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Today is, “Read A Book,” Thursday, and as I stated before, the response has been overwhelming. You’ve made this new venture on Hello Beautiful such a worthwhile experience. I cannot thank you all enough. Keep the letters, and emails coming in!
This week’s featured author is no stranger to controversy. Several years ago, Bishop Carlton Pearson, did and said things that sent shockwaves throughout the black church. He shocked the members of his Pentecostal mega-church, along with other prominent church leaders when he publicly stated there is no such thing as hell, and he embraced homosexual men and women.
Pearson questioned the doctrines of his faith and made a public argument for the inclusion and validity of all religions. That did not sit well with leaders of the Pentecostal faith. They denounced his new thoughts and ideology and bannished Pearson. He was declared a heretic by his peers, and Pearson instantly became a pariah. Pearson’s flourishing membership at his Higher Dimensions Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma dwindled from 5,000 members to less than 1,000. The drastic decline in members caused the church building and property to be sold at a tremendous loss in order to avoid foreclosure in 2006. With only a fraction of his original congregation in tow, Pearson and his remaining followers began meeting at the Trinity Episcopal Church, and renamed their church New Dimensions Worship Center. Later that same year, Pearson was accepted as a United Church of Christ minister and eventually, in 2008, New Dimensions Church was absorbed into the All Souls Unitarian Church.
Now, the former mega-church bishop, televangelist, and award-winning gospel recording artist picks up where his previous book ends and continues to raise provocative and controversial questions about God, religion, dogma, doctrine, and faith in his second book, GOD IS NOT A CHRISTIAN, NOR A JEW, MUSLIM, HINDU…: God Dwells with Us, in Us, Around Us, as Us (Atria Books).
Pearson explores new interpretations of scripture and presents a perspective that looks beyond mainstream religious fundamentalism, Pearson notes that God belongs to no particular religion but is rather, a constant presence that everyone can access. Giving a public face to a philosophy and ideology that many others in the clergy agree with but are afraid to acknowledge and embrace, Pearson, ever the pioneer, spreads his message of universalism and love in an intriguing and thought-provoking manner.
With his extensive knowledge of religious history and writings, Pearson probes the concept of hell and proposes that it is not the fiery underworld pit of conventional teaching but “a human creation used to terrify masses into behaving as their religious institutional guardian desires.” Pearson notes the buzz in some religious circles is that he doesn’t believe in hell anymore, which he says is both true and false.
Bishop Carlton Pearson is an independent spiritual leader and successful gospel recording artist. He was once an heir-apparent to Oral Roberts and a bishop in the Pentecostal Church where he presided over 600 churches. He lives in Chicago where he serves as Interim Sr. Minister of the 6,000 member Christ Universal Temple For Better Living.
I wanted to explore Bishop Pearson’s thoughts, ideology, and new book further. I went straight to the source and got some revealing answers. This is my Q&A with the controversial Bishop Carlton Pearson:
TD: Right before 2004, you began questioning the doctrines of your faith, and made a public argument for the inclusion and validity of all religions, and as a result there was an outcry from leaders of the Pentecostal faith who said your newfound teachings were sinful. What was it that you discovered that made you change your teachings, and question your faith?
BCP: I questioned my faith in the concept of “eternal damnation” and torment in a presumed customized torture chamber called hell. I wondered how a supposed “loving God” whose mercy endured forever would or could sponsor such an obscene place. I could not reconcile, “The love” of God and such a vulgar concept. Through in depth biblical and historical research and deeper self and soul reflection I discovered that our traditional concept of hell was both flawed, misinterpreted, irrelevant and against the moral character of Infinite Love. 1 John 4:18 says: There is no fear in love; but perfect (mature) love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.
TD: One religious doctrine you have challenged, and have been the biggest debates in and outside of the church, is the concept of hell. Could you please explain your concept of hell?
BCP: Both the concepts of “Hell” and the “devil” are pagan concepts barrowed from the surrounding neighbors of Old Testament Israel from which they were forbidden to associate with or believe. Note Jeremiah 32:35….They (Children of Israel) built high places for Baal in the Valley of Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech (Ammonite deity) though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin” – This particular admonition to the Israelites, was given some 500 years before Jesus physically walked the earth. He never used the word “hell” but used the Hebrew or Aramaic term, “Valley of Hinnom’, which the Greek text translates: Gehenna. Ge = gorge, gully or valley….of Hinnom.
Sixteenth century King’s English mistranslates the Greek word Gehenna as hell, a western thought, influenced by the Fourteenth century concept of Dantes Inferno, not necessarily an accurate Jewish or biblical concept. Dantes Inferno was a poem written in a play titled “The Divine Comedy.” The Divine Comedy (Italian: La Divina Commedia) is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature, and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem’s imaginative and allegorical vision of the Christian afterlife is a culmination of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church.
On the surface the poem describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven; but at a deeper level it represents allegorically the soul’s journey towards God. At this deeper level, Dante draws on medieval Christian theology and philosophy, especially the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. At the surface level the poem is understood to be fictional.
