Roland Martin sat down with Pastor A. R. Bernard to discuss his recent visit with Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, as well as Republican attempts to be more inclusive of minorities.
MR. MARTIN (VOICEOVER): “Washington Watch” from New York continues with my conversation with Pastor A.R. Bernard of the 33,000-member Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York. I asked him about his recent visit with Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, as well as Republican attempts to be more inclusive of minorities.
PASTOR A.R. BERNARD: Well, I think it begins with a conversation. It begins with us sitting down at the table and breaking bread and developing a relationship and getting to know each other and eliminating all of the myths that surround who you think I am – and maybe who I think you are.
So, it was a good starting place. And to have the chairman come was significant; because to send, you know, some local individual really doesn’t say that the national party’s interested in any type of change or listening. You can talk about Republican values, but it’s got to hit home. It’s got to be where the rubber meets the road.
You know, it was said a hundred years ago that there can’t be social equality without economic parity. So, you’ve got to come – here it is 50 years after civil rights – right – and the unemployment rate for black folks [is] higher now than it was 50 years ago.
MR. MARTIN: Double.
PASTOR BERNARD: So, you understand what I’m talking about.
MR. MARTIN: Um-hum. This whole issue of [the] mayoral race here in New York: are you running? Have you decided? When do you have to decide, if you haven’t decided yet? What’s going on with that?
PASTOR BERNARD: [Chuckles.] Well, as usual, it is true that the Republican Party approached me to consider running for mayor. Of course, that took me on a course of investigating, you know, what that would look like. Do I want to get involved – that involved in local politics? Is that a platform that would be best for me? So, I had to go through the process of thinking these [things] true.
At this point, I’m not actively considering running for mayor, but if there’s a compelling reason, then I’m open to that possibility.
MR. MARTIN: Have you had discussions with folks like Reverend Flake, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, individuals who are ordained ministers?
PASTOR BERNARD: Well, that’s the first thing I did. It’s funny, because the week after the article came out and all the questions were, “Is it true?” “Are you running?” I called colleagues, like Reverend Meeks. I called Reverend Flake, and I said, “Okay. It’s true that I’ve been approached, but this is a long conversation, and we have a short time to have that long conversation. I’m going to need to discuss some things with you.”
And they’re very open. They were very tickled at the idea that I’m considering it.
MR. MARTIN: What role do you see the Church playing – not in terms of just saving souls, but being able to get folks to save money, to save their children from a life of crime, getting them to understand how they can be productive members of society and really be change agents for the black community?
PASTOR BERNARD: Well, our gospel here – and it’s not to be considered some unique gospel apart from the Bible; that’s where we got it from – is holistic. We’re spirit, soul and body; and regardless of what your plans are for heaven, you’ve got to deal with life here on earth.
So, we educate. Every Sunday that I get up – and I instruct my minsters and elders to do the same thing, my teachers the same thing – you[’ve] got to do three things to that public: educate the mind, stir the heart and motivate the will. And whatever you present has to be life-transforming for right here and right now. So, we will talk about managing money. We’ll talk about family, relationships, fathering, parenting, mothering, raising children. We’ll talk about all of those things that are where the rubber meets the road.
You know, when we get converted, we become a part of this reality in eternity that we subscribe to and have faith in and hope for; but we have been left to participate in the realities of time also, and we’ve got to be able to navigate that. And the church is a sociocultural institution, so we have responsibility for our community – the community that is local, that community that is our city, our state and our nation. So, we get involved.
We just partnered with Family Tree Entertainment – Michael Blue Williams – and Ken Thompson and some other individuals to bring the first private-sector gun buyback program here in the city of New York. And within a span of six hours, we were able to collect 115 firearms from off the streets of New York City. Those are the kind[s] of things that we believe in partnering and making a difference in.
MR. MARTIN: What is the one issue – besides Jesus Christ – that you think is the most fundamental thing every African-American must focus on?
PASTOR BERNARD: Gosh. You know, again, it’s complex. It’s not like there’s one issue, because one thing affects the other. So, when we talk about education, education is critical. Our mind is our only defense against the issues that come to undermine our success in this world, so you’ve got to deal with education in the community. But Teddy Roosevelt said, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” So, we’ve got to bring the character piece, the morality piece, a sense of social and moral responsibility.
So, you put that together. You begin to deal with the issues of self-esteem and self-worth and identity, because to this day, you know that blacks still in this country struggle with an identity crisis.
What we teach here is that your skill, talents and abilities can take you to heights that only the right character can sustain you. And your value – your greatest value is not your talent. It’s the character associated with that.
And I’m going to pick on Tiger Woods. Here’s a man that was the first $1 billion athlete. Now, his talent was worth a hundred billion, but what he was able to achieve because of that talent and the character associated – you know, that identification with him as a clean-cut individual – that brought him the other 900 million. And when things went south with his character and morality issues came into play, that 900 began to – diminished back to that 100 million. So, who you are in character is of greater value than who you are in your gift, talents and ability.
So, in spite of the fact that this generation of African-Americans [has] experienced incredible upward mobility, education and wealth that the previous generation didn’t experience, still we’re struggling as a community. And instead of coming together to deal with our issues, there’s a polarization taking place and a widening gap between those who are upwardly mobile and those who are becoming poorer and poorer.
What do we do with that? We cannot continue to live short-term. We’ve got to think, act and plan long-term, generationally. And when we begin to do that, I think that we’ll begin to see some change.