The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Religious Fundamentalism to the True Love of God and Self by Bishop Carlton Pearson; Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, NY, 2006; 305 pages, ISBN 1-4165-8043-3, hardback, $24.00 (paper, $15.00 released March 2009).
What would Christianity be like without an angry, punishing God, without the doctrines of damnation and hell? What if everyone were saved now, irrespective of their personal beliefs? Bishop Pearson, a fourth-generation African-American Pentacostal preacher, was once leader of a very large and prosperous congregation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He believed and preached that only the elect few are saved: those who accept Jesus as their personal savior and act and believe in the manner stipulated by Pentacostals. But one evening, watching the return of refugees after the massacres in central Africa, he realized that God loved all these weary, heartsick people unconditionally. They were in fact already in hell on earth and a God of love would not condemn them to eternal suffering and punishment simply because they had not been reached by the right Christian missionaries. This insight began a process of research and rethinking that has led him to embrace the universal salvation of the human race by a loving God, an unpopular stand with most of his former religious colleagues.
Bishop Pearson makes several points. He gives evidence that inclusion or universal salvation was held by many of the early Church Fathers and is supported in Christian scriptures. Second, he explains that, while God is real, religion is a man-made institution that reflects the imperfections, ambitions, and fears of human beings: “Religion seeks to substitute for God, even to replace divinity with its doctrines. This is my point in saying that God is not a Christian. God is neither religion nor religious. God is simply Spirit. . . . beyond concepts like gender” (p. 37). He wonders, “How does one offend an omnipotent being who created the universe? . . . We assume He is going to be angry and even belligerent if we don’t flatter His eternal ego – an absurd idea” (p. 89).
Rather than seeing humanity as separated into a few favored sheep and a vast herd of damned goats, Pearson thinks such exclusive ideas contradict Divine Oneness: “We can be reconciled because we were all originally part of God and still are. We just got disconnected in consciousness, causing the illusion of separation. I had always assumed that reconciliation is exclusive to Christians. A fear- and guilt-based reading of Scripture offers ample evidence that this is the case. However, unbiased observation of Christian theology makes it clear that Christ’s purpose was to redeem the whole of humanity” (pp. 46-7). His reflections have caused him to reevaluate the nature of God and the role of Christianity: “God is not limited to time and space. God’s consciousness is unlimited. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He is not bound by time as we are, but is present everywhere past, present, and future. Whatever this Infinite Spirit does has been accomplished and realized in eternity, not time. The salvation of the entire human race is a fait accompli, including those who have yet to be born. Only our theologies insist there is conflict, one that they manufacture and sustain” (p. 125). If God wishes to save all human beings, then it is a fact not dependent on the beliefs or imperfections of individuals: “Sin or no sin, God is love, and He loves all people without their permission – and also without their knowledge” (p. 117).
These views also affect our approach to morality: “God did not create us to judge one another. That is not our role. We are not here to force our own values of good and evil on others. Our role as people living in Christ Consciousness is simply to announce that sin is no longer the issue. It has been made irrelevant by the work of Christ. We should turn our attention to the development of our own minds and our own righteous actions. When we do, the world will be a far better, more tolerant, and understanding place” (p. 107).
This is an intriguing book by someone who has dared to think for himself and follow his own convictions at considerable personal cost. – Sarah Belle Dougherty (December 2008)