"Is God “Worse Than Hitler?”"
COME SUNDAY is 105 minutes of spiritually deceptive propaganda masquerading as a tale of Christian courage. The movie’s putative subject is the life of Carlton Pearson, a onetime rising star in the Pentecostal and fundamentalist world who loses his church, his prestige, and his congregation for preaching that everyone will go to Heaven. In true Hollywood fashion, that background exists only to give a spiritual veneer to COME SUNDAY’s real hate-filled message: Christians who uphold traditional Biblical teachings about salvation and sexual morality (especially homosexuality) are arrogant, heartless and devoid of human compassion.
This Netflix Original production purports to be “based on actual events” in the life of Bishop Carlton Pearson (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor of 12 YEARS A SLAVE). The movie opens in the spring of 1996. Carlton is a Pentecostal televangelist who maintains a punishing travel schedule and popular TV ministry in order to save souls from the torments of eternal hellfire. One day, however, while watching a news report about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Africa, he breaks down in tears that the Tutsi victims of the genocide died without knowing Jesus and hears what he believes is the voice of God telling him the victims “don’t need to get saved.” This voice tells him, “They will all be with Me in Heaven,” including the Muslims and animists in Rwanda. “God” has revealed to him that no one goes to Hell for any reason.
Contrary to the movie, however, the idea of universal salvation is not new. The entire Christian church rejected this heretical teaching, known as “Apocatastasis,” at the Second Council of Constantinople in the year 553 A.D. Also, however, census data from modern Rwanda over the years shows that 82 percent of the Rwandan population is either Roman Catholic or Protestant, both the perpetrators and victims of the 1994 genocide and their descendants. Ultimately, this means that Bishop Pearson’s life-changing notion reported by the movie that the victims of the genocide died “without knowing Jesus” was actually a spurious, false assumption in the first place!!!
Pearson carries this “other gospel” of “inclusion” back to his Higher Dimensions Family Center, a racially mixed megachurch of 6,000 souls in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The faithful have understandably mixed feelings at being told that, if God would send anyone to Hell for any reason, “that God is a monster. . . that God is worse than Hitler.”
Soon after Pearson’s heretical pronouncements, his mentor, Oral Roberts (played by Martin Sheen), disowns him, along with 75 percent of Pearson’s congregation. The church is auctioned off eventually. Meanwhile, Pearson tries to “pray through” these tribulations (fervently and with tears), but he feels only God’s absence. His supportive wife (Condola Rashad) convinces him to listen to himself, and he rebuilds a semblance of his former church.
All of these events are window dressing for the movie’s real, two-part message: 1) Christians are evil; and, 2) Homosexuality is not a sin. While Pearson’s theology is presented as an acceptable “rereading” of the Bible, his opponents are almost unfailingly depicted as angry, small-minded and ignorant. When Pearson is called before his fellow African-American bishops, all of them, except Carlton, are dressed curiously in the white-and-red vestments of Catholic Inquisitors, all the way down to their square red birettas or hats, which recall the caps worn by Roman Catholic cardinals. Multiple characters also ask Pearson if he will “recant,” calling to mind Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms. When Pearson asks the lead bishop about his unsaved father, the Christian responds, “I thank God that reprobate is in Hell!”
At the same time in the movie, homosexuality is justified in a parallel story arc. For example, COME SUNDAY strongly implies that Oral Roberts’ rejection of his eldest son’s homosexuality caused his suicide. Roberts later warns Pearson, “Arrogance will. . . separate us from the ones we love most.”
Meanwhile, Pearson’s music leader, Reggie (Lakeith Stanfield), feels his pastor’s new message has freed him to live the homosexual lifestyle, and it’s implied that Reggie has contracted AIDS. The movie’s climactic scene comes when a dying Reggie tells Pearson that it’s impossible to separate homosexual attraction from engaging in homosexual sex. “It’s what I am. It’s who I am,” he says. “And, now God’s going to send me to Hell for it!” As he tearfully begs Carlton to save and deliver him from homosexuality, Carlton replies, “You don’t need to be saved. . . . I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.” So, instead of leading Reggie to repentance, Pearson leads Reggie in singing, “Jesus Loves Me.”
The movie’s aesthetic quality adds to its danger. As Pearson, Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a good performance, though it sometimes gets stuck a bit too long in the non-emotive land of uncertainty. However, when he portrays Pearson’s spiritual pain, he does so convincingly. Also, the movie’s sets accurately convey the excitement and fervor of charismatic Pentecostal worship. Finally, the movie’s moving Gospel soundtrack is replete with hymns any evangelical would find familiar and may even find himself singing along with them.
COME SUNDAY’s casting of known Hollywood leftists like Danny Glover and Martin Sheen (who famously lampooned Christian teachings about homosexuality on THE WEST WING) and its production by NPR’s “This American Life,” should tell viewers this is not really a Christian movie. It’s a movie meant to mislead spiritually immature Christians and to reassure social liberals and leftists that they are on the side of the angels and that every hateful caricature they believe about traditional Christians is true.
COME SUNDAY not only promotes rank heresy, it also has implied off-screen homosexuality, strained family relations and brief foul language. The real obscenity, however, is COME SUNDAY’s abhorrent comparison of the historical Jesus of the Bible (who clearly preached the doctrine of Hell several times in the New Testament) to Hitler. COME SUNDAY is abhorrent. It’s a primer on how the secular culture spins negative stereotypes about Christians and distorts the Bible, to its own destruction.
Note: Regarding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Africa, only God Himself knows who among the hundreds of thousands of self-identified Christian victims truly believed in Jesus as their personal Savior. A more interesting question, perhaps, is not who among the dead victims will go to Heaven, but whether any of the killers and their supporters who claimed to be Christian have repented of their actions and been redeemed by Jesus. The first command from Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament documents, in Mark 1:15, is “Repent” (or turn away from your sin). The second command is “Believe the Good News (or Gospel).”
COME SUNDAY is a Netflix sermonette about the evils of preaching the existence of Hell for anyone, especially people who engage in sexual immorality with members of the same sex. Its plot device is to present the real-life story of former Christian pastor Carlton Pearson, who comes to believe that God verbally told him everyone goes to Heaven, including active, unrepentant sinners and non-believers of every stripe. For obeying this anti-biblical “god,” Pearson loses his congregation and his respected status in the Christian community. However, he gains a new following among heretical “progressive” religious movements like the Unitarians.
COME SUNDAY has some good performances and an inspirational soundtrack, but these high production values only help the movie present true Christians as heartless and almost inhuman monsters. COME SUNDAY is 105 minutes of heretical, politically correct, false propaganda that Hell does not exist and that homosexuality is an acceptable, even “righteous” lifestyle that should be celebrated. COME SUNDAY and Carlton Pearson forget that God’s love does not delight in evil and that God’s love does not contradict His love or His moral law.