A Time to Weep, A Time to Mourn: My Personal Commentary on the Ministry of Bishop Carlton D. Pearson (March 19, 1953 – November 19, 2023)

Monday, November 20, 2023

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15).

It was January 22, 1979, and the last night of our New Year’s Campaign Revival. My father, the late Bishop Ulysses S. King, Sr., had invited Carlton Pearson and his team, Higher Dimension, to come to our church in Oakland, California to preach. He, and four members of his team stayed in the church’s parsonage next door to the church. The service had ended, and as they were leaving the sanctuary to walk a short distance from the church to the parsonage, they didn’t know there was an assailant waiting in the darkened driveway to rob them of the offering that had been received for them. The thief tried to take the money away from one of the team members, but she held on tightly to the offering pouch and didn’t let go. The robber then shot his gun in the direction of Carlton. The bullet grazed him.   Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, but they were obviously shaken. This was just one of many events in the life of Carlton D. Pearson that opened many doors of opportunity for him to preach the gospel. 

I woke up early Monday morning (November 20) to the news of the death of Bishop Carlton D. Pearson, and like so many countless thousands who loved him, my heart was broken. After I arrived at my office, I read some of the comments, opinions, and tributes to Bishop Pearson on Facebook and other social media platforms, and I decided to share my thoughts and feelings here in this blog—independent and personal. I am certain my comments, views, and opinions will not be appreciated by some, and that’s okay. The views and opinions expressed and written here are entirely my own, and without prejudice, bias, or judgment. 

Some of the comments I recently read on Facebook, in published articles, and other media were a little overwhelming and some troubling. However, many of them were genuinely heartfelt, warm, caring, and filled with love; while others, in my opinion were confused, angry, and judgmental. Sadly, that’s the world of being on the internet and in the media.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, men and women of good will and faith will share their opinions, criticisms, and comments on the impact Bishop Pearson’s ministry had over the years, particularly his later years. Christians and non-Christians alike will write about his many gifts and talents as a musician, singer, and writer. His intellect and skill as a public speaker, and anointed gospel preacher are unparalleled, particularly in the black Pentecostal tradition. He was a genius in bridging that tradition within a largely white Charismatic Pentecostal influence where he soared into public fame.

The Bible says there is a time for us to weep and mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4). This is that time. There will be other opportunities in the near future for Christian leaders, scholars, and theologians to debate and argue over the teachings, beliefs, and opinions taught by Bishop Pearson. It is widely and publicly known that many of his views were considered controversial, heretical, and unorthodox across a wide sector of Christian denominations and non-denominations. At the center of disagreement and controversy were his teachings and views on “the gospel of inclusion”, “hell”, and “expanded consciousness” which were impossible for many in the Christian community to reconcile, accept and support.

Lots of confusion and division arose among some in the Church surrounding what and why Bishop Pearson took such a strong position. He boldly challenged and questioned the authority of Scripture. He was a minister who spoke publicly on radio, television, social media and written form about his beliefs. One would therefore reasonably expect some public commentary, criticism, and rebuke surrounding them. His beliefs by Christian leaders throughout the Christian community were an anathema to the Church. Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37, NKJV).

There is no question of Bishop Pearson’s impact and influence on and within the Church. The renowned and spiritual leader, Pastor Anthony Wilcots of the Encounter Church in Katy, Texas stated, “While I believe classical Pentecostalism shaped most of his life, his latter teaching was an effort in reaching humanity beyond what [he] thought was too narrow about our theology. The courage required and the career he sacrificed for such a position makes him an admirable figure, worthy of a well-researched biography and a place in the pantheon of Pentecostalism.”

While I wholeheartedly agree with Pastor Wilcots, only time and history will tell. Some unfortunately will not see Bishop Pearson in the same way. In an interview with the Voices of Oklahoma | Oklahoma Historical Society (John Erling, American Minister & Gospel Music Artist, and Interview, February 21, 2019), Bishop Pearson commented about how history will view his life and ministry, stated, “. . . that he hoped he’d be remembered as someone who “had questions” and was willing to rethink things, which he argued was the true meaning of repentance. He expected, though, that most would think of him as a heretic” (Daniel Silliman, ChristianityToday.com, Died: Carlton Pearson, Pentecostal Preacher Who Rejected Hell, November 20, 2023).

No one can deny that thousands have been led to Jesus Christ under Bishop Pearson’s ministry. Many of his followers, however, will be offended that Church leaders, theologians, and academicians will critique and question his ministry and some of his teachings. They will see it as an attack on his character and against his genuine love for people to whom he sought to share his truth about the Bible, God, and the Church. Conversely, it should be noted all who genuinely knew Bishop Pearson, truly loved him—and love him still. To think otherwise would be categorically untrue. The Church and its leaders, however, have a responsibility to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, NKJV).

Eric Mason makes some interesting observations and commentary in his book, Urban Apologetics: Restoring Black Dignity with the Gospel, on Jude 3. He argues, “The words “contend” and “faith” are both key terms we need to understand. “The faith,” he states, “is the body of knowledge that is trustworthy for us to believe, the core of what makes Christianity Christianity. “The faith,” he writes, “is something to be protected (Mason).” Then Mason lists seven core tenets of the Christian faith. One of those core tenets should be noted: The reality of eternal punishment (Revelation chapters 19—20) (Eric Mason, Urban Apologetics: Restoring Black Dignity with the Gospel, Zondervan Reflective: Grand Rapids, 2021), p. 30. 

Mason further notes, “Contending” means “to fight for, to make a strenuous or labored effort in someone or something’s behalf.” Bishop Pearson would certainly appreciate this because he loved to translate words and their meanings from the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. Mason says, “The word “contend” translates a Greek word (epagonizomai) that refers to athletic contests, such as a wrestling match.” In other words, as believers we are to fight for the faith and authority of Scripture as the only inspired Word of God.

So, today I will remember not the “Bishop Carlton D. Pearson” everyone came to know him as, but the earlier Carlton Pearson who believed in, taught, and preached these cored tenets of the Christian faith. I choose to remember the Carlton Pearson who laughed and played with my daughter who was only 5 years old when he, Helen Stubblefield, and his team, Higher Dimension came to Oakland, as I mentioned earlier, to preach. This was before his Azusa Conference fame began in 1988. He sang and preached under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and souls were led to Jesus Christ. Afterwards we went out to eat and fellowship together. I will not disrespect nor defame his character nor God’s call, purpose, and will upon his life. I knew him to be a loving and caring brother in Christ. Judgement belongs to God. Many of us need to remember that. 

I am a few years older than him, and as a young minister then, I wanted to emulate his style of preaching and worship. Without question, he established new trends of worship within the black Pentecostal Church. I had never witnessed a singer using a sound trax while singing in a worship service before. While he was preaching, you felt you were sitting at a table having a conversation with him about Jesus as he conversed with his follower on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-17). Carlton was filled with love and humility. You could see that he was destined for greatness. I never had the opportunity to attend an Azusa Conference, and unfortunately our paths led us in different, God-ordained directions: I became a local pastor, and he would soar to become a world-renowned Christian leader and bishop. Only in passing at different times and occasions were we able to see and greet one another. I am certain it was not by his choosing nor mine. Sometimes the overwhelming call to serve prevents us from taking time out to sit, break bread, and fellowship with one another. I pray that our paths will one day cross again when we hear the Master say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Well done, Bishop. I love you, brother. 

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