I watched the biopic on Bishop Carlton Pearson, “Come Sunday,” over the weekend. Since then, I’ve had an opportunity to digest what I saw, juxtaposing it with what I already knew about the man and the situation, and the firestorm of comments about the man and the movie.
Here’s my take.
First of all, I do not know Bishop Pearson personally. I cannot speak to his character. I do not claim to know what is on his mind. I only know that he is a gifted preacher, teacher, and singer. I know that he was successful in his calling and served as a model for many up-and-coming preachers. So, I cannot vouch for his character or his personal interactions — neither of which are my business, anyhow.
That said, there was something said by the actor who portrayed him:
“I heard from God.”
There was a time in my life, not too long ago, where hearing these words from someone I considered suspect would cause my spiritual radar to go berserk. I mean, in order to hear from God, you had to be holy. You had to be righteous. You had be well-versed in Scripture and a theological pedigree didn’t hurt. I thought you had to be a special brand of special in order to hear from God. You had to be a Pastor. Or a Prophet. Or an Apostle. Or a Bishop.
When I first heard from God (yes I did), I considered myself to be among the evangelical elite. I was a champion among charismatics and a Pentecostal poster-boy. Like many who heard from God, I thought I had arrived! But, when I came down from my high-horse, I realized that hearing from God is something that every believer can expect AND that hearing from God is always an edifying, albeit challenging, experience. I also learned that it was deeply personal.
I have five sons. I have a unique relationship with each of them. And they are all different. And while I may give a blanket statement to the whole crew (e.g., “clean your rooms”), I relate to them uniquely according to their individual personalities. So what I say to each of them is different. My personality remains consistent between them but the words I speak are unique to each one. Any good parent knows that there’s no cookie-cutter approach to raising kids. I firmly believe God is a better parent than any of us.
If anyone says, “I heard from God,” I process that as the personal experience that it is. And, as long as it doesn’t violate the loving nature revealed in Jesus, I trust that the individual is genuine in his or her testimony.
So when I heard the person portraying Bishop Pearson say those words, I trust that He did, indeed hear from God. The big question, then, is did he hear clearly? So many folks are quick to rush to judgment, saying that what Bishop Pearson was saying was inconsistent with the Word of God.
Really? Whose interpretation? After all, there are over forty thousand Christian denominations. And within those denominations, there are factions that disagree. Who, then, holds the monopoly on truth?
The reality, here, is that Bishop Pearson simply said something that was contrary to an accepted standard. The Body of Christ is a funny creature — it cannot seem to agree on anything except patently visible “sins” (e.g., homosexuality and abortion) and perceived “heresy” (e.g., Inclusionism and Universalism). Bishop Pearson’s chief transgression, then, was that he proffered a theological position that ran contrary to someone’s interpretation of truth.
Let me stop here and say, emphatically, I am neither an inclusionst nor a universalist. For the record, I do not believe in the construct of hell as a place of eternal conscious torment. I also believe that there will be far more people in heaven than most in mainstream Christianity suppose. Personally, I have learned to love to the degree that I hope everyone gets to spend eternity in the joyous presence of our Heavenly Father. I believe that, through Jesus, God has made this a present possibility that becomes a reality by our choice.
What I do see in Bishop Pearson’s movie and in his present teachings is love. I believe that He has come to the conclusion that God is a consuming fire and that fire is love. Perfect love casts out fear. Faith works by love. Love is the hallmark of discipleship. Love is the chief fruit of the Spirit. Most of all, Love never fails because God is Love and God cannot fail!
I believe Bishop Pearson got weary of a religious system that woos it’s adherents only to wound them. Clearly he grew tired of the religious treadmill of works to appease a God who would seemingly never grant His full approval. It is also obvious that he lost his zeal for a system built on elevating and promoting a faithful few while judging and condemning the multitude.
There are some who will cast Bishop Pearson as a tragic figure — one who, in his zeal to be loving, got it totally wrong. I believe those who reach this conclusion have it terribly wrong. Whether we agree with him or not, Carlton Pearson’s story is one of triumph. Like the mythical phoenix, he has risen from the ashes of religious persecution into the atmosphere of liberty. He is no longer bound by dogma but is free to teach from the wellspring of what he believes he hears from God. Moreover, he serves as an inspiration to many, including myself, to trust what God is saying to us and to march boldly from the plantation of religion via the underground railroad of faith into the promised land of liberty in God’s unconditional Love and Unlimited Grace.
© 2018 – Derrick Day (www.derrickday.com)