A Preacher’s Epiphany

Carlton PearsonCarlton Pearson’s epiphany happened one evening as he was watching a TV documentary with his family. The documentary was about victims of war and genocide in Darfur.

Carlton was a Pentecostal preacher who believed that hell was a very real place where non-believers were destined to suffer for eternity. His fiery and passionate sermons about the wages of sin drew huge crowds into his church and made him rich and famous. He was mentored by Oral Roberts and invited to George W. Bush’s White House. But as he sat with his family watching these images of horrific suffering—the children’s bellies distended from hunger, the mutilated bodies, the nearly total lack of clean water, shelter, and medical care for those who had been displaced by the fighting—he began to wonder how a loving God could allow these people to suffer so horribly and then “just suck them into hell” because they were Muslims. He could not stop thinking about this.

Carlton experienced a conversion.

He thought and prayed about what he had been preaching and decided it was wrong. The merciful and loving god that he worshipped could not allow a place like hell to exist.

Carlton radically changed his message and began preaching a “gospel of inclusion.” God’s love was unconditional, and everyone—no matter what their sin—was going to heaven. Hell was the suffering that people experienced during their lifetimes because of pride, lust, greed, and other sins.

Unfortunately, the gospel of inclusion was not what Carlton’s congregation wanted to hear, and they began falling away. He was denounced by Oral Roberts, Ted Haggart, and other celebrity preachers who had once considered him one of their own. Roberts warned, “This doctrine is as dangerous as any I’ve come in contact with in 66 years of ministry.” Carlton lost his congregation, the church property, and a huge network of friends and supporters. Only his family and a few close friends stood by him until he found a new ministry in a radically different kind of church.

Watch Carlton Pearson’s story, “To Hell and Back,” in this four-part documentary on U-Tube. Each part lasts about 10 minutes.

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