Theresa Tan

Faith, Hurricanes & The US Election: A Conversation With Dr AR Bernard

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Over the weekend of Nov. 24 and 25, his deeply motivating messages on the importance of fortifying and protecting one’s faith raised the spirits of the City Harvest congregation. City News caught up with Dr AR Bernard on the many interesting events of the past two months, and how life is organised around purpose.

By Theresa Tan

CN PHOTO: Michael Chan.

 You preached an incredible message on aggressive faith. How does one get aggressive faith?

You start with it when you are born again, because the seed of faith is sown in your heart. You accept Christ, you enter into a relationship with Him, you’re brought into a whole new reality, and a very empowered reality. So, the seed of faith is planted and then it becomes your responsibility to build it and to lay it as a good strong foundation. For “faith is the substance of things hoped for”, the word “substance” is the Greek word hupostasis, which means “support”. And the stronger the support, the more you can place on top. So, aggressive faith sees faith as a verb. It’s like being given a very powerful tool, and it’s up to you to develop your skill to use it. More than a tool, it’s a weapon.

What about the verse that says we just need faith the size of a mustard seed?

That is very encouraging because it means you start small.  And it’s not quantity, it’s quality of your faith that makes things happen. Jesus said, If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you’ll move this mountain. Obviously it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality of your faith that can actually achieve great things.

Do you see that a lot? Aggressive faith?

Where I live, yes. I’m from New York! (laughs) They’re in your face. Saved or unsaved, we are in your face. It’s about taking territory, about fighting to protect your territory. I share the picture out of Nehemiah 8 all the time, where they were on the wall. They had a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other, building and protecting what they built.

What are some practical ways CHC can fight to protect our territory?

Well, it helps to begin changing the way you think. And also your language has to change. Faith has a very positive language. Your words give authority for things to happen in your life. So you have to be conscious of the words that you speak. Words are carriers. They carry life or death; faith and hope or discouragement and despair. You have to change the way you think, the way you talk, the way you listen. You have to change the way you listen: faith becomes the filter that filters what you hear, filtering away the negative and only allowing in the positive. Because once you deeply believe something, you begin to ignore all the information that is inconsistent with what you have chosen to believe.

Faith is like a magnet. It has a magnetic pull. It pulls you towards the things hoped for. The stronger your faith, the stronger the magnet. Faith is attractive, that it attracts the people, the resources, the opportunities towards the one who is exercising that faith. Faith ignites the law of sympathetic resonance, where people who are functioning in the same mind meet up with you. Faith is foundational to human experience, and faith is foundational to divine experience.

As our Advisory Chairman, where do you think our church stands now in terms of our faith?

I think God is building the quality of your faith more than anything else. And today, the objective of the Holy Spirit was to understand the aggressiveness of faith. That faith is not something that you kind of wish and hope happens, you have to be actively engaged. I think that was the key thing this weekend. We laid a lot of foundation for background and understanding, because I wanted to balance the fact that we live in the realities of time. So faith is not presumption, it’s not magical thinking; it’s a very powerful force working within the realities of time to elevate us above our impression of those realities.

We’re very sorry to hear about your son-in-law. We were all praying for you and your family.

I thank you all so much. He was very special—41 years old! It started with colon cancer, but by the time he went to the hospital, it had already spread to the liver, pancreas to his stomach to his brain to his lungs. We really did a lot of interceding and praying…It really gave us an appreciation of why my whole family embraced him as one of my sons. My sons looked at him as the older brother. So he was that close, that dear to us. His two daughters, the only grandparents they really know are my wife and I. So the relationship over the past eight years prepared us for this. You never know what God is preparing you for.

Hurricane Sandy affected New York last month. How is your house right now?

My house is fine.  We have three acres of land. I cut away trees that were close to the house. Five trees fell; one fell four feet away from my car. The others fell on each other in the woods. We live in Long Island, in a very New Englandy-like area where there’s a lot of woods, so what happens is, the trees fall; they fall on the power lines, which are above ground, the power lines snap, the telephone lines snap. [There was] no communication and no electrical power. The generator we had for 12 years died (laughs)—rest in peace—that was it. So now we have a new generator. Usually, as long as the generator is working, we’re fine, you know. But we weren’t fine this time round. So, it’s funny bcause the night of the storm, which was mostly wind, not rain, it was actually a cyclone. We were driving from the house to look for a hotel room, and we were driving around fallen trees, power lines—it was like a scene in a movie. But everybody was fine.

And Christian Cultural Center sent help to those who lost their homes?

Our missions team went to work right away. We went into Coney Island and the Rockaways. We identified some churches and made them distribution points. These churches, they lost everything. So we took generators in, we took food, clothing, blankets, water. And we just continue to do the relief work.

How long will it be before things get better?

It’s going to be a long time. The process is relief, meaning immediate needs; rehabilitation, getting people back on their feet; and then development, which is a long term response to long term needs. You have 20,000-plus people who are homeless. So I met with the Secretary of HUD [Shaun Donovan], Obama’s Cabinet Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and we talked about the long-term needs for affordable housing. So I look forward to being involved. The President appointed him the point-man to head up redevelopment. He came and visited the church and talked to the congregation. But I knew him when he was the housing commissioner for New York City, a bright, sharp guy. He’s going to get the job done. But it’s going to take time to rebuild.

And in the Rockaways, many of the houses that were hit hardest were affluent. Million-dollar homes. The mayor did an excellent job in establishing crisis centres in the different areas that were hard hit. And you had the usual Red Cross, Salvation Army, church organizations who came in. When I went through Sea Gate in Coney Island, you could see the piles of sand that were scooped up from the street. In the Rockaways we had the bay on one side, and the ocean on the other. And the ocean came up and covered the land completely. We were riding up one four-land parkway, and in the middle of the parkway was a boat (laughs).

