Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A popular black preacher has been found guilty of the “heresy of inclusionism” after a year-long debate among his fellow bishops on whether non-Christians can be admitted to heaven.

Bishop Carlton Pearson, pastor of Higher Dimensions Family Church in Tulsa, Okla., was informed last month that he was preaching theological error and would not be allowed to preach at any of the churches connected to the Cleveland-based Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops Congress. The Joint College numbers about 160 leaders of independent black churches.

“Inclusionism” is a doctrine that all people, not just Christians, are bound for heaven; that hell does not exist; and that Jesus Christ will not be returning to Earth.

“We do hereby declare the doctrine of inclusionism is an unorthodox teaching and shall be classified as a heresy,” said the Joint College in a statement March 29. Despite “repeated, compassionate and loving overtures,” it added, Bishop Pearson refused to quit preaching that doctrine.

“In light of the profound damage this heresy poses to the true presentation of the Gospel and because of our concern for the many people that could be influenced to adopt this heresy, and in so doing, put at risk the eternal destiny of their souls, we are compelled to declare Bishop Carlton Pearson a heretic,” the 17-page statement read.

A spokeswoman for Bishop Pearson’s church said the cleric is out of the country and has no comment on the pronouncement.

Bishop Pearson, 51, traveled to the District a year ago to present his views at a church trial before the Joint College. He was a rising star among conservative black Pentecostal preachers until about eight years ago, when he began teaching his “gospel of inclusion.”

His church Web site, www.higherd.org, has a special section on the teaching, with questions such as “Are Christians too mean? Do you think most people are going to hell?” in vivid colors against a dramatic background photo of Bishop Pearson.

But his church has suffered fallout from the controversy, with four associate pastors leaving, a staff layoff of 85 persons and a drop in attendance from 5,000 to 1,300.

“We all feel we have to jump through hoops to please this intolerant and difficult-to-please God,” he said in an interview last year. “We think God is going to burn billions of people endlessly without any recourse. That sounds more like the devil than God.”

However, the Joint College statement made clear that the bishop had been given several years to change his mind.

In response, “Bishop Pearson made it quite clear he was/is fiercely devoted to the teaching of inclusionism and that he expects the rest of the Christian community to either support his contentions, or at least show some Christian love by not rebuking his teaching,” the statement read.

“Bishop Pearson made it quite clear in both verbal and written presentations that he believed that Hindus, Buddhists, and other religions would enjoy the benefits of Christ’s heaven even though they rejected Christ’s invitation to faith and belief in Christ’s work. The [Joint College] has never wavered in its love and concern for the person Bishop Carlton Pearson.”

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