Photos from Twitter
When New York City’s Times Square Ball dropped, commencing a brand new year and decade, it was highly anticipated that 2020 would be the year of new vision. Many churchgoers hung on to that message with high hopes of a promising future. Yet just three months into the New Year, the novel COVID-19 pandemic completely upended economic and social systems and exposed significant disparities among race and class lines. The killings of unarmed Black Americans, notably George Floyd’s murder on full display, ignited Black Lives Matter protests globally, and many young people were quick to dub 2020 #cancel altogether. The compounded nature of these events has left many Americans feeling frustrated and hopeless. Despite this uncertain landscape, these events influenced people to converse, act, unite, and advocate for systemic change within American society.
Across the national stage, generations of Americans participated in social justice protests despite COVID-19 mandates. Racism, police misconduct, and economic disenfranchisement become the dominant rhetoric as executives and presidents of sports, business, educational institutions, and the media faced pressure to do their due diligence. They had dialogues that addressed those themes or changed policies in support of Black leadership and talent. As a result, some corporations have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars toward organizations addressing socioeconomic and racial justice disparities. As other sectors became more vocal about their inclusive policies, places of worship also entered the limelight not only as a beacon of hope and healing but also as a medium for discourse that tackled social issues.
Two Christian leaders using their social media platforms to spearhead conversations about justice are Pastor A.R. Bernard of Christian Cultural Center (CCC), the Brooklyn campus, and Pastor Jamaal Bernard of CCC, the Long Island campus. Both pastors have recognized the demand to make sense of the inequity around us from a faith-based perspective. They have made it a responsibility to speak out against the marginalization of Black Americans in this country. Even though one would argue that the U.S. is becoming more secular and that Christianity is declining, faith is still a large part of many American lives. According to the Pew Research Center of Religion and Public Life, 65% of American adults identify as Christians. For this reason, the work of Christian leaders is significant in helping others understand current events through a biblical lens.
Pastor A.R. Bernard and Pastor Jamaal Bernard’s Youtube channel serves as a space where many Christians have gathered to seek guidance and empowerment during these unprecedented times. It is here that you’ll find a unique father-and-son duo, in which both pastors comfortably sit and deliver something that I call ‘panel-preaching.’ They enter into discourse centered on personal experiences, theological knowledge, history, and current understanding of systematic disenfranchisement that plague communities of color in America.
This inclusion of social awareness in their sermons became more pronounced when both pastors A.R. Bernard and Jamaal Bernard responded to the murder of George Floyd and Amy Cooper’s racist call on an innocent Black man in Central Park. In a sermon called, ‘How Christians Should React – Know Your Lane,’ Pastor A.R. Bernard says that he feels like he is living in the ‘’60s all over again’ because of the sheer volume of civil unrest today mirroring that of the past. His son joins in by reading his father’s latest Instagram post at the time, it stated:
‘This week in America, a Black man was tortured and murdered right before our eyes, by a white police officer whose actions represent a cancer in the American social system. The nation reacted with both peaceful and violent protests. I don’t condone the violence, but I understand the violence. Because when change is necessary, failure to change becomes destructive!’
This powerful, unapologetic message that Bernard shared spoke to the understanding of why looting and acts of violence occurred in response to George Floyd’s murder. It also shows how racism fuels cancerous systems (and people) that are detrimental to marginalized populations. By speaking out, both pastors bring together faith and race as equally significant within the everyday life of Christians. Instead of shying away from these incidents, they vocalize what it means for Christians to be aware and active in expressing discontent of deplorable unjust human actions.
Further along in that sermon, Pastor A.R. Bernard says people must ‘get understanding’ (Proverbs 4:7) and ‘know [their] lane.’ One of these ‘lanes,’ he articulates, is prayer. He argues that there are people who know how to pray because ‘it’s their ministry,’ and for that reason, they know how to ‘pray against spiritual forces and evil that influence people and systems to traffic in deceit, injustice, and chaos.’ This faith-based insight alludes to the lack of presidential leadership, unity and empathy we’ve seen towards groups of color recently. In addition to prayer, Bernard says Christians can respond to the chaos and injustice through advocacy, activism, protesting, and participating in the development of new sustainable structures. These activities are not typical ministries that Christians usually do such as feeding the less fortunate or praying in hospitals. But they are essential ministries that Christians can partake in if called to do so. This calling or purpose is perhaps the new vision needed to maintain hope and create positive change in 2020.
As this particular sermon comes to a close, Pastor Jamaal Bernard, seen as a humble confidant, keen listener, and facilitator in their panel-preaching, supports these actions as necessary for Christians to be empowered and hopeful. He recognizes that ‘it’s one thing to have a conversation from a Black or Brown person, but a conversation based on our theology as a Christian that’s what we wrestle with.’ A.R. Bernard follows up and says, ‘we’re Christians first, that is the important identity, but we live in a nation, we live in a society that perceives us by our color first and then judges us.’ Both Pastors use their platforms and theological knowledge to demonstrate a shift in preaching the Good News, the message of Jesus Christ.
Currently, Pastors A.R. Bernard and Jamaal Bernard’s social media platform is full of biblical and social messages that highlight human nature. Both pastors bring Christianity to a realm that is reachable and relatable. An example of them doing this is when Pastor A.R Bernard participated in an Instagram live discussion with renowned actor Denzel Washington for his role as Malcolm X in the self-titled 1992 film. They have also engaged in a variety of conversations with other notable guests, celebrities, and pastors. It is unique to see this approach in addressing themes that pertain to Black American communities.
Although gathering in a brick and mortar is not yet possible for these pastors, they have opened doors for Christians to take church wherever they go and encourage them to deepen their relationship with God. Ultimately, the message is Christians should feel empowered when speaking about social justice within their communities. Perhaps a new way of thinking, acting, and understanding is the vision we all need, and 2020 isn’t #canceled after all.
To watch more of their sermons, subscribe to their Youtube page, “Christian Cultural Center- Brooklyn Campus,” and listen to how they continue to address today’s issues each Sunday from a faith-based perspective.