Trending on Netflix, “Come Sunday” is a movie currently generating a lot of buzz across America, as the film depicts a crisis of doctrinal faith in the life of Bishop Carlton Pearson of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I, personally, have viewed the movie three times and have read several film critiques of the movie. A constant theme, which comes up in the critique of this film is that it leaves much to be desired. It seems that film critics want more details, more development of the storyline. However, I think that this movie does exactly what it should do, in that, it has people talking. Particularly, those of us who know and have been in or may be still in the Pentecostal evangelical church culture. One of the taboos of Christian evangelicalism is that it is generally not OK to talk, question, and interrogate one’s beliefs concerning their faith in a way that challenges the legitimacy of what it is they say they believe. Hence, many believers continue in a faith, that in some ways, they are fundamentally at odds with.
The fact that Bishop Pearson is a Black Pentecostal minister, who pastored a racially mixed congregation, added another layer to this story. Again, I come back to the idea that the film’s depiction of this particular aspect of his life gives us enough to get us talking. I think that if the film went into too much detail, it may have devoured the depth of discussion that needs to take place about questions of faith, the importance of having the liberty to interrogate one’s beliefs, and how healthy portions of doubt can meaningfully encourage curiosity, which may bring us closer to God. What if the doubts that we are encouraged to explore concerning our beliefs move us to love our self, and our neighbor more completely?
Having been in Pentecostal evangelicalism, I know the end of many of the subplots that a lot of the film critics longed to see developed and communicated on the movie screen. One of the subplots in the movie that is worth discussing is Bishop Pearson’s wife, Lady Gina Pearson played by Condola Rashad. I appreciate how the movie depicts that she is his wife who was an “outsider” to the Pentecostal evangelical culture. I honestly question if Bishop Pearson’s story of strength and resilience during his crisis of faith would have been the same if he had ended up with one of the women who had “cleared the balcony of the church” when he married the “outsider.” In the culture of Pentecostal evangelicalism, the gendered role definition of a pastor’s wife is traditionally characterized by a role that reinforces the values, customs, and expectations of the culture. One of the women who “cleared the balcony” may not have permitted him to interrogate his beliefs, or worse would not have stayed married to him while he did so. Condola Rashad depicts a woman who challenges but complements her husband in ways that cause him to manifest his authentic self, while at the same time sorting through her own frustrations from the pressures of the church culture’s role expectation of her as the pastor’s wife.
Charity begins at home
Within church culture are the unreasonable demands placed on the role of the pastor, to the destruction of their own home. It was refreshing how the film portrays Bishop Pearson back at home engaged with his wife and children, having dinner at the table with his family while the church, and the ministry demands were shrinking. This was a far cry from the busyness of itinerant and pastoral ministry at the start of the movie. The ministry of the father present and active in the home, who was available to go to the grocery store was an important contrast for the movie to show. For those of us who know the culture of the evangelical church, we can confidently predict a few different possible endings of the subplot of the busy minister with a family. The horror stories of children who are full of resentment toward absent parents in ministry, or failed marriages and broken families from the business of saving the world for God are endless.
“Come Sunday” is an excellent conversation starter for those who are generally not at liberty to discuss their beliefs, doubts about their beliefs, or the church culture to which they belong. The movie serves as a parable of sorts for those who may not feel safe disclosing their own inner conflicts around their faith.