So people’s spirits are up because of the help that’s coming in. They’re working with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to get the paperwork done, and the mayor, again, he’s done a great job. He created a Rapid Repairs System, with over a billion dollars committed to getting people whose homes were severely damaged repaired quickly. New York has the infrastructure that many cities don’t have, so we can quickly mobilize and respond to crisis.

Have more people come to the church because of the hurricane?

Not directly, because people really couldn’t travel. Bridges and tunnels were shut down, flooded. So it took time for people to be able to get around. And interestingly enough, natural disasters don’t really cause the kind of fear that brings people to church the way terrorism does. 9/11, people came to church. It didn’t last long but they went (laughs). Once they got over the terror, they went back to their old ways. What’re ya going to do?

Now interestingly enough, the Northeast region of New York is experiencing things that would be expected every 100, 300 years. It’s happening every two years. Things you would never expect in our region, like earthquakes. Nor’easters we’re used to, but hurricanes? Cyclones? Especially with this rapidity? As far as I’m concerned, it’s Biblical. (laughs)

The elections were exciting. You were on TV!

The elections were interesting. As a Republican, I think what it did for the party, or hopefully did for the party, was to recognize that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was not a political or historical anomaly or fluke, it actually represented a change in America. And that was confirmed by this election.

So were you very sure Obama was going to win?

Was I very sure? No, because the Republicans had an opportunity and a shot, but they had some faulty assumptions about the voting bloc. And those assumptions cost them the election.

But it was a close race?

Not as close as they thought it was going to be. The President had a decisive victory. And Romney just didn’t sell me; I wasn’t sold. I was on MSNBC and they asked me, Did you vote for Barack Obama, and I did. I voted for him the first time. I’m not going to reveal who I voted for this time, it’s a secret. (smiles) But like I said in all the interviews, I said, “Mitt Romney is the only one who can convince me not to vote for Barack Obama.” And Romney never made his case.

It was reported in the news that some pastors told their congregations not to vote (because they deemed neither Obama and Romney good choices, since Obama is a Democrat and Romney is a Mormon).

I did an interview with Associated Press and they lied on me and said that I said that, but I didn’t. So I ended up doing all the interviews to correct that. But that also gave a platform to discuss things like the issue of Romney’s Mormonism and same-sex marriage, so it was good. You know, what was meant for evil (laughs) turned out for good; it turned into a platform to discuss issues.

What is your stand on Mormonism? 

Mormonism is not orthodox Christianity. Some would not vote for him because of that, some didn’t care because it was a protest vote against Barack Obama. But you know, I think we have to be careful when religion becomes the litmus test, because we’ve had presidents of the United States who were Presbyterians. John Kennedy was Catholic. We’ve had Unitarians, who are not orthodox Christians in the Biblical sense of the word. We’ve had Protestants, and we’ve had presidents who have declared themselves without religious affiliation. Abraham Lincoln was one of them. Lincoln grew up in a very staunch Baptist home. And he developed certain ideas that were contrary to orthodox Christianity and inconsistent with Baptist faith that he was raised in. When he was running for Congress, he was publicly expressing those things that he felt, and they were at variance with the Christian faith. Well, he took a lot of heat and he wanted to win the election, so he made the decision that he would no longer make faith an issue, and he became unaffiliated. So when he became President of the United States, much as he talked about the Bible and all that, he was unaffiliated. He did not subscribe to orthodox Christianity.

So what’s the best approach Christians should have when it comes to choosing our leaders?

This is from a Biblical perspective, for those who are believers. We have to be careful because God is the one who sets up people in power. He sets up kings and he removes kings, right? And who becomes a leader in any nation has a lot to do with the plans and purposes of God. But as people of faith given the privilege—not only the privilege but the right, because voting is not a privilege, it is a right, it’s something that cannot be taken away—when we look at a candidate, we try to understand the degree to which they align with our values, but also the character of the individual that is needed for leadership at this particular time in the life of the nation. You could have a person who’s fully aligned with our Biblical values but who doesn’t have the strength of character to meet the challenges presented by aggressive enemies. I’m not going to vote for that guy, even if he aligns with my values. The times call for someone strong, someone aggressive, someone who is not going to compromise, you know what I mean? I believe that God sets up leaders based upon the times and the character of leadership needed for the times. So Israel was at war for 20 something years, Saul was a weak leader, Israel needed a strong general and David was chosen. But after he brought peace, he was a man of war, and that disqualified him for a period of peace. So his son Solomon became the leader. So it depends on the times, the character of leadership needed for the times.

So does that describe what’s happening to General David Petraeus right now? (Petraeus resigned from the CIA after it was reported that he had an affair with his biographer)

Right. I think Petraeus was right for the season that we were aggressively involved in Iraq. It’s unfortunate what’s happening to him, but it’s all politics. There’s always a political agenda behind something. But politics is power.

You recently wrote on FaceBook: “Life is better when organized around purpose.” What bearing does that have on how you plan next year?

Ahhhh. Well, I am in legacy mode. So I am establishing the ministry and all of the elements that I am tied to in ministry, both inside and outside the church. However, I am facing new opportunities that can dramatically alter next year for me. So I’ll have to see what happens if this plays out. But it’s all going to be around purpose; always around purpose. Purpose becomes the raison d’etre, you know?

You’re not going to tell us what it is?

Well, I won’t have to. You’ll be able to read about it in the media in the next six months. (laughs).

Any clues? 

(shakes his head) I’m talking to the press!

Are you excited about it?

I’m stunned. I’m pleasantly surprised. So when it happens you can say, “You know what? I have it recorded here in this iPad!”

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