Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Carlton Pearson, Universalism

Here is an interesting article on Carlton Pearson an evangelical who embraced the Universalist doctrine.

To understand this scene, you’ve got to go back to the late 1990s and the vertiginous fall from grace of Bishop Carlton Pearson. Charming, engaging, self-deprecating, never holier than thou, and very funny, Pearson—an African American Pentecostal—had founded one of Tulsa’s most prominent megachurches. He had risen rapidly through the national power structure of evangelical Christendom, in league with the Rev. Oral Roberts, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and the Rev. Pat Robertson. In his early forties, he was at the pinnacle of his career.

Then Pearson got a divine revelation, as he tells it. Watching a news report one night in the spring of 1996, he was getting worked up about the genocide in Rwanda. His assumption was that the victims were bound for hell, persecuted yet unsaved. Feeling angry at God, and guilty that he himself wasn’t doing anything about it, he recalls, he fell into a sort of reproachful prayer: “God, I don’t know how you can sit on your throne there in heaven and let those poor people drop to the ground hungry, heartbroken, and lost, and just randomly suck them into hell.”

He heard God answer, “We’re not sucking those dear people into hell. Can’t you see they’re already there—in the hell you have created for them and continue to create for yourselves and others all over the planet? We redeemed and reconciled all of humanity at Calvary.”

Everything Pearson thought he knew was true started unraveling, as he began to realize: The whole world is already saved, whether they know it or not—not just professed Christians in good standing, but Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, gay people. There is no hell after you die. And he didn’t have the good sense to keep it to himself.

For the past decade, Pearson has led his followers on one rough ride. Branded a heretic in a formal tribunal by the Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops in 2004, he has lost almost everything: thousands of members; his close-knit staff; his building; use of his church’s name; rights to sermons, books, audio, and video; and lots of money. Worse than all that, he says, the venom he has felt from conservative Christians has been “much deeper, much more adamant, and more ferocious” than any racism he ever encountered.

This past year he and his remaining “wilderness wanderers,” as he calls them, have arrived at a place that feels like home: All Souls Unitarian Church. But the ride isn’t over yet.

[I edited a paragraph from American Creation that amounted to a statement of my personal theology; see my blogs for the missing paragraph.]

That dilemma as regards both the Trinity AND eternal damnation was present during the American Founding. And some Christian-unitarian-universalists (like Adams and Jefferson) indeed recognized they were just going to go with what their reason determined on these two issues, even if it conflicted with the Bible. If it did, they reasoned, the Bible's text must be corrupted and hence errant. So throw it out. Snip snip with your razor.

Yet others were insistent that the text of the Bible itself, properly understood vindicated both unitarianism and/or universalism. These include men like the trinitarian-universalists Benjamin Rush, John Murray, and Elhanan Winchester and unitarian-universalists like Charles Chauncy and perhaps other patriotic preachers like Jonathan Mayhew and Samuel Cooper.


Rick Lannoye said...

The fact is that it's impossible to believe everything that's in the Bible is true. Those who lay claim to believing "every word" is inspired by God, inevitibly end up explaining away some parts of the Bible in order to make it conform to others.

Were these believers honest, though, they would admit to taking a razor to many passages.

But that's really difficult for a lot of Christians who've been so conditioned to think they cannot, ever, OPENLY, admit parts of the Bible are in direct contradiction with the rest. Many end up, feeling they HAVE TO accept certain passages as "God's Word" no matter how much it contradicts everything else!

This is especially true when it comes to the doctrine of Hell.

I've actually written an entire book on this topic--"Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell," (for anyone interested, you can get a free Ecopy of my book at my website: www.ricklannoye.com), but if I may, let me share one of the many points I make in it to show that Hell was, indeed, a belief that was added to Jesus' words long after his death.

If one is willing to look, there's substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: "You don't know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!" Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

True, there are a few statements that made their way into the gospels which place Hell on Jesus lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Portions of the media love pumping this guy up. [MSNBC gave him a one-hour special. Surprise!]

That fact is that few want what he's selling, and unlike the unitarian takeover of the Congregationalist churches of the post-Founding era, his attempt to single-handedly alter his church's creed received little support.

