(November 19, 2023) 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, Pearson 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, Pearson 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 Pearson’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, started 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 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).
Pearson’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.
Public viewings begin Wednesday, November 29th, followed by celebration of life services in Tulsa on Thursday, November 30th and Friday, December 1st. An AZUSA Life Celebration service is set for December 18th in Atlanta. (The Atlanta service is free, but registration at www.azusacelebrationoflife.com is required for all in attendance.)
Information for each service is below.
Libra Nicole Boyd, PhD is a musician, award-winning author, gospel music aficionado, and the founder and editor of Gospel Music Fever™. Her commitment to journalistic integrity includes bringing you reliable gospel music content that uplifts and advances the art form. Libra is presently working on several scholarly projects about gospel music in the media as well as gospel music in social movements.