Despite being ostracized in life by many traditional churches after he rejected the orthodox idea of Hell at the height of his work as a pastor, multiple churches, including Transformation Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will celebrate the life of former megachurch Pastor Bishop Carlton Pearson, who died on Nov. 19 after a brief battle with cancer.
A recent announcement published on Pearson’s Facebook page said public viewings of his remains will take place at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa on Nov. 29 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Nov. 30 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. An interfaith celebration of Pearson’s life will also take place at the church on Thursday starting at 11 a.m., while a final public viewing will follow that service on Thursday from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to Bishop Pearson’s family and all his friends. The legacy of his courageous work will live on through all those his remarkable life touched,” All Souls Unitarian Church said in a statement highlighting the celebration of Pearson’s life.
“In 2008, Bishop Pearson joined All Souls and became an affiliated minister of the congregation. We are incredibly grateful for his thought leadership, healing community work, and countless examples of inspiring, compassionate, and deeply restorative ministry. His breaking barriers and embracing a message of unconditional love has been a beacon of hope and inspiration for many within our congregation and throughout the world,” the church said.
“In spite of our broken hearts, we celebrate a life that was truly well lived,” the Rev. Randy Lewis, assistant minister of the church, said in a statement. “He left us an incredible body of work, through which we will continue to hear his incredible sense of humor, breadth of knowledge, and transcendent wisdom echoing in our hearts. He will be deeply missed.”
Two hours after the final viewing at All Souls Unitarian Church, there will be a musical celebration of Pearson’s life at Greater Grace Temple starting at 6:30 p.m. On Dec. 1, beginning at noon, an Episcopal celebration of Pearson’s life will take place at Pastor Michael Todd’s Transformation Church. Pearson revealed last year that Todd was like a nephew to him.
In January 2022, Pearson defended Todd after he received withering backlash for wiping globs of spit on his brother’s face during an animated worship service.
“Michael Todd is like a nephew to me. His brother on whom the spit was smeared is my godson,” Pearson said in a Facebook post.
“They grew up in Higher Dimensions, the church I founded in 1981, the same year I hired his parents and moved them to Tulsa. He’s a highly gifted, passionate, generous, and anointed young man.”
Pearson admitted, however, that Todd “crossed the line and was excessive to the point of disgusting millions.”
“[B]ut he is not a criminal, cheat, fake, hypocrite or self-centered preacher,” Pearson said. “He’s young with success none of us expected him to have. He’s by no means perfect, but he’s a called man of God and good.”
“If you wanna throw someone away, it shouldn’t be him or anyone like him,” Pearson concluded. “He’s the real thing.”
When Pearson passed, Transformation Church honored his legacy in a post on Facebook.
“Today we honor the life and legacy of Bishop @carltondpearson. You have left an undeniable impact in the Body of Christ,” the church noted on Nov. 20. “TC Nation, let’s join together and cover his family in prayer during this time.”
Pearson, who was raised in the conservative Church of God in Christ, the world's most prominent black Pentecostal denomination, founded Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center in Tulsa in 1981. The church grew from 75 to more than 5,000 members, according to the Christian Research Institute.
In the late 1980s, Pearson, who was also a gifted singer, started the Azusa Conferences at Oral Roberts University and became a mainstay on Christian television.
After Pearson challenged the biblical definition of Hell, however, his life was upended by significant rejection from the community that once celebrated him. The Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops Congress branded him a heretic in 2004 for preaching inclusionism, which the Christian apologetics ministry Got Questions calls the "old heresy of universalism re-packaged and given a new name."
"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 family said in a statement.
Pearson, whose life is documented in the Netflix film "Come Sunday," developed a "message and example of unconditional love" that resonated with "non-Christians, as well as Christians who had left the church as a result of church hurts, abuse [and] hypocrisy," the statement added.
"[They] 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."