Amy just sent me a link to this program from This American Life on Rev. Carlton Pearson and his Gospel of Inclusion. Rev. Pearson, an Oral Roberts protege, had an inconvenient epiphany at the height of his career as a nationally known evangelical leader and megachurch pastor: God didn't make hell, we did.
He had envisioned God as an angry judge, casting all who were not saved into the fires of an eternal hell. He built his career, a career which even made him a frequent White House guest under both presidents Bush, and even president Clinton, on the foundation of hellfire and damnation. But as he watched the news one night, with his little daughter in his lap, he saw the devastation of Africa. He saw starving people dying of malnutrition before their AIDS could kill them. He saw babies crying out for milk from dried up breasts. And, as he saw their suffering, he saw the evil of a vision of God which says that if someone doesn't preach the Gospel as he understood it to these people, and if they don't accept it just as he believed it, they would be sucked straight from this hell to the next.
His denial of a literal hell led him to a figurative one, as the community which nurtured him in the faith denounced him and turned their backs on him. The force with which he - an evangelical darling - was rejected by that community reminded me a bit of my own story of what happens when hell is no longer used by a pastor to hold a spiritual community in check by fear.
But it also led him to a deeper faith, a deeper understanding of God, and ultimately, I think, a deeper, richer ministry. If you can carve an hour out of your busy day, do yourself a favor and listen to his story, a story of the liberating power of the Gospel of Inclusion.
You can find the website for Rev. Pearson's church here.
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