With regard to the devil; The Old Testament never uses the term devil in the singular, but devils in the plural. Its first mention is in Leviticus 17:7 And they (children of Israel) shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, (goat gods or idols) after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. (KJV)
The New International Version has it:
They (Children of Israel) must no longer offer any of their sacrifices to the goat idols to whom they prostitute themselves. This is to be a lasting ordinance for them and for the generations to come.
These are passages written thousands of years before Jesus, the man was born. The Israelites were forbidden to adopt the idolatrous habits, customs and religious practices of their neighboring cultures and their perceived pagan practices. Note Deuteronomy 32:21…. They (Children of Israel) made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols.
Homosexuality has no real basis in scripture. What you make the issue becomes your idol. Scripture says it is better to marry than to burn with lust. I have always assumed that to be a reference to heterosexual covenant but, in principle, it can as easily apply to same-sex lust or love, which is a love that can be and often is as committed and as covenantal as that of heterosexuals.
TD: Some would argue that you had it all – you were a mega-church bishop, with a mega-church with over 5,000 members, worldwide teachings, and a platform alongside other religious leaders with “superstar” names. Yet, after you spoke out you lost a huge portion of your members, and your church building and property were sold in order to avoid foreclosure. How did you feel during that time, and what did you experience emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?
BCP: That was a dark and forlorn period in my personal life, ministry and spiritual journey. I questioned my theology, sanity and spirituality. It was a time of deep reflection, vexation, interrogation and excavation of the soul. God was there throughout the dramatic ordeal, but so were the false illusions of isolation, alienation and abandonment. It happened around my 50th year and made it the saddest birthday of my life. There was little hope for a meaningful future in ministry except outside the normal parameters of the church world with which I was most familiar. It was like starting all over at half a century old. I kept my fears to myself which made it all the more lonely, and a frightening period in my life. I kept in mind the passage in Hebrews 5:7…. During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
TD: Were there any religious leaders who came to your defense, or were any supportive as you faced public scrutiny for your teachings?
BCP: There were few who could afford, at the time, to offer public support due to the possible damage to their own ministries. A relatively small group offered private support, after they had some time to look into what I was saying and where I appeared to be spiritually. It was a trying time for all who loved and had formerly associated with me in any way. When major leaders without the African American church issued public denunciations it made it open season to hunt for Bishop Carlton Pearson. Much of that has died down and people just consider me dead, insignificant, or irrelevant to the larger expression of faith or their particular brand of it.
TD: In your new book, “God Is Not A Christian, Nor A Jew, Muslim, Hindu…,” what is your hope for humanity, and religion, in understanding the concept that God dwells with us, in us, around us, as us?
BCP: Jesus said God is Spirit and they who worship Him, do so in spirit and truth. He was talking to a Samaritan woman who had suggested to him that Jews worshipped God in Jerusalem and the Samaritans did so in a separate geological local. He also quoted to Pharisees, in response to their rejection of his reference to himself as a son of God, that their laws stated that we are all gods or divinities. He was quoting Psalm 82:6. Again, God is Spirit and according to scripture we are all made in that same image and likeness. Anything else is an illusion.
TD: What is one, or two, of the biggest misconceptions Christians, or other religious groups, have embraced which has been doctrine for centuries, yet, in your book you address and challenge?
BCP: The most dangerous and destructive misconceptions people have embraced is that of a caricature God, who is biased, bigoted, jealous, judgmental, vengeful and who has a severe anger management problem, who throws violent temper tantrums ranging from natural disasters to cancer, AIDS and ultimately hell. Belief in, and worshipful devotion to such an image of God leads to the proliferation of that same dangerous habit of acting out such vitriolic behavior and attitude towards others.
TD: In your book, you make a compelling case about the various definitions of God and the attributes humans assign to God. What, say you, is the concept of God and how should people view God in this new day and age?
BCP: I no longer believe in a God or “thee” God, I just believe in God, an ultimate transcendent Omni-present Reality full of love, light, intelligence and order. Rather than perceiving a personal God, I prefer the personification of an ultimate Good, expressing itself as God or Divinity.
TD: Do you think people, and, or, religious leaders are ready to accept a new doctrine and teaching about religion and God? And, what do you want readers to walk away with after reading your book?
BCP: I hear almost daily from leaders who are disenchanted with the religion they have embraced with its manmade and restrictive doctrines, dogmas and superficial disciplines, none of which seem to be working for them or adding to the quality of their lives or ministries. We are all being forced to reconsider what we believe and why we believe it and how those beliefs add or subtract from the quality of our lives and human beings and as Christians or followers of the Christ principle and Person.
I would like for people to take with them what I say in the very last sentence in the book: No, God is not a Christian, Jew, Muslim or Hindu, but you can be one, or anything else you are so inclined to be, as long as you don’t let whatever that is obscure the magnificent, mystical and transcendent spirit you are and will always be!
Bishop Pearson has agreed to give-away five signed copies of his new book, God Is Not A Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Hindu. The first five persons to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with their Black Planet profile screen name will receive an autographed copy of Bishop Pearson’s book.