NOT HEAVEN—OR HELL–So. What happens when the faith you’ve had for years slams into the realization that “it ain’t necessarily so?”
What happens when the faith you’ve cultivated or the spoon-feedings you’ve accepted since youth crashes head-on with a musing-turned hard-core question: “what if we’re getting it all kinds of wrong?”
And what happens if you share your changing views with folks who aren’t ready or willing to give another perspective mental due process?
Come Sunday, a recent Netflix release produced by This American Life (yes, the WBEZ originated show and podcast) is about all of that. Bishop Carlton Pearson was an evangelical rock star…until he shared questions with his mega-church congregation about what he saw as a biblical contradiction…. Namely the subject of God’s love vs. what his church taught about the existence of an eternally burning hell… and the idea that all who don’t believe and accept Jesus as savior are doomed to roast in the afterlife. He couldn’t reconcile a loving God with teachings about an eternal rotisserie. Pearson says he heard God’s voice say Jesus is enough for all the world’s salvation, even those who don’t ever hear his name… which led him to figuratively say, dammit to hell. Pearson tossed the hellfire doctrine from his trove of beliefs and embraced a new theological worldview—the Gospel of Inclusion. This American Life told his story in a 2005 episode that was entirely dedicated to sharing his story.
And his chu’ch* folks weren’t having it. I don’t want to tell all the ups and downs of the story, but let’s just say he was an outcast’s outcast. Pearson is convincingly played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and his minister of music at that time, Reggie, is played by Lakeith Stanfield (Selma).
It’s a convincing story, to me, because I can relate to the journey and realization that yes—you may still believe…but you know you can no longer abide by all of the ways in which you were taught to believe…when your views of right and wrong are being encased in a chrysalis, surrounding you with mid-life metamorphosis… but you aren’t quite ready to tell all…Definitely not to anyone who might dissuade your self-inquisition.
Pearson didn’t have that luxury. He, convinced it was God’s voice, was compelled to tell his congregation. After all, as a purveyor of “Good News,” how could he stay silent and smother what was so liberating to his spirit? He lost his church and more before it was all over. His journey is depicted as rough and tear-stained, but the consequence seems to be a peaceful conscience.
*bet you didn’t know chu’ch was a contraction for church. Not really–but it exists now. Say it. Chu’ch.