Carlton Pearson, the founder of former megachurch Higher Dimensions Family Church and architect of the Azuza Conferences, sadly passed away last night, November 19th, in hospice care in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was 70.
Pearson’s family issued the following statement, “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, after a brief battle with cancer that had returned after first defeating it 20 years ago. He was surrounded by his family.”
Pearson—a one-time protegé of Oral Roberts— skyrocketed to fame in the 1980s with one of the most-watched TV programs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right,” and as pastor of 5,000-member strong Higher Dimensions Family Church, one of the largest churches in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
His Azuza Conferences drew some of the biggest names in Christendom and gospel music, attracting 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 in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Durban, South Africa.
In 2000, he was among a group of 30 clergy who advised then-President-elect George W. Bush on faith-based social programs.
His popularity, however, began to fade in 2004, when Bishop Pearson had a shift in his theological beliefs as he rejected the existence of Hell and was deemed heretical by the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops. This belief became known as “The Gospel of Inclusion,” a form of Christian theology known as universalism.
In 2018, Netflix released a biopic called “Come Sunday,” exploring Pearson’s life and his theological shift, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) as Pearson, Danny Glover, LaKeith Stanfield and Martin Sheen as Oral Roberts.
Will Bogle, Pearson’s agent, said Pearson believed he did not make a mistake with his theological change.
“People were forced to question what they were saying” about salvation, Bogle said. “And as polarizing as Bishop Pearson has been his whole life … he was a really good guy, he didn’t take himself seriously, he cared about people.”
Rev. Robert Turner, who served as the pastor at Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tulsa until 2021, expressed his dismay upon learning about the passing of a man he regarded as a mentor.
“His words were so poignant and prophetic,” said Turner, who met Pearson when he arrived in Tulsa in 2017.
Pearson’s legacy includes becoming an affiliate minister with All Souls Unitarian Church. “We hope, upon hearing this news, that you will take some time today to reflect on how Bishop Pearson has touched your life,” the church said. “Think about how you will pass on the love and wisdom he has imparted to you.”