITY — The founder of a former Oklahoma megachurch who was branded a heretic and lost a hearing, but gained a new one, after rejected the idea of hell and supported gay rights has died, his agent said Monday.
Bishop Carlton Pearson died Sunday night at a hospice center in Tulsa due to cancer, said his agent, Will Bogle.
Pearson was 70 years old.
Early in his ministry he was considered a rising star on the Pentecostal preaching circuit and appeared frequently on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, bringing him an international audience.
Building on a ministry that began in 1977, Pearson founded Higher Dimensions Family Church in Tulsa in 1981, later known as New Dimensions Church, whose members numbered about 6,000 at the turn of the century.
Membership plummeted to a few hundred in 2008 after Pearson began teaching what he called “the gospel of inclusion,” a form of universalism that does not recognize hell.
Bogle said Pearson told him he didn’t think he made a mistake with his theological shift.
“People were forced to question what they were saying” about salvation, Bogle said. “And as polarizing as Bishop Pearson was throughout his life … he was a very good guy, he didn’t take himself seriously, he cared about people.”
In 2007, Pearson helped lead hundreds of clergy members across the country in urging Congress to pass historic measures against hate crimes and employment discrimination for gays.
Pearson was rejected by other evangelical leaders, branded a heretic, and later became a minister of the United Church of Christ. Higher Dimensions eventually lost its building to foreclosure and Pearson He preached his last sermon there in September 2008 when the church was absorbed by All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa.
After the collapse of his former ministry, his story was chronicled in a long episode of public radio’s “This American Life,” which became the basis of the 2018 Netflix film, “Come Sunday,” starring Chiwetel Ejiofor. .
Pearson’s beliefs also led to his resignation from the board of directors of his alma mater, Oral Roberts University, and a rift with the university’s founder and his mentor, evangelist Oral Roberts.
Pearson ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Tulsa in 2002, a defeat he attributed to public reaction to his teachings.
She was most recently a life coach on New Dimensions with a weekly live stream on Facebook and YouTube.
Pearson, in August, posted a video on social media from what appeared to be a hospital room and said he had been fighting cancer for 20 years.
In a September video, he said he was diagnosed with prostate cancer two decades ago, but was diagnosed with bladder cancer over the summer.
“I’m facing death… I’m not afraid of death, I’m not even afraid of dying,” Pearson said.
“I don’t fear God and if I had to fear anyone, I would fear some of his so-called people because they can be some bad cookie-eater sons, like my brother used to say,” Pearson said.
In 1995, Pearson called Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” for preaching the opposite of Martin Luther King Jr. and criticized the upcoming “Million Man March” in Washington, D.C. which Farrakhan organized to promote African American unity. and family values.
In 2000, Pearson was part of a group of 30 clergy advising then-President-elect George W. Bush on faith-based social programs.
Pearson is also the author of books, including “The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Religious Fundamentalism to the True Love of God” and participated in the documentary American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel.
Pearson is survived by his mother, a son, a daughter and his ex-wife, Bogle said.