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Upscale/Downscale

In our New Oxford Note, “The Exclusivity of the ‘Gospel of Inclusion’” (June 2003), we told you about Bishop Carlton Pearson, a black Pentecostal preacher at Higher Dimensions Family Church in an upscale part of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

We began with this: “We don’t know about you, but here in the Diocese of Oakland we can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard a homilist intone something like this: ‘God’s love is unconditional. God loves you just the way you are, faults and all. You don’t have to jump through hoops to please God. Just accept the fact that God accepts you.’ The unspoken message is that you don’t have to repent of your sins to find favor with God. Still, we’ve never heard the logical conclusion of that song and dance, namely, that no one goes to Hell. Well, we take our hats off, left-handedly, to Bishop Carlton Pearson…who has dared…to announce the logical conclusion: ‘How can you say God’s love is unconditional, but if I don’t love Him back right, you go to hell?’ Yes, his grammar is off, but you do see what he’s saying, don’t you? He’s asserting that if God’s love is truly unconditional, He would never condemn anyone to Hell (or, if you prefer, He would never let anyone wind up there).”

To continue with that June 2003 New Oxford Note: “Bishop Pearson has come up with what he calls his ‘Gospel of Inclusion.’ Interestingly, the bishop isn’t your looney liberal…. He’s a protégé of Oral Roberts and an outspoken Republican. The emphasis at his Higher Dimensions Family Church is, he says, ‘not on you accepting God but…that God accepts you.’… He believes that everyone goes to Heaven. So is his ‘Gospel of Inclusion’ catching on? It does sound like a real crowd pleaser, doesn’t it? Well, before preaching his new Gospel, his church had more than 5,000 members, but now his attendance is down to 1,300. He complains that ‘my offerings dropped by $20,000 to $30,000 each week. I laid off staff.'”

According to a story in the National Catholic Reporter (Dec. 9, 2005), Pearson is now down to 500 members, and his church in that upscale part of Tulsa is now in foreclosure. The story also reports that Pearson is a “sharp-dressing pastor” and “was a mayoral candidate in Tulsa, a Grammy-nominated singer and one of a small group of black church leaders that met with President Bush.” How the mighty have fallen, or maybe not.

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