Netflix’s new biopic, Come Sunday, tells the story of Carlton Pearson, a Pentecostal bishop who became one of the first African Americans to have a megachurch in Tulsa — and lost it all by changing his beliefs. Decades after his painful experience of loss and rejection, Carlton Pearson from Come Sunday now, in 2018, is still preaching, but with a vastly different mindset than the one that started his career.
According to his own site, Pearson today is developing a “multi-cultural and radically inclusive 'Metacostal’ cyber community” that’ll allow him to spread his new, modernized message of acceptance and self-love, intertwined with finding that through spirituality. He also founded the Metacostal Network of Churches and Ministries, which takes on a metaphysical approach to connecting with Christianity.
It's certainly in line with the beliefs shown in Come Sunday, streaming April 13. While many preachers in the public eye have faced scrutiny due to scandals involving embezzlement or having affairs, Pearson’s sin in the eyes of his church was preaching that there is no hell. As the movie details, that didn't go over too well, to say the least, and Pearson faced plenty of outrage for his newfound beliefs.
Pearson's story attracted the attention of many, including Come Sunday director Joshua Marston, when the preacher appeared in the “Heretics” episode of This American Life back in 2005. Taking place less than a decade after his experiences, Pearson discussed how much it still hurt to be rejected. In one part, This American Life’s Russell Cobb spoke about Pearson’s uneasy reaction to attending his church Higher Dimensions’ 25th Anniversary Banquet, fearful that it'd be a painful reminder of everything he lost.
While the "Heretics" episode certainly highlighted the negative consequences of Pearson's stated beliefs, such as members of Higher Dimensions being judged by peers for remaining loyal to their church, it also showed how much Pearson’s views have evolved since the beginning of his change in perspective. According to Cobb, by Pearson saying that gay people would no longer go to hell, this allowed an influx of LGBTQ Christians to begin attending the church. It also helped people of different religions feel like they also had a place within the church.
In Come Sunday, when Pearson loses the support of those who he was once close to, bishop Yvette Flunder (Joni Bovill), part of Fellowship International in San Francisco, voices her support and admiration towards the preacher. As one of the few openly lesbian bishops at the time, Flunder feels it's important to show that being an LGBTQ person doesn’t mean you’re less deserving of God’s love. This message sticks with Pearson, who, as shown in the movie, eventually leaves behind his homophobic beliefs and accepts that it’s important for everyone to feel confident with who they are without hiding their true selves.
In the 13 years since then, Pearson’s preaching has only continued to reject the notions that he used to believe. During a recent interview with Megyn Kelly to promote Come Sunday, Kelly pointed out that Pearson has reached a point where he now preaches an inclusive, loving view of Christianity. When asked what his current belief system is, he responded by saying, “I’m not trying to correct anybody, just trying to enhance everybody, who you already are. [I want to] bring out the best in you, celebrate, own, honor, respect, and love yourself.”
Pearson also pointed out that people “spend their lives impersonating who we think people want us to be," serious food for thought. As he explained to Kelly, the preacher apparently realized that when he stopped trying to please everyone and instead focused on finding himself, he became much happier despite the painful experiences that caused him to reach that point. It's good advice for all of us, regardless of what you believe.