The recent debacle over Bishop Eddie Long’s alleged use of church tithes to woo young men has shaken New Birth Missionary Baptist Church to its foundations. In response to the uproar, the Rev. Carlton Pearson, a televangelist, senior minister of Christ Universal Temple, and friend of Long, has taken a refreshingly different approach to the issues of homosexuality and religious plurality—one that reflects a theology of inclusion and interfaith cooperation. Although Pearson’s inclusive attitude towards gays and non-Christians has cost him the loyalty of many congregants, it highlights the emergence of a more rational and progressive Christianity for the twenty-first century.
Responding to questions from CNN news anchor Kyra Phillips, the reverend staunchly defended Bishop Long, expressing his support and forgiveness for the preacher without excusing his purported adultery. Referring to Long, Pearson said, “He’s a prince of a preacher; he’s really a prince of a person. He’s a generous spirit; he’s an incredible worker in the city. In fidelity, adultery, that’s a whole other subject.”
When asked what he would do if Long came to him and admitted that he misused church money to fund secret assignations with young men, Pearson said he would embrace Long and tell him, “We will do you right”; he then referred to a verse from the Holy Bible which tells the spiritual person to help repair the sins or faults of their friends. In reference to Long’s vociferous opposition to gay rights, Pearson explained that those who rail the strongest against an issue are most likely dealing with it in their own lives. Interestingly, it was not Long’s purported homosexuality for which Pearson held him accountable; rather, it was his underhandedness and infidelity towards his family and congregation. Indeed, he pointed out, “[i]t’s not the issue of homosexuality; it’s the issue of human sexuality” and how we reconcile our sensual with our spiritual natures.
Pearson’s sympathy for Long is not the only reason he has divided his congregation on matters of theology and church administration; he also expressed his openness to the idea than many religions offer a pathway to the divine. In his interview with Phillips, he challenged the evangelical Protestant doctrine that atonement is achieved, and salvation thus secured, exclusively through belief in the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ: after contemplating the plight of sexual and religious minorities, he said, “I started preaching the gospel of inclusion, saying that Hindus, Muslims, Jews—everybody—has access to the grace of the god we preach, and that not only a few Christians were going to heaven.” It is certainly an iconoclastic approach to take in a denomination which generally reserves hell for those who do not believe that God must be propitiated through a blood sacrifice in order to grant mercy to humans for the imperfections he himself created in them.
Like his efforts to nurture an interfaith, pluralistic community, Pearson’s acceptance of homosexuality has also put off many in his congregation. He explained to Phillips how the traditional Christian condemnation of homosexuality conflicted with his own conscience, and how he could not bring himself to believe that gays and lesbians should be barred from heaven. “My gay friends, and I have several, over the years were some of the most sensitive, loving, creative, ingenious, generous people. Some are members of my family. I got tired of sending them to hell…. These brilliant human beings spending eternity in a customized torture chamber…it messed with my theology, and my heart.” Reflecting on the type of people Pearson describes—on their goodwill, compassion, and nobility of spirit—the average critical-minded person will understandably find it difficult to believe that God sends people to hell for being attracted to members of the same sex, and for realizing that attraction.
Pearson ended his interview with a fearless, trenchant criticism of the traditional Christian view of a vengeful and capricious god. Referring to how churches thus far have dealt with homosexuality, celibacy, religious pluralism, and sexual abuse and misconduct by priests, he said,
“The Church is having to confront its issues—its platonic, plastic, superficial portrayals of an angry god, a vicious god, an eternal place where everybody’s gonna burn, this god with this terrible anger management problem who’s gonna get you, and then he’s gonna turn you over to the devil…It’s fairytale stuff, but we bought into it, and now we have to face the fact that maybe we missed it on many of these issues.”
The reverend’s words have already rattled many people’s sensibilities. While Long denied the allegations against him to an enthusiastic applause from his congregation, Pearson has seen the numbers in his congregation dwindle since he started preaching that everybody, including gays, has a place in heaven. It is a little bit sad to see an alleged con-artist and hypocrite who opposes gay rights receive praise from his followers while a preacher with the integrity to stand up for equality and inclusion “gets the cold shoulder”, as it were.
Being an interfaith online church, Universal Life Church Monastery strongly advocates for inclusiveness, religious pluralism, and equality. Let us know what you think. Do you agree with Rev. Pearson’s stance on Eddie Long, religious pluralism, and the LGBTQ community? Is his attitude of tolerance and inclusiveness a threat to Christianity’s foundations, or is it the very kind of innovation Christianity needs to adapt in the twenty-first century?