Prominent New York City megachurch pastor A.R. Bernard is offering solutions on how to combat injustice in churches and the wider society.
The senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center spoke with The Christian Post for an in-depth look at the history of racism in America and how it informed the Western church.
"There are those who want to not look at the history and move forward. They say, ‘Well, can we just start from here and build in the future?’ But look, if you don't understand yesterday, you'll be confused about today and you will repeat the past tomorrow,” Bernard said.
Racism, he said, "is a human social construct" that "goes back to 600 years of European imperialism." In America, slavery was an economic system and "racialization was necessary in order to create a class system that had the white power elite on top," he noted.
“I understand that when you have an economic system that's based upon a forced labor of slaves and all of that is taken away from you, that is devastating. And that was the major issue for the South. They sought to recapture that by other means. So organizations re-formed like the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations to make the transition of Africans into American society difficult,” he explained, citing Jim Crow and vagrancy laws.
In his interview with CP (watch below), Bernard also discussed: how the founding fathers did not have "black and brown individuals" in mind when writing the Declaration of Independence and yet God providentially used their words to promote equality; the Black Lives Matter movement and why he has been able to separate the movement from the organization; white superiority and classism; and the role of white evangelicals and how they interpreted Scripture with regard to race.
"The evangelical community that developed out of conservatism and who subscribe to the apocalyptic vision and rejected progressive social reform, they developed a hermeneutic of segregation that reinforced that in this nation," he explained. "So if you have a hermeneutic of segregation, it means you have a lens that sees the Bible as God endorsing the separation of races, the subjugation of what you deem inferior people."
The 66-year-old pastor, who was named one of NY’s 50 Most Powerful People in Brooklyn in 2018, further pointed to what he argued is "the deficiency in the doctrine of sin," where many evangelicals believe that "sin is only in the individual" and getting that person "saved" would resolve all problems.
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"Sin manifests itself in the individual but it also manifests societally in societal systems, structures, codes, policy, laws that have to change," he stressed. "So if we don’t deal with sin not only in the individual but in social systems and structures, then what happens when the person gets saved? Things don’t change within that society."
While much change is needed, he sees at least one big difference between now and the '60s — white pastors have been calling him, expressing empathy and asking what they can do following the death of George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day while in police custody.
He encouraged ongoing conversations but advised that pastors become informed before they speak out.
"To my white brothers and sisters, use your voice, use your platform, use your sphere of influence, speak out. But be informed, get smart, talk to someone that knows what they're talking about, read, understand the history, and don't come from a place of white privilege," he said.
"I see some white pastors convening conversation, and I asked, 'Well, where do they get the qualifications to have that conversation?' And then what comes out in the conversation shows that they weren't qualified to have that conversation. That leads back to white privilege. 'Like I can have this conversation.' No! I think that we need to learn to listen, to be quiet to listen and learn at this period. Know what you're talking about."
Bernard also said not to minimize the importance of prayer.
"We know that there are principalities and powers at work in this world that are influencing, informing and shaping people and institutions and governments towards deceit, towards chaos, towards injustice. Prayer is powerful in that prayer changes atmospheres, and we must never, never underestimate the power of an atmosphere because an atmosphere creates the environment for miracles to take place. So pray and don't minimize prayer."
Other ways the Church can get involved, Bernard encouraged:
"Advocacy — There are policies, there are systems that are in place, there are legal codes that are in place that reinforce discrimination, marginalization, disenfranchisement. Advocate against those policies and advocate for policies that bring equity, that bring justice, that remove discrimination, marginalization, and disenfranchisement.
"Activism — And that's where you become vocal, you got a voice, you become vocal to the disruption of the status quo because unless the status quo becomes so untenable, so inconvenient, people will not look to change. So the status quo has to become so untenable, so inconvenient that change is the only alternative. Activism engages, it gets out there to change that status quo. Maybe you're called to protest. That's where you have the gift to organize, to gather people around an issue, coordinate acts of civil gathering and even civil disobedience, you know, where peaceful, nonviolent action is taken to express your pushback against social systems and structures, their inequities, their deficiencies, especially as it relates to particular people, minorities.
"Convening — Maybe you’re called to convene. Maybe you have a platform that you can invite other voices in to speak to the issue, informed voices to speak to the issue. Maybe you're willing to lend your platform to the conversation.
"Development— Replacing those broken systems, replacing those codes, those structures, bringing equity, economic development. You have the power. I was on a call with JPMorgan Chase and their executives, and they're asking, 'What can we do? How can we get involved in this conversation?'
"You have to know your lane too; not everybody is called to all of this. Maybe one person is called to prayer, another to development, another to advocacy. Know your lane, be qualified for that lane, understand if your gifts, talents and abilities bring you there and then go for it."
Watch the video for the full interview, where Bernard also addresses those who may feel disillusioned by Christianity, confusion around forgiveness, denialism and the Spirit of Truth.