Presiding prelate of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, Bishop Yvette Flunder, who late former megachurch pastor Carlton Pearson said he wanted to speak at his homegoing service shortly before he passed on Nov.19, says Pastor Michael Todd’s Transformation Church barred her from preaching a eulogy at their service in Pearson’s honor on Friday due to a dispute over inclusion.
Flunder, who heads the LGBT-led City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, California, and is married to her same-sex partner Shirley Miller, told RNS, along with others, that organizers of the Transformation Church service insisted that speakers could not use the word “inclusion” in the service.
“I could be present, but I could not speak,” Flunder told RNS.
Transformation Church did not immediately respond to calls from The Christian Post on Friday, but in a statement to RNS, the church said they wanted to honor Pearson due to his deep ties to the church.
“Both our lead Pastor Michael Todd and our founding leader, Bishop Gary McIntosh, had the privilege of serving at Higher Dimensions for years under Bishop Carlton D. Pearson’s leadership,” the church told RNS. “The loss of Bishop Carlton D. Pearson deeply saddens us. His cherished daughter is a devoted member of our church, and in this time of grief, we aim to extend our support and comfort to their family. Recognizing the decades of profound influence Bishop Pearson has had within the body of Christ; we anticipate the gathering of thousands at his memorial services from November 29th to December 1st, 2023.”
In addition to Transformation Church’s service to honor Pearson, an interfaith celebration of Pearson’s life was held at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa on Thursday, as well as a musical celebration of Pearson’s life at Greater Grace Temple.
in a video published by former pastor-turned-digital content creator Larry Reid on Nov. 27, Pearson shared how he wanted to celebrated after he died and he mentioned that he wanted people like Flunder to speak to show “diversity.”
“Well, I'm not real braggadocious, never had been in my life but this one. I want it slammin,'” he said of his funeral.
“Yvette [Flunder] will say something. She's one of the few [I want to speak] ... because I want to show diversity. And I don't want a bunch of big-name guys,” Pearson said. “You guys who've stood with me are the ones I want to be heard and seen.”
Pearson, who was raised in the conservative Church of God in Christ, the world's most prominent black Pentecostal denomination, founded Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center in Tulsa in 1981. The church grew from 75 to more than 5,000 members, according to the Christian Research Institute.
In the late 1980s, Pearson, who was also a gifted singer, started the Azusa Conferences at Oral Roberts University and became a mainstay on Christian television.
After he challenged the biblical definition of Hell, however, his life was upended by significant rejection from the community that once celebrated him. The Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops Congress branded him a heretic in 2004 for preaching inclusionism, which the Christian apologetics ministry Got Questions calls the "old heresy of universalism re-packaged and given a new name."
Last Sunday, Flunder and The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries announced that they would not participate in any of the celebrations honoring Pearson’s life in Tulsa and dismissed conservative black churches as tools to propagate white supremacy.
“With honor, integrity, a clear sense of the Grace that rest on our lives, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM) along with our Presiding Prelate, Bishop Rev. Dr. Yvette A Flunder are not participating in the celebration of life for Bishop Carlton Pearson hosted in Tulsa. In keeping with our understanding of his wishes, we will not sanction a ceremony that will dishonor Bishop Pearson’s life and legacy and subject his colleagues to being belittled and silenced,” the statement from TFAM said.
“At the height of his pastoral success, Bishop heard a word from God that radically shifted his personal theology and upended his status and position in the Christian world. He proclaimed The Gospel of Inclusion, challenging some of the fundamental tenants of biblical inerrancy and Christian hegemony.
“In response to Bishop Pearson’s embrace of a new prophetic mantle, the mainstream Black Pentecostal Church mobilized to reject, demonize, and publicly humiliate this great Prince of the Church. The harsh and unseemly tactics, the sense of entitlement, the holier than thou optics, and the unchristian ‘sanctified’ swagger on display were nothing short of an emotional and spiritual lynching,” the group argued.
Many of Pearson’s closest supporters who share his theology will celebrate his life and legacy at an event in Atlanta, Georgia, on Dec. 18.