October 20, 2017, 11:23 pm
In the 1990s, there was no one you would rather be than Carlton Pearson.
He was the pastor of one of the fastest-growing churches in the world, mentor to one of the largest Christian music stars in the world, in-demand as a speaker, singer and mentor, father of the Azusa Street movement for pentecostals and all-around cool motherfucker.
I mean that last part, obviously, like Jesus would have said it.
Then, around 2003, shit hit the fan, and I mean that almost literally.
Pearson, who had been featured in every major outlet available to evangelical Christians, did something unthinkable: he began to question the very nature of the evangelical religion.
What if, he posited, salvation was not based on "asking Jesus into your heart"? What if, as the Bible said, Jesus died for everyone, not just those who were believers?
Full disclosure: I had lived those same questions four years earlier, but I was no Carlton Pearson. I was nobody, in fact. I was just some dude who was a ghost writer for televangelists. Carlton Pearson, meanwhile, was a genuine, bona fide star. A guy people put their faith in. A guy Oral Roberts had endorsed. A guy all the televangelist networks had looked up to. I was just the guy writing their books. This guy was the guy who was headlining their shows.
But, like me, he was questioning the reality of hell, eternal punishment, the idea that a just and holy god would actually sentence people to eternal torture for the honest and innocuous crime of questioning his existence.
So he, like I, began re-reading the Bible for clues about what its writers really intended their audience to understand. And the results were profound, for both of us: there was no hell, at least as far as the Bible was concerned. There was no capricious god damning entire nations to eternal torture in flames for the crime of never hearing his name.
Salvation, he and I discovered almost simultaneously, was universal (assuming you believed in a Judeo-Christian god and his son, who offered himself as a sacrifice in place of the sins of all mankind).
In 2003, I emailed Carlton Pearson using an address I possessed for him from my days writing for televangelists—an address he had given me when I was seeking his endorsement for a book I was writing for another televangelist.
"I am on the same path you are," I wrote to him. "Let me help you get the word out. Let's write a book."
The evangelical world had just begun officially shunning him, and he and I both naively thought we might stave off the flood with rational discourse.
"That's a very good idea," he wrote back. "Let me get some things in order and I'll call you."
He called me about a week later and we laid out tentative plans for the book that would become "The Gospel of Inclusion." However, life intervened for both of us and we never collaborated on it. Luckily, he got it done anyway. It's horrifying to think someone could get a book written without me, but it is what it is.
And the book is a masterpiece.
In it, he lays out the scriptural groundwork to establish a doctrine that the Judeo-Christian god is not the capricious asshole we all assumed him to be. Instead, he created a universal salvation through Jesus and that universal salvation was intended to foment a Christianity that was a response to unmitigated grace: a Christianity that preached the "good news" to the world that sin was no longer a problem because an innocent son of God paid the price for sins he never committed to ensure you were never punished for all the evil shit you did. Without requiring any further action from you. Are you a Muslim? Doesn't matter. His sacrifice paid for your sins. Hindu?Same story. Atheist? No problem.
And he was hammered for it. Lost his congregation. Lost his adoring fans. Lost his hard-earned respect. Castigated, ostracized. Carlton Pearson became a byword to those who formerly hung on his every word when he was preaching to them the things they already believed. Once he began to dig, to question, to excavate honest doctrine, the evangelical church could not have dropped him any faster if he had been a potato on fire.
And that's the lesson here: tell the truth and Christianity will discard you as fast as it can, because the only thing Christians desire is for someone to "amen" the lies upon which they have built their judgmental and hateful religion. It's the reason we have an orange president.
Carlton Pearson is a hero. A saint. A true believer who should go down in history as one of God's most brave fighters for truth. And my fervent hope is that he will.