He may have given up preaching hellfire, but Bishop Carlton Pearson still likes DMN-nation. The Dallas Morning News gave the Chicago-based minister a free 450-word ad when he spoke at a local church.
It's hard to blame the paper for having some fun. Pearson deserted classic Christian beliefs like sin, salvation and the danger of eternal punishment, pitching a universalist Gospel of Inclusion instead. Now he's a preacher turned pariah, although he's found new friends.
So Pearson is good copy. But did DMN have to turn cheerleader for him, right from the first paragraphs?
Bishop Carlton Pearson caught hell when he said there was no hell.
The trailblazing minister, who was mentored by Oral Roberts and became an adviser to presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, lost nearly everything after 2000 when he said he had an epiphany: There is no such thing as eternal damnation. He even told The Dallas Morning News that the devil himself could be saved.
Pearson was declared a heretic by fellow Pentecostal ministers and membership at his Higher Dimensions Family Church in Tulsa plummeted, as did cash offerings. He lost his homes and other possessions.
Which Pentecostal ministers would those be? Well, DMN mentions Oral Roberts, who died in 2009. His son, Richard, is still at the helm of the family business, though. And he's not hard to find. Why not quote him or other opponents, rather than what Pearson say they say?
That's just one of several unasked questions:
* So he was a trailblazing minister? In what terms? Certainly not in advising presidents, which Billy Graham has done for decades, starting with Harry Truman.
* So he had an epiphany? How did he reach it? Who or what triggered it?
* "He's almost as popular as ever" and has "rebuilt his ministry." Any numbers? Sure, the News says Hollywood is planning a film on his life. Well, they made a TV movie about Jim Bakker, and most would say his popularity isn't what it was.
* How many showed up at Cathedral of Hope, the site of Pearson's appearance? That could be a handy measurement of his pull in Dallas.
* "Pearson, 62, said it is important to bridge humanity with divinity and not apologize for it." Howso?
Oh, and don’t miss this bon mot:
Cathedral of Hope has one of the nation’s largest predominantly gay and lesbian congregations.
Pearson believes gays and lesbians will have a place in heaven, as well as others who some theologians say need redemption.
Ah, the coin of the realm for many mainstream media: If there's a possible connection with gays, work it. Except that it leaves hanging another question: "Who's arguing with that?" It would be hard to find anyone -- except maybe ingrown haters of the Westboro breed -- who says that gays or anyone else would be beyond redemption. The vast majority of Christians say that just about any sin can be forgiven. And for homosexuality, mainline Protestants say there's nothing to forgive.
The News dutifully interviews a couple of listeners on why they came to the local service and what they thought of Pearson. To no one's shock, they found him inspiring. Both liked the de-emphasis of a God, as one says, who was "so wrathful and so hateful."
Might be nice also to ask the views of a local pastor or two in a Church of God in Christ, the denomination to which Pearson once belonged. Their views might be a touch less benign.
Pearson has a full right to preach whatever he thinks is right. But as I've said before, a single viewpoint is not a controversy, just as a single horse does not a horse race make.
One funny thing is how Pearson wants to reject the Bible, yet embrace it. "I don’t mean to be disrespectful. I love the Scripture," he tells the News. "I hope you can get beyond this fear-based theology." But as the article ends, Pearson uses biblical language for his continuing self-discovery: "I had to die and be resurrected."
Wonder how he accepts and discards the book at the same time. But we won't find out in this story. Either Pearson wasn't asked, or the newspaper thought the reply wasn't worth a DMN.
Photo: Bishop Carlton Pearson preaching in 2006. Photo by Scott Griesse, via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0).