Come Sunday, debuting on Netflix this week, tells the true story of Bishop Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a charismatic and popular Evangelical preacher in the 1990s. Pearson was a rising star, someone with all the right characteristics for that segment of Christianity, including preaching a steady stream of fire and brimstone to help worshipers keeping making their decision for Christ as a way to stay out of hell.
One day his faith is shaken in what he believes to be divine revelation and he begins to change his preaching to reflect his new mindset that everyone is saved, not damned, by default. That doesn’t sit well with anyone – those in the pews or in church leadership – and Pearson has his position questioned from above and below. Unwilling to walk back his new perspective, he falls out of favor and eventually leaves the church and organization he’d been a part of as he continues to wrestle with the crisis. The movie is based on a 2005 story about Pearson aired on “This American Life.”
Pearson is labeled as “Believer. Preacher. Heretic” on the poster, which shows him looking down at the floor as if he’s considering something weighty, his head framed by a church window in the background. Other than the cast list, the other major element here is the Sundance logo, giving the movie some festival cred.
We quickly see in the trailer that Pearson is a powerful and popular preacher, someone liked by the congregation and valued by Roberts as a leader in the church. He’s haunted, though, by those in his life who have taken bad paths. That leads to a revelation that we’re all saved already by God’s grace, a position that is not welcome by those in the church who believe he’s being unbiblical. He believes he’s been sent a message from God but others are obviously skeptical, causing all sorts of drama and problems for those around him.
I love the focus on Ejiofor as well as the idea that moving away from decision theology is so controversial when it’s formed the foundation of Evangelicalism for decades. That this is based on a true story makes it even more powerful. While I’m not familiar with the story behind the movie, I’m hooked by the promise of an exploration of these and other related concepts.
Online and Social
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
While I didn’t see it and Netflix doesn’t seem to have posted it online, reports from people on Twitter were that at least one commercial for the movie was aired during the recent broadcast of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which is some thematically-appropriate advertising there, Bob.
Media and Publicity
The movie was frequently included on “most-anticipated” lists of films scheduled to debut at the Sundance Film Festival, especially given the widespread love for Ejiofor. That screening was pretty well received, though not universally. The cast and crew engaged in quite a bit of chatter while there to promote the film and get people talking.
There were a few additional interviews with Ejiofor, but nothing that amounted to very much. Most of them only gave passing attention to this movie as members of the press were more interested in asking him about a Doctor Strange sequel or the upcoming Lion King remake.
It’s an interesting moment the movie is being released at. The very nature of Evangelical Christianity is being questioned for its rhetorical consistency, which preaches hell and damnation for those who don’t repent and turn to Christ but which is also more concerned with how a certain president’s multiple sex scandals could negatively impact their social agenda than with (squints at notes) Biblical purity.
Will the movie address that kind of thinking? That’s certainly what’s implied by the marketing. Obviously it’s not a direct commentary on 2018, being set in the 90s, but the themes seem to be close enough.
Outside of that, though, it’s Ejiofor’s performance that’s at the center of the campaign. Seeing him struggle with moral, philosophical and religious issues is what’s promised so if you’re up for lots of furrowed brows and soapboxes being mounted, this should be for you.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.