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Bishop Carlton Pearson, Once Celebrated Pentecostal Preacher, Dies After Brief Battle With Cancer

Bishop Carlton Pearson, once one of the most celebrated Black preachers, has died after a brief battle with cancer, his family revealed Monday.

The statement from his family reads: “We are saddened to inform you that Bishop Carlton D’Metrius Pearson, one of the most popular and influential preachers in America and around the world, who sacrificed everything for a message of unconditional love and acceptance by God, died peacefully the night of November 19, 2023, at the age of 70, after a brief battle with cancer that had returned after first defeating it 20 years ago. He was surrounded by his family.”

In a previously recorded video published online on October 31, Pearson made final public remarks to his followers. Speaking from his hospice room, he thanked supporters for their “giving, loving, and generosity” over the years. He said he would be thinking of them in heaven.

Earlier this month Bishop Pearson had entered comfort care, or hospice care. Comfort care is commonly given to patients who are nearing death but is also offered to those who have chronic, incurable illnesses.

Bishop Carlton Pearson had been battling advanced prostate cancer for years, since a 2001 diagnosis.

As Faithfully Magazine previously reported:

The Pentecostal preacher, previously one of the most famous American Christian speakers, founded the Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1987. His church grew to become one of the largest churches in the country before an eventual downfall due to theological differences.

By the early 2000s, Pearson began to feel the repercussions of openly challenging traditional Christian doctrines of hell and the afterlife. He caused a stir when he started preaching the “Gospel of Inclusion,” in which he insisted that there is no hell. He reportedly lost about 3,500 congregants, was eventually fired from his church, and was shunned by many colleagues.

In 2008, Pearson published a book explaining the doctrine, which he attributed to “a revelation from God.” In The Gospel of Inclusion book, Pearson argues that “we are all bound for glory, everybody is saved, and if we believe God loves all mankind, then we have no choice but to have the same attitude ourselves.”

The 2018 Netflix film “Come Sunday” dramatizes Pearson’s story and journey from being one of the most popular Pentecostal preachers in the United States to being ostracized by his church for preaching the belief that there is no hell.

Although he was branded a “heretic” by some, Pearson remained influential with various Christian communities. He was most recently an affiliate minister at All Souls Unitarian Church and maintained an online program called Expanded Consciousness.

“The Pearson family would like to thank everyone for their prayers and continued support,” reads the statement announcing his death. “They ask for and appreciate privacy during this challenging time. Services are pending.”

Pearson’s family published news of his death, as well as an obituary, on Facebook on November 20, 2023. It appears in full below.

We are saddened to inform you that Bishop Carlton D’Metrius Pearson, one of the most popular and influential preachers in America and around the world, who sacrificed everything for a message of unconditional love and acceptance by God, died peacefully the night of November 19, 2023, at the age of 70, after a brief battle with cancer that had returned after first defeating it 20 years ago. He was surrounded by his family.

Moving to Tulsa in 1971, to become a student at Oral Roberts University, Carlton was invited by Oral Roberts himself to join the World Action Singers on his nationally-aired TV specials, eventually becoming an associate evangelist with the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association in 1975.

In 1977, Carlton launched his own ministry, Higher Dimensions, Inc., traveling the country with a small ministry team. In 1981, with the help of his college roommate, Gary McIntosh, Carlton started Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center, with 75 people attending its first service in Jenks, Oklahoma. Quickly outgrowing the small, storefront location in Jenks.

Higher Dimensions eventually settled at 8621 South Memorial Drive in Tulsa, becoming an integrated, multi-ethnic, cross-cultural congregation of more than 5,000 members.

A national television program launched in the mid-1980s, “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right,” expanded Carlton’s outreach to a national and international audience, becoming at that time one of only two African American preachers with a nationwide television ministry.

His annual AZUSA Conference, begun in 1988, became an international movement, giving national exposure to a number of preachers and gospel singers, bringing together believers of all denominations, cultures, races and walks of life. The annual conference attracted as many as 70,000 people to Tulsa each year, generating tens of millions of dollars to the Tulsa economy during the week-long conference, as well as smaller weekend conferences held across the country each year, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Jose, Tacoma, Buffalo and even Durban, South Africa.
His “Live at AZUSA” albums were nominated for multiple Dove and Stellar Awards, winning three Stellar Awards for “Carlton Pearson Live at AZUSA 2: Precious Memories.”

On the opening night of AZUSA ‘96, a group of pastors and bishops recognized his leadership by declaring him “a bishop in the Lord’s church.” The opening night of the following year’s conference, Bishop Carlton Pearson was officially consecrated in an ecclesiastical ceremony as the Presiding Bishop of the AZUSA Interdenominational Fellowship of Christian Churches and Ministries, establishing oversight of thousands of churches and ministries all over the world.

He gave counsel to multiple U. S. Presidents, as well as a number of international presidents, kings and other leaders, who were won over by his intelligence, charm, humor and kindness.

At the height of his popularity, Bishop Pearson had a shift in his theological beliefs, and began to preach that Jesus did not just die for and save Christians, but for all mankind, and that no one goes to hell as we’ve known it. This became known as “The Gospel of Inclusion,” a form of Christian theology known as universalism. This shift in belief caused churches, upon whose stages he once frequented, to close their doors to him, shut down his annual conference and caused his church to dwindle from thousands to only dozens.

His theological shift was dramatized in a major motion picture, Netflix’s “Come Sunday,” starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave), Danny Glover (The Color Purple, Lethal Weapon), LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah, Atlanta) and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, The West Wing).

Carlton’s message and example of unconditional love, though it gained him the moniker of “heretic” by some in the Christian church, had a whole new world opened to him as a result. Non-Christians, as well as Christians who had left the church as a result of church hurts, abuse, hypocrisy, etc., loved the new message of love, healing and restoration. He leaves a legacy of love through the multiplied thousands of lives he touched during his time on earth and the impartation of grace and mercy he preached and exhibited to everyone he encountered.

The Pearson family would like to thank everyone for their prayers and continued support. They ask for and appreciate privacy during this challenging time. Services are pending.


Editor’s note: This post has been updated.

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FM Editors
FM Editors
Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.

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