Founding Pastor, Christian Cultural Center (CCC), Brooklyn N.Y. - 21,000+ members
President, Int'l Christian Men's Institute (formerly Christian Men's Network)
Former treasurer, CMN
Member of Mayoral Transition Team of the City of New York 2001
Board Member, New York Economic Development Corp, and Brooklyn Public Library
Who's Who Among Outstanding Corporate Executives
Promise Keeper speaker
Married to Karen, adult children
The Reverend A.R. Bernard is emerging as one of the most important religious leaders, economic strategists, and civil rights advocates. He is also a strong voice in the growing conservative movement in the African-American community. He is one of the few African-American leaders in America with a conservative political agenda. Just as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, both of whom he calls friends, are outspoken in many liberal viewpoints, Rev. Bernard takes what some people call a hard hitting, uncompromising stand for biblical values.
His church, the Christian Cultural Center (CCC), is the largest church in New York City and has one of the fastest growing congregations in the country. He has gained the respect of national and world leaders alike. New York's Mayor Bloomberg appointed him to the Board of Directors of the Brooklyn Public Library and the New York City Economic Development.
"My desire is to effect change within society by representing the biblical worldview and the biblical value system," Rev. Bernard says. He believes this is the only way to bring about cultural changes, as well as social and economic renewal within the community. With this mindset, the CCC oversees a number of outreach programs, including schools for inner-city children, literacy groups, ministries for singles, seniors, and youth, arts groups, and ministries for the incarcerated and motorcycle enthusiasts, just to name a few. Bernard's Bible studies and prayer groups attract the known and the unknown. "I see Christianity as a culture, a community, a lifestyle," he says.
In our society, Christianity has been relegated to a religion and has not been given the influence it had several hundred years ago, a time when Jonathan Edwards and the Enlightenment impacted culture and politics up to the 20th century. "Culture shifted then, and we're looking to do the same," Bernard says.
He says his church's approach is more conversion-based. Because man has fallen from original creation, there is a disconnect from God. For the person to be born again, it is a restoration to the original intention of God -- back to the original purpose of creation. This once again empowers the human spirit to dream and soar and become, to deal with the negative environment to which we are all born into, and to give a wholesome direction to our worship and our sense of being. "I want people to be empowered in that way," Bernard says.
Regarding several controversial issues, such as homosexuality and sex outside of marriage, he is firm in his beliefs. "There is no conflict for me," he says. "The Bible is clear. Forgiveness is based on repentance; it's about change. So, I make a distinction between the lifestyle that the person has chosen, and the person himself. God loves the person, but He rejects the lifestyle, just like He rejects adultery or sex outside the context of marriage." Nor does Bernard elevate homosexuality as a unique or higher degree of sin. "We condemn it just as we condemn lying or cheating," he says. "Our society has elevated the issue because that segment is trying to gain moral acceptance. But that is contrary to the biblical, moral code that we live by. [Because] they can't get moral acceptance, they are trying to earn acceptance through legislation."
Looking for Strength
A native of Panama, Alphonso Bernard came to the United States at age 4 with his mother and settled in Brooklyn where he grew up a street-wise kid. He had an entrepreneurial knack for success. At age 17, he was pushing clothing racks in Manhattan's garment district for $2.00 per hour. At one point he resorted to dealing a few drugs to help make ends meet, but his strict mother kept him on track, and he soon began a promising career in finance. He eventually landed a respected position at Banker's Trust Company.
As he climbed the corporate ladder by day during the '60s and early '70s, he began a search for the truth. His search led him into the martial arts, drugs, spiritualism, the occult, and Tibetan Lamaism. He eventually became a practicing member of the Nation of Islam for five years, which was then under Elijah Muhammad. Bernard says at that time what impressed him about the Nation was not Allah, but the positive impact it had on the Black community. "It represented everything young Black men were looking for: order, strength, self-worth," he says. At a racially turbulent time, these qualities were highly attractive. "We were all scratching for a strong identity, and this provided one," he says. At that time he says the Black community only had two choices - whether or not to follow Malcolm X or Dr. King, men with two very different approaches.
Theologically, the Nation just didn't make sense to Bernard, and he kept up his spiritual search. That search for him ended on January 11, 1975, when he attended a Nicky Cruz gospel meeting. The invitation came from his secretary. He had asked her questions about faith that she could not answer. He wanted to challenge her beliefs, but she couldn't respond intellectually. "The simplicity of her faith attracted me," he says.
While there he heard a quiet Voice speak to him. These words were burned into his heart: "I am the God you're looking for; I and My Word are One." "I knew it was talking about Christ," he says. "Clear as ever in my heart, I knew." This moment also changed his relationship with the image of Christ - he now saw Christ as Someone who was colorless. Though every nation and culture portrays Him with features specific to that culture, from that point on Bernard no longer prayed to a Man in sandals and a robe. "It was now a relationship with His words, the Book. It became a life."
Bernard's conversion totally changed his life and he immersed himself in the Bible. With his wife, Karen, he opened his first storefront church in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn. As word spread of his dynamic ministry, Bernard became more closely connected with the mostly Latino/African-American community. He became outspoken against the evils of gangs, crime, drugs, and immorality that had penetrated the youth of Black America. He also spoke out against the threat of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Coincidentally, he and his family survived an attack when his home was riddled with bullets in 1996 as they slept. The crime was never solved.
Though he has friendships with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, there is a clear distinction between their politics and his. "They know I represent a growing conservative movement in the community, and they respect it," he says.
The greatest influence of the church is its moral authority, but when the church is weak, it loses that voice. Ten years ago, when the rainbow curriculum - "Heather Has Two Mommies" - was introduced into New York City schools, it was the Catholic Church who raised her voice against it. Here it is a decade later, and the same issue is back. But this time around Bernard says the Catholic Church has been stripped of her moral voice because in the interim, the sexual abuse scandals came to light. The church does have a prophetic voice. Bernard says that there are two models for that. One is of Isaiah, which is "Cry loud and spare not!" This is more confrontational. The other model is like Joseph and Daniel where they engaged the culture. They could engage it absolutely, yet without compromise.
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