Ohio University student brings Carlton D. Pearson to class
Oct. 25, 2007
By staff writers | Photos by Rick Fatica and Kevin Riddell
Ask Nicole Ogundare, executive assistant to Bishop Carlton D. Pearson, how the pastor decides when and where he will speak publicly and she will tell you, "It has to be worthwhile." Pearson came to Ohio University this week for one very worthwhile reason -- Max Korn.
Korn, a senior philosophy major, picked up the phone last spring and asked Ogundare if the bishop would come speak to students in the Difficult Dialogues Project and permit Korn a one-on-one interview for his thesis project. She told him to send an invitation and see what happens.
The most controversial pastor in recent history -- labeled a heretic by peers who once praised him -- granted Korn the interview of a lifetime.
"I have a certain amount of admiration for Carlton Pearson," Korn admits. "Whether I agree with the message or don't, it's kind of secondary to that. He -- in the tradition of the Difficult Dialogues program -- is calling on people to have a discussion about their beliefs."
Pearson spoke publicly on campus Tuesday night and spent part of Wednesday in a Difficult Dialogues class, an open-forum discussion with students.
Pearson was open about the struggles he went through in challenging his Pentecostal-Fundamentalist upbringing and the struggles he is still going through in determining what and how, exactly, he believes.
"I want to believe in a loving, forgiving Jesus and God -- I want to believe in heaven," Pearson told the class." But that is my human side talking; the truth is that I don't know what's going to happen to me when I die."
The Difficult Dialogues Project, funded by a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in cooperation with the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, comprises more than 200 of Ohio University's most academically promising freshmen, engaging them in conversations about religion with the goal of reaching a better understanding of one another's faiths (or lack thereof).
It was in one of these courses last year that Korn realized, after hearing a segment of National Public Radio's "This American Life" on Pearson, that he would focus the subject of his thesis on the bishop.
Korn, who is required to write a thesis in order to graduate from the university's Honors Tutorial College, will focus on Pearson’s gospel and how it fits in with politics, culture and the growth of his new church, Higher Dimensions, he said.
"It's going to be a sketch of his experiences, what he's been through," he said.
Ten years ago, Pearson was the leader of one of the largest evangelical churches in the world, Higher Dimensions Family Church of Tulsa, Okla., in the heart of the Bible Belt with a multicultural membership of 5,000 dedicated followers. He was among the ranks of the most popular evangelicals of the time such as Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggert, and the Bakkers. Pearson's new message cost him his congregation and acceptance among his religious-leader peers, making him the target of harsh press coverage.
Pearson's new-found belief in what he calls "The Gospel of Inclusion" -- that there is no hell and God's love is absolute -- has gotten him excommunicated from his congregation and publicly labeled a heretic. Pearson lost everything he worked more than 30 years to build, but has not let his downfall stop him from spreading the word of discovery.
Also in keeping with his new ministry, Pearson does not force his theology on others, but forces others to think a little more about their beliefs and how they fit with what they have been taught.
"I am struggling more with what I don't know than what I do," he told the Difficult Dialogues class. "I'm in a sort of deprogramming."
A pastor for more than 30 years, Pearson is currently the senior pastor of the New Dimensions Worship Center in Tulsa, Okla., where his congregation is again growing.
Korn has applied for funding to travel to Tulsa in January to complete a second round of interviews with Pearson. He plans to finish writing his thesis spring quarter.
"Christianity is going to change," Pearson said. "I think it's part of (Max's) destiny to present this part of history."
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