Split decision

come sunday

Review by TIM LAM

Film | Come Sunday | M

Carlton Pearson was one of the most popular preachers in America during the 1990s, his Pentecostal mega-church regularly drawing more than 5000 worshippers.

But when he saw footage of starving children in Rwanda, Pearson had an epiphany: Jesus died for all humanity and even those who do not believe in Christ will go to Heaven.

Convinced it was a message from God, Pearson began publicly challenging his own fundamentalist teachings on eternal damnation, putting him on a collision course with his congregation and the church hierarchy.

Pearson’s remarkable story has been adapted into a Netflix feature film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave).

Ejiofor’s captivating performance as the charismatic preacher is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. He is supported by a strong cast including Jason Segel as his fundamentalist Christian friend and Martin Sheen as the influential televangelist Oral Roberts.

Pearson’s opponents are, perhaps refreshingly, not portrayed as cartoonish caricatures. Conservative Christians are not always favourably represented in mainstream movies, often stereotyped as self-righteous Bible-thumpers.

While the filmmakers clearly align themselves with Pearson’s more progressive ‘Gospel of Inclusion’, Come Sunday remains respectful of fundamentalist Christians. Pearson and his detractors are not depicted as bitter enemies on opposite ends of the theological spectrum. They are close friends who find themselves driven apart by irreconcilable interpretations of the Word of God.

Pearson’s desire to preach a message of inclusion not only leads to fractured personal relationships but also a schism within his own congregation. Disillusioned members walk out of his services and brand him a heretic. Declining numbers render his church property unsustainable.

With the Uniting Church set to debate a number of delicate issues at the upcoming Assembly, Come Sunday warns us how quickly theological deliberations can descend into harmful bickering and even accusations of heresy. This can cause enormous hardship and division within a faith community as people retreat into their own echo chambers. 

But as Pearson’s story demonstrates, it can also be an opportunity to transform and liberate our lives, opening our minds to new ways of thinking.

Come Sunday can be streamed on Netflix.

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