Controversial Oklahoma pastor shutters congregation

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A pastor who once led one of Tulsa’s most prominent charismatic churches and served as an adviser to then-President-elect Bush has shut down his church. Bishop Carlton Pearson preached his final sermon at New Dimensions Church on Sept. 7. The church has been folded into All Souls Unitarian Church, the world’s largest church in that denomination.

“I wanted a place where my people could find safe harbor,” he said. “They’re already outcasts in the evangelical-charismatic community.”

New Dimensions Church once was known as Higher Dimensions Family Church. Eight years ago, the church had about 6,000 members, and Pearson served as a guest host on the national Trinity Broadcasting Network, was a member of the Oral Roberts University board of trustees and was among a group of black religious leaders who advised Bush in the days after his election.

Pearson then began preaching that all people would go to heaven, a theology he refers to as “the gospel of inclusion.” Not long after, evangelical leaders began spurning Pearson, the membership in his church — renamed New Dimensions Church — fell to a few hundred and the church’s south Tulsa property was lost in foreclosure.

But liberal religious leaders embraced Pearson, and New Dimensions Church affiliated with the United Church of Christ, one of the nation’s most liberal denominations.

New Hindu temple built to fulfill famed swami’s dream

HOMER GLEN, Ill. (AP) — Fully 115 years after a then-obscure Indian scholar introduced modern Hindu thought to America in a famous speech in Chicago, his disciples have opened what he called the “universal temple.”

More than 300 people gathered Sunday in the southwestern Chicago suburb of Homer Glen to inaugurate the 32,000-square-foot temple, which was the longtime dream of Swami Vivekananda. The swami brought the Hindu message to Chicago’s World Parliament of Religions in 1893.

Vivekananda later called for a temple that would teach meditation and the spiritual discipline of yoga to anyone from any faith.

Since 1967, the Vivekananda Vedanta Society has been in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, but growing membership led members to build the new temple.

Presbyterians fly in Malawis to deal with falling numbers

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Faced with years of decreasing church numbers, several Presbyterian congregations in Pittsburgh have flown in more than two dozen Presbyterians from Malawi to help locals keep the faith.

While church leaders in Pittsburgh struggle, the Presbyterian church in the central African nation has seen consistent growth, said Nora Goetz, co-chairwoman of the partnership program that helped bring 26 Malawis to the area.

“They are clearly doing something right, because their churches are growing by leaps and bounds, whereas ours are shrinking,” Goetz, of the Pittsburgh suburb Turtle Creek, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The partnership between the Pittsburgh Presbyterians and the Malawis began 17 years ago. Thirty-nine Pittsburgh-area churches are part of the exchange program with the Synod of Blantyre, which runs 430 Presbyterian churches and another 600 small prayer houses in Malawi, said Andrew Maere, the Synod’s secretary-general.

Islam expert to chair Middle East studies at Naval Academy

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — An expert on Islam is joining the U.S. Naval Academy this fall. Akbar Ahmed, who also is a cultural anthropologist and the former high commissioner of Pakistan to Britain, will fill a new chair for Middle East Studies. He will teach courses, advise midshipmen and faculty, and assist in research projects.

Ahmed has promoted interfaith relations through his many books, television appearances and public dialogues with Judea Pearl, the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He also has worked in film and documentary.

His most recent book, published in 2007, is “Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization.” Ahmed previously taught at American, Princeton, Harvard and Cambridge universities.