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Peter T Chattaway

Come Sunday aka Heretics

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Marcus Hinchey penning 'Heretics'
Marcus Hinchey is writing the screenplay "Heretics," based on an episode of the public radio series "This American Life," which is being developed as a potential directing gig for Marc Forster.
The script will recount the true story of Carlton Pearson, a rising star in the evangelical movement who was ostracized by his own church and declared a heretic after he started preaching that there is no Hell. . . .
Forster is currently directing Apparatus' "Machine Gun Preacher" for Lionsgate. . . .
Hollywood Reporter, July 13

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Robert Redford in Talks to Play Oral Roberts in Film 'Come Sunday' (Exclusive)

Jonathan Demme is set to tackle the world of evangelical ministers with the film Come Sunday and is enlisting Robert Redford to play the late Oral Roberts.

The film, which will be financed and produced by Endgame Entertainment (Looper), chronicles the true story of Carlton Pearson, a renowned evangelical minister in Tulsa, Okla., who stirs up controversy with his revelation that there is no hell. He loses everything and must rebuild his church and his family and find his own personal faith. Jeffrey Wright (Quantum of Solace) is in talks to take on the starring role of Pearson.

Roberts, an early pioneer of TV evangelism who reached millions of followers worldwide over more than six decades, served as Pearson's mentor. Redford, whose recent credits include the superhero pic Captain America: The Winter Soldier and J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost, is in discussions to tackle the supporting role of the controversial minister.

The project, formerly titled Heretics, was originally set up at Endgame in 2010 as a directing vehicle for Marc Forster, who will be involved as an executive producer. After seeing little action for years, Come Sunday was resurrected thanks to Demme's interest. . . .

Hollywood Reporter, May 21

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So fascinating to see the early posts about this film and the various folks who've been involved! This film has finally been released via Netflix. Here's my review. Really great performance from Ejiofor, and a surprisingly good one from Jason Segal playing against type. I do wish we could have seen a Jonathan Demme version of this, and I'm glad Martin Sheen took the role of Oral Roberts instead of Redford.

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FWIW, here's what I wrote on Facebook a couple weeks ago:

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Come Sunday, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Carlton Pearson and Martin Sheen as Oral Roberts, hit Netflix over the weekend. I mentioned the film a few times at my blog when it was in development. I don't know if I'll actually get around to formally reviewing it.

But I found it disappointing.

When the film was announced, it was said that the film would look at how Pearson had a falling-out with Roberts and others over his belief in universal salvation (i.e. that *everyone* is saved and no one is going to hell). I was intrigued by the possibility of seeing a feature-length drama about a topic that is currently making waves in evangelical circles (cf. my friend Kevin Miller's documentary Hellbound? from a few years ago).

But Pearson's change of belief, from hell to not-hell, happens awfully quickly -- in just about a week or two, as far as the movie is concerned -- and, while I loved hearing actual Bible verses quoted in a couple scenes, the film's treatment of the theological issues at stake is ultimately fairly shallow. About as shallow as the proof-texting that the characters on both sides are engaged in.

And, ultimately, the movie seems less interested in the question of eternal salvation and/or damnation than it does in the question of embracing homosexuality. Early on, Oral Roberts remarks that he couldn't "save" his eldest son, who committed suicide after coming out as gay. I had somehow never heard about this before (or if I had, I had somehow forgotten it; and I say this as one who, in my teens, read an entire book by Oral Roberts' ex-daughter-in-law on how Oral pressured his *other* son into divorcing her), and I don't deny that there's a lot of drama that could be mined from that, but the moment Martin-Sheen-as-Oral-Roberts brought it up, it felt like a cheap way to signal that Oral is one of the "bad guys" in this story. And then Pearson's friendship with his gay choir leader ends up becoming the movie's main subplot.

So, it didn't feel like I was getting the movie that had originally been advertised. And, its treatment of all these themes seemed like it was designed to be as un-challenging as possible to the film's target NPR audience (the film was co-produced by This American Life). Oh well.

- - -

In the comments, I said, in reply to a (gay) friend:

- - -

I agree that the opposing characters aren't demonized, exactly, but they are certainly cast in a consistently negative light (e.g. the Jason Segel character worrying that "homosexuals, murderers and rapists" will be saved; again, where the characters stand on homosexuality serves as a sort of litmus test, signaling who the good guys and bad guys are). Just the fact that an openly liberal, openly Catholic guy like Martin Sheen was playing the decidedly non-liberal, non-Catholic Oral Roberts kind of skews things in its own way. (I'd be curious to know if Sheen ever said anything about Roberts while the latter was alive, though I can't think offhand of any reason why he would have needed to.)

I concede that the theological discussion within the film may be limited to some degree by the fact that the film takes place entirely within a Pentecostal/charismatic/evangelical milieu. Being "saved" in this context means not going to hell, period, pretty much -- "salvation" is all about justification, with no consideration of sanctification -- but a broader understanding of what salvation *is* might have helped iron out some of the seeming "contradictions" in the Bible passages these characters cite.

And that points to one of the main problems I had with the film's depiction of Pearson's arc: he seems to give up on the idea of hell after just a week or two of thinking about it, and he announces this without any warning *in a church service* and even goes on to brazenly declare that there are "contradictions" in the Bible on this point. Like, c'mon. You just don't do that from a pulpit, in that denominational context, without expecting some serious pushback -- especially over verses that *aren't* as "contradictory" as he seems to think they are. (E.g., the verse that says Jesus brought salvation for all people but *especially* those who believe. Why "especially"? Might there be a way there to tease out what the New Testament writers were trying to describe?)

I would have a lot more sympathy for Pearson's predicament if this was something he wrestled with over a quasi-long period of time -- and I assume that, in real life, he did -- but, as dramatized, he just comes off as naive and impulsive. And thus the shallow theology weakens the character and, thus, weakens the drama.

For me, at any rate.

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9 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

And that points to one of the main problems I had with the film's depiction of Pearson's arc: he seems to give up on the idea of hell after just a week or two of thinking about it, and he announces this without any warning *in a church service* and even goes on to brazenly declare that there are "contradictions" in the Bible on this point. Like, c'mon. You just don't do that from a pulpit, in that denominational context, without expecting some serious pushback -- especially over verses that *aren't* as "contradictory" as he seems to think they are.

I think this is an example of why I found the film more interesting and complex than, apparently, you did Peter, in that it doesn't always portray Pearson in a positive light. He makes these impulsive, isolated decisions that have big community ramifications, then is surprised to be held accountable for his words and decisions. I think that's actually quite realistic and indicative of many Protestant evangelical senior pastors and leaders (e.g. see the recent Bill Hybels scandal and firing), in that they operate and lead quite autonomously, given significant power due to their rhetorical skills. The church literally lives or dies based on the one charismatic leader. The self-baptism scene reveals this complexity too--I think (I hope!) viewers would find such a decision to be problematic. So, I think the film is just as much about systems of leadership in evangelical culture as much as it is about theological questions.

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In case anyone comes here looking to respond to the conversation which ensued about the Image Board of Director's Statement, Jeremy moved it to its own thread here, so this thread can be devoted to Come Sunday.

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