The Atlanta-produced Netflix film 'Come Sunday' premieres on the streaming service in mid-April. Starring Academy Award-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, Condola Rashad and Martin Sheen as Oral Roberts. The film tells the story of Bishop Carlton Pearson and how he went from being one of America's most popular African American Christian figures to being labeled a heretic.
In the early to mid-1990s, Carlton Pearson was pastor of one of the largest churches in Tulsa, Okla., with an average weekly attendance of more than 6,000 and growing. Pearson had been mentored by Oral Roberts and attended Oral Roberts University. Ordained as a bishop in the Church of God in Christ in 1997, Pearson was noted as very charismatic, and at the time, was only one of a very few black ministers appearing on national television at the time.
His program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network was among the most watched on the religious channel. Pearson gave a number of other up-and-coming ministers and Christian singers credibility and a wider audience as a result.
After Pearson watched a television program about the genocidal conditions in Rwanda, he gave serious thought and consideration to his teachings that non-Christians and those who did not follow the teachings as he believed were doomed to Hell.
As a result of this reflection, he believed he had received a spiritual epiphany from God. He announced that he doubted that Hell existed as a place of eternal torment as he had previously taught and believed, and stated that hell is created by man himself on earth by behavior and human depravity.
Pearson termed his new doctrine the 'Gospel of Inclusion.' Many members of his congregation who disagreed with this began to depart. In March 2004, the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops determined that Pearson's teachings were heresy. As such, his previous large-scale influence began to dwindle, and his church's membership fell significantly.
Today, Pearson is a United Church of Christ minister and leads New Dimensions, a congregation he founded in Chicago. He has authored two books in recent years, 'The Gospel of Inclusion' and 'God is not a Christian, nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu...'
The motion picture was filmed late last year in metro Atlanta, and was a featured premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The story for the film was based on a 2005 episode of NPR's This American Life, which profiled the rise and fall of Pearson's religious career.