Bishop Carlton D’metrius Pearson, advocate of the Gospel of Inclusion, was born on March 19, 1953 in San Diego, California. He was born into a very religious and fundamentalist family with a long line of preachers and evangelists. He was told repeatedly as a child, that he was “called by God” among other popular religious idioms to speak on and affirm his call. He heard that up and through his life until he realized that call for himself as a young boy. Through high school that path never relented and thusly prompted him to attend college at Oral Roberts University where he earned a bachelors degree in religion. During his time there he was mentored by Oral Roberts and sang with the World Action Singers.
He was licensed and ordained in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), a Pentecostal denomination. He went on to start a church in 1981 named Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center which became one of the largest churches in Tulsa, Oklahoma, bringing in over 6,000 people in attendance weekly. Pearson’s growing success made him desirous to be married, after all, he had almost everything else. In September 1993, he married the former Gina Marie Gauthier. To their union, two children were born, Julian D’metrius Pearson, born on July 9 1994, and Majestè Amour Pearson, born October 29, 1996. At this point he literally had it all. A beautiful wife, two beautiful, healthy babies, money, security…everything. At the height of his success, he was one of the first black preachers on national television, next to Fred Price. He hosted an annual Pentecostal and charismatic conference every year called Azusa from the early 90’s til the early 2000’s. This large gathering gave name and rise to several big name Christian artists, and preachers alike--names like the Clark Sisters, Shirley Caesar, Donnie McClurkin, T.D. Jakes, and Juanita Bynum. These names were attached to his and several of them were personal friends of Pearson. This was his heyday! He was on top, very wealthy, and very famous in the world of Christendom.
Pearson was ordained Bishop in 1997 at the opening of his Azusa Conference. He had managed to reach the highest office in his faith tradition by being ordained Bishop. All of this fame and success seemed to happen for Pearson overnight, and as quickly as it came, it all seemed to dissipate just as, if not faster. This great fall was attributed to what he described as having a revelation from God on what he termed the Gospel of Inclusion--a theology that says everyone is loved by God and reconciled to God by Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He says he was home watching a program on TV which was documenting the genocide in Rwanda. Sitting in his large home, eating his fancy dinner, he watched this documentary which showed the death of many Rwandans. While seeing this TV program he said to God, “God these people are dying and going to hell.” He said he believed God replied, “Is that what you think we’re doing? Killing people and they’re dying and going to hell?” He says that conversation with the divine is what started him on the journey towards this Gospel of Inclusion. This theology, similar to other theologies such as Universalism, was not new per se, but it was also not welcomed in the COGIC. This theology eliminated the threat of hell, a major tenant of the Christian faith. By this doctrine, persons of LGBTQ affiliation were drawn to this theology because it removed the hateful language that queer people’s ultimately reality was hell because their lives were contrary to what they understood to be God’s word.
This new thinking spread like wildfire in every direction--to those who were former victims of the fundamental interpretative teachings that separated people from God for various reasons and also to those persons who still held on to those fundamental beliefs. Those two groups were opposed theologically, and through Pearson they were being made to look at each other and contend with things they may not have even considered otherwise. This uprising in “New Thought” also spread and much to Pearson’s dismay, it wasn’t long before he was addressed by the Joint College of Bishops on his new teachings. They along with others--namely Oral Roberts--tried to encourage Pearson to abandon his newfound theology, stick to the more fundamental teachings which perpetuated hell and judgment as the fate of the “unrighteous.” But Pearson was not content to do that. After several warnings from and conversations with multiple church leaders, the African American Joint College of Bishops decided to disfellowship with Pearson and name him a heretic.
This fallout had ripples of consequences that ultimately led to the absolute fall of what some might call a religious "empire." This great fall severed his friendships with church leaders both nationally and internationally. People stopped taking his phone calls and they stopped inviting him to preach at their events. Everything seemed to gradually grow dark and silent in his life. Then finally his church fell also. With such a large church campus, mortgage, and several other overhead expenses, he couldn’t keep up financially and eventually lost the building. As a result, the church was absorbed into another church...a more welcoming church, one that appreciated Bishop Pearson’s expanded consciousness and New Thought Ideas. All Souls United Church of Christ allowed Pearson to initially have services there, then ultimately the two churches merged. That was good for Pearson because he was still preaching, which he was still passionately wanting to do. All Souls became one of the largest churches in Tulsa and the largest church in their denomination. After this huge fallout and these dark and dismal days, the sun was slowly beginning to shine again for Pearson.
After this relationship with All Souls, in 2009 Pearson took an interim position at Christ Universal Temple, a large New Thought congregation in Chicago. That lasted for two years until he left and returned to Tulsa. Then he was called up by Bishop Yvette Flunder, a popular name in the UCC and in LGBTQ clergy. She invited him to her church where they just lavished him with love and acceptance. Her church is made up primarily of LGBTQ persons so naturally this affirmation offered by Flunder gave Pearson a name and new home in the LGBTQ community. Things were slowly turning around for Pearson. He was reemerging onto a different scene, a much smaller scene, but a scene nonetheless. People were celebrating his expanded view of scripture and his ability to reconsider his own theology around sexuality, ultimate reality, and other issues pertaining to things that affect the lives of Christians, particularly LGBTQ people. The community embraced him wholly. He had not known that there were other churches like this. His former faith tradition kept him isolated from even considering fellowship with persons and Christians who didn’t have his same ideas about scripture. His newfound community was comprised of people who didn’t mind questioning. He began to ask more questions and those questions created even more opportunities for bridges and new relationships.
Those relationships resulted in the invitations coming back to him to share his new message. In 2005, his life story was the subject of “Heretics”, an episode of the Chicago Public Radio program This American Life which was broadcast on December 16, 2005. Pearson was the subject of a Cable News Network story on June 24, 2007 that covered the changes in his teachings including the acceptance of LGBTQ people in his church. He received backlash for that. In March 2009, Pearson appeared on Nightline "Face Off" with Deepak Chopra, Mark Driscoll, and Annie Lobert to address the question "Does Satan Exist?" In September 2010, Pearson again appeared on CNN with anchor Kyra Phillips, discussing the widely publicized gay rumors regarding Bishop Eddie Long. Pearson was again criticized for his inclusive thinking by many Christian fundamentalists, for stating: “Until the Church—the Church, black or otherwise—confronts—not combats—confronts this issue of human sexuality and homosexuality, which is not going away. Homosexuals and homosexuality is not going away. If every gay person in our church just left or those who have an orientation or preference or an inclination, or a fantasy, if everyone left, we wouldn't have—we wouldn't have a church.”
In December 2010, Academy Award winner Mo'Nique invited Pearson to appear on her BET-TV late night talk show. Mo'Nique publicly suggested that she followed and supported Pearson and would "come to his church in Atlanta, if he had one and would have her." In July 2010, it was announced that director Marc Forster would direct a feature film about Pearson’s story from a script by Marcus Hinchey based on This American Life’s “Heretics” episode. In 2017, Joshua Marston was reported to be directing the project as a film for Netflix with Chiwetel Ejiofor cast to play Pearson, Condola, Rashad as his wife Gina, and Martin Sheen as Oral Roberts. The film, entitled Come Sunday premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and was released on Netflix on April 13, 2018. Pearson is still going strong, with regular social media activity and still preaching the gospel of inclusion and expanded consciousness.
(This biographical statement written by Brian Mack for a Queer and Trans Theologies class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, from these sources: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/304/heretics
Biography Date: April 2023
“Bishop Carlton D. Pearson | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed February 25, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/carlton-d-pearson.