Why this makes him a hero, you'll have to ask the media. He wasn't "labeled" a heretic, he was a heretic.

bpabbott said...

Heresy? ... hmm, if there is no other similarity, he shares that with a good number of the founders ;-)

Tom Van Dyke said...

True, Ben. I meself am sympathetic to "universal reconciliation," and although not normative, it's not even heretical in the largest Christian sect of all, Roman Catholicism.

But that fact is that's it's heretical in Pearson's former church, and they had every right [and duty] to withdraw recognition of him as a pastor. [Pearson's own congregation had shrunk from 6000 to a few hundred.]

He's probably where he belongs now, in a Unitarian church, altho he might believe things about Jesus that make him too credal to pastor a noncredal church.

Morrison: You mean Hitler’s in heaven?

Pearson: You think Hitler’s more powerful than the blood of Jesus?

In this article,


...Pearson is named senior interim pastor at a church in Chicago, but

It is true that some members of Christ Universal have voiced disappointment over Pearson’s selection. The problem seems to be his Pentecostal roots coupled with his lack of New Thought training.

Why Pearson's no longer there isn't in the Unitarian Universalist article Jon links to in his essay.

Pearson then joins a Unitarian Universalist church in Tulsa, but

At one point, Lavanhar mentioned to new associate music director Smith, �You know, the word Lord is going to be a little hard here.�

Smith looked puzzled. �You guys are so funny.� After all, services often start with �This is indeed a day which God has made� and end with a musical benediction, �May the Lord bless you and keep you.� The congregation sang �Jesus Christ Is Risen Today� out of the hymnal on Easter. The church�s statement of purpose, printed in the order of service each week, references �love of God� and �the essential gospel of Jesus.�

Lavanhar had to admit, �There is a lot of God language around here.� In fact, as part of its theme-based ministry, each month the entire church focuses on a different Bible story�in open acknowledgement of their spiritual richness, but also because �it�s almost self-defense here in Oklahoma to have some biblical literacy,� Lavanhar said, �and you need that to understand literature and arts no matter where you are.�

But behind the apparent contradiction, he discovered, was a very real pain and an opportunity for spiritual growth. Since last September, every week, a steady stream of men and women have come to talk with him about being abused�emotionally, sexually, or spiritually�as children in a Christian church. When they heard praise music sung, and saw the upraised hands, the trauma was reignited.

Over and over, he has heard his members say, �I came to All Souls to get away from all that.�

So, what happened at Christ Universal in Chicago? Was Pearson too orthodox for them? And if and when Person gets bounced by the UUs [or so Christianizes the church that his flock takes it over], will Dateline NBC do a story on it?

If I were a betting man, and I am, I'd bet no...

Phil Johnson said...

I get a kick out of what people who have no claim to a personal knowledge of Jesus have to say.

As if they had a clue.....

First, we have to understand what Jesus came against before we can make any claims about anything he ever accomplished.

LaNoye's comments are interesting.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Of interest:


Having inherited the parishes and churches of the Standing Order, the Unitarians, like the orthodox Congregationalists, benefitted from the religious tax imposed in most of the New England states. When, in late 1820 and early 1821, Massachusetts held a convention to revise its constitution, the attempt to separate church and state was opposed successfully by the eloquent Daniel Webster, among others.

[William Ellery] Channing ["the leading Unitarian minister"---ibid.], as did a number of other Unitarian ministers, defended the union of church and state, arguing that religion is not merely a personal matter between God and human beings. Government, therefore, ought "to pay homage to God, and express its obligation."

As one would expect, [Hosea] Ballou, as did other dissenters, called for church-state separation. In response to Channing's argument, he wrote: "If one set of religious sentiments ought to be supported by law, because they are of a social and salutary nature in society, there surely is the same reason for preventing by law the propagation of principles which are subversive of them." Ballou said that Channing was surely aware that it is not possible to make men religious by law. Tax money continued to support Congregational and Unitarian churches until 1834.

Ballou's exposition of "Ultra Universalism" led Channing to attack him in a sermon in 1832, saying that he had never seen a "more irrational doctrine." Ever the controversialist, Ballou refuted Channing's arguments with vigor...