Religion is one thing, but faith is something else entirely. In 1998, Pentecostal Bishop Carlton Pearson had a revelation about his faith and his understanding of the word of God that rattled him to his core. His new radical beliefs rippled through his life so abruptly that he lost everything he once held dear to him. Based on Bishop Pearson’s life and a 2005 episode of NPR’s This American Life entitled “Heretics,” director Joshua Marston’s arresting Come Sunday forces its audience to look inward and evaluate what we truly believe.
A superb Chiwetel Ejiofor takes on the cadence and stature of the Tusla-based minister who was able to fill the pews of his massive Higher Dimensions church each Sunday with both black and white parishioners. Deeply committed to capturing the period and the environment of the Bible Belt, Marston hones in on everything from the frenzy of the evangelical movement to the eclectic style of the late ‘90s. His attention to detail, even filming the bishop’s worn and written in Bible, made the film realistic. Religion can be a difficult subject for Hollywood to tackle, but in his beautifully nuanced portrayal, Ejiofor captures a man who risked everything for the chance to speak his truth.
Amid the Rwandan genocide and grappling with the death of his beloved uncle (Danny Glover) who never gave his life to the Lord, Bishop Pearson hears God’s voice and has an epiphany. He believes that everyone is already saved and that there is no hell. On the pulpit one faithful Sunday he declares, “The God that we worship, from the parts of the Bible that we focus on, that God is a monster … worse than Hitler.” At the time, Bishop Pearson was affectionately referred to as Oral Robert’s “black son” in his community. His revelation, therefore, would crack his world open.
It’s not just Ejiofor who is captivating in this film, Condola Rashad is masterful as his often overlooked wife, Gina Pearson. A reluctant first lady and an outsider, Rashad presents a woman who continually sacrifices her needs for the church. Subverting the image of the meek and docile wife, Gina voices her opinions and ideas even when they aren’t popular. Rashad’s restraint in the role is what allows Gina’s strength to shine. When everyone else abandons Bishop Pearson, Gina remains steadfast, loyal and at his side — urging him to press forward despite the obstacles.
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