The latest Netflix original film, Come Sunday, tells the story of bishop Carlton Pearson's meteoric rise in the world of evangelical worship, and his dramatic fall from grace. The sin? Declaring that hell didn't exist, and all souls would reconcile with God. The new film features an all-star cast, including Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, and Academy Award-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but photos of the real Come Sunday people give the story its depth.
The movie depicts how, one night in 1996, Pearson watched the horrors of the Rwandan genocide unfold on TV. The preacher realized his own philosophy meant these survivors were not only persecuted, but all hell-bound, as they weren't Christians. Pearson couldn't imagine a god that would be so exquisitely cruel. Despondent, he prayed. As he told UU World, he felt that he got a direct answer. "“We’re not sucking those dear people into hell. Can’t you see they’re already there—in the hell you have created for them and continue to create for yourselves and others all over the planet?" said Pearson. "We redeemed and reconciled all of humanity at Calvary.”
This idea was spread by Pearson in his new Gospel of Inclusion, that all humanity was saved by Jesus' sacrifice, and hell was a human creation and didn't actually exist. The new message came at a steep price; once the largest church in Tulsa, OK, the Higher Dimensions Family Church congregation dwindled to nearly nothing. Pearson's peers formally labeled him a heretic, and he was shunned by those he called friends and mentors. But Pearson's determination is the real story of Come Sunday, available April 13 on Netflix, which features an all-star list of actors.
Condola Rashad / Gina Pearson
Pearson's wife Gina was one of his staunchest supporters. Though she filed for divorce from Pearson in 2015, in 2016 she rescinded the petition. The two appeared together at the film's premiere.
Martin Sheen / Oral Roberts
Oral Roberts, a founder of televangelism as we know it today and one of the world's most recognizable preachers, turned his back on the man he called his "black son" the moment Pearson began preaching his universal reconciliation gospel.
Quincy Pearson / Danny Glover
Glover plays an uncle of Pearson (no photos available of him in real life) who requests a visit from the charismatic and popular preacher. Pearson has high hopes his uncle is ready to be saved, but Quincy has other plans. Quincy's fate and Pearson's devastation and conviction his uncle is hell-bound are the start of his questioning Hell's existence.
Lakeith Stanfield / Reggie
Indie star Stanfield plays fictional Higher Dimension musical director Reggie, a closeted, HIV-positive believer struggling to reconcile his religion with himself. Though fictional, the role touches on the difficulty for LGBTQ people of faith and the despondency they suffer, something Pearson and his wife experienced firsthand after their son Ronald committed suicide.
Jason Segel / Henry
Segel plays Henry, Pearson's right-hand man and business partner. There's no real-life photo counterpart as Henry is a composite of several people in Pearson's life — those who not only relied on his popularity for business reasons, but because they truly believed.
Today, Pearson still preaches; as he told United Church of Christ, "once a bishop, always a bishop," even if his family "is embarrassed and sometimes defensive. They love me, but they don't all agree with me." He calls himself "the most prominently titled heretic of his generation" on his own website and remains unrepentant about spreading his message of universal reconciliation.