What happens when a man of God, one with thousands of followers hanging on to his every word suddenly changes the message? In a stunning tale of faith and devotion, “Come Sunday” depicts the life of Bishop Carlton Pearson, a wildly popular minister in Tulsa whose revelations from God turned him away from the teachings of the church he had believed for years and later, labeled him as a heretic.
“Come Sunday” was screened this past weekend at Art Ovation Hotel as part of the Sarasota Film Festival’s impressive 20th Anniversary itinerary. An eclectic viewing crowd comprised of college kids, retirees, young couples, and even me and my 13-year-old, found ourselves riveted by the message an impressive cast of actors delivered.
First off, getting your young knight out of the fort (many of you will get the reference) to accompany you to a screening of a religious film is not easy. And when a sleepover of friends texting every few minutes for an ETA added to the intensity, I was a little apprehensive when we took our seats. Add in the serious questions being asked in the film, first and foremost, is there really a hell, and I was not sure if bringing my son was appropriate. But the conversations that have ensued about religion, life after death, and the meaning of it all has led me to believe these are topics we ponder even as small children. Carlton adds a unique, celebratory way of interpreting the bible and the experiences he believes God wants us to have. The film is one of those that has led me to explore a few spiritual beliefs I have held onto, and with only 24 hours under my belt since I saw it, I expect the messages of the film will continue to unfold.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Carlton Pearson earlier in the week and was bowled over at the exquisiteness of his voice and words. I do most of my interviews over the phone and love a good talker who answers the best questions before they’re even asked. That was the case with Carlton. This is the story of a man humbled by life and the changes he was forced to take to live a true existence that reconciled his beliefs and words. As the leader of his immensely popular Higher Dimensions, Inc and church in Tulsa, he had become a prominent religious leader in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He studied at Oral Roberts University, under the tutelage of Oral Roberts himself, he found his purpose in life as a messenger of God’s word. He has won various awards and has sold millions of CDs with a voice and spirit known to shake the rafters during Sunday service.
As the leader of his congregation, Carlton’s revelation that hell may not even exist put him in a conflicting position. How could he hold on to his audience of over 5,000 on a typical Sunday if his message of eternal life suddenly applied to everyone, not just those who had been saved? The answer was he didn’t. Longtime supporters including Oral Roberts and a legion of followers were angered by the new word Carlton was preaching. He saw his numbers dwindling but a belief in the word of the Lord and growing support and acceptance from his wife and a few members of his inner circle propelled him on to a new level of enlightenment. The movie has an impressive cast of characters including Chiwetel Ejiofor as Carlton, Martin Sheen as Oral Roberts, and Danny Glover as a jailed uncle, who failed in his attempts to be “saved” before taking his own life in prison.
Today, Carlton Pearson preaches spiritual enlightenment and promises God’s grace is for all of us, whether we have been saved or not. His online inclusive culture has grown to thousands of devotees who are living a life less riddled with guilt and religious indoctrination. He founded the Metacostal Network of Churches and Ministries providing the necessary conjunction between his Pentecostal beliefs and his more evolved spirituality. Carlton Pearson sold the rights to his story but remained as a paid consultant on “Come Sunday”, which premiered recently on Netflix. Fans at the recent Sarasota screening were treated to a Q and A session with Carlton Pearson after the screening. I can say people in attendance were energized by his presence and enthused by his positive outlook. Carlton’s message of inclusion seems to fit with the shift in thinking many people have, not that one can run rampant with hate or ignorance without consequence, but rather that forgiveness is available to all. “Come Sunday” is an intelligent look into one man’s struggle with questions we all have, regardless of our spirituality or lack thereof.
For more information on Carlton Pearson, please visit http://www.bishoppearson.com
Photos courtesy of Carlton Pearson website.