Over the weekend of 24 and 25 October, after the verdict of the City Harvest trial had been delivered, CHC’s advisory chairman, Dr AR Bernard, senior pastor of Christian Cultural Center (CCC) in Brooklyn, New York, brought two powerful and perfectly-timed messages for the church. He talked to City News about what lies in the future for this church.
City News: Dr Bernard, when did you hear about the verdict?
Dr AR Bernard: When it came out. I was tracking it on Tuesday night (US time) our time, checking the Internet. So as soon as the news broke, I knew about it.
What was your first reaction?
I was prepared for it. I wasn’t surprised. Pastor Phil and I spoke. He was here at the courthouse. We talked; he gave me the lay of the land, the feel of things, which was good. But I looked forward to my conversation with Pastor Kong and Sun when I arrived.
We have had conversations over these past five years about consolidating and the need for CHC to have a framework. Are you happy with what you see?
Absolutely. I like what I see. Pastor Kong and I have been in conversations over the past year and he understood that our (CCC’s) model is core values, core purposes, missions and values. So he adopted that and built in your own core values, purposes, mission and values. And so that’s why I reflected upon them this morning (Sunday Oct 25, 2015), because that’s what really gives longevity: structure, systems in place, and timeless fundamentals.
You’ve seen our CHC2.0 and paradigms?
Yes, I like it. I think it still needs to be tweaked. That’s a process. You’re going to see what works, what doesn’t. You’re changing. At least you’re in that state of mind. The framework is developing. You have the skeleton, now you’re putting meat on the bones. And I think that the theology of the church has to be refined as well.
Could you elaborate on that?
City Harvest has come out of the Charismatic movement and the Word-of-Faith movement (that) have been the strongest influences on the ministry. And these are messages, not a framework. So there has to be a Biblical framework, a solid theological framework that the ministry’s future can be built on. What you’ve done is good for that time. But now, things have to change.
It’s quite like a small business, but it’s run like a mom-and-pop shop. Then it grows into this large corporation. You can’t run it the same way you ran it when it was small. It grows faster than you realize the need for change.
Moving forward, will our leadership be working with you to do this?
I plan to be very involved. I will roll up my sleeves, hands on. In fact, that’s a threat! (laughs) You can quote me.
Why were you excited during today’s service?
Yesterday (Saturday Oct 24) I was looking for a sense of peace. And I felt that very strongly—it rested in the service. Because people have to believe that there is a future; and I think this weekend was about the future of City Harvest. Barring sentencing, we don’t know the specifics of Pastor Kong’s future. But at least the church is intact: it lived through it, and it will continue. I think that’s important. So, last night it was about consoling, establishing that peace, that trust that’s necessary. And today, it moved into the next realm. Now that the peace is established, now there’s an anticipation, there’s an excitement about the future. But when you’re in turmoil, confusion, anxiety, you can’t think in terms of vision. Today was a great launch. Yesterday was a close, today was a beginning.
Pastor Kong said, when addressing the congregation this weekend that, for the church, this season has come to an end. What do you think of what he said?
It’s an end to the season of anxiety for what the future of City Harvest would be, and I think it’s come to a close. The verdict has been rendered and the individuals involved now have to deal with that. I said this when I was here earlier in the year; I said, guilt or innocence, it’s a matter for the court to decide. Now, instead of worrying about the church, [the congregation] can care through prayers and support for Pastor and the other individuals. The measures that have been taken to bring in compliance and accountability [in the running of the church]—I think we are on the right track. “We” because I’m committed to it—we’re on the right track.
What do you think should be the most important lesson we learn now that now that we have the benefit of hindsight?
I think that even though we may have good intentions, we must exercise due diligence to make sure that everything that we do is spiritual, moral, ethical and legal. [We] can’t afford to make any assumptions about anything.
And prophetically speaking, religion is emerging as a social-political force. The signs of the times are expressed by the Pope and how he was received as a head of state in the US (Pope Francis conducted his papal visit to America this September). He was allowed—the first time a religious leader was allowed—to address a joint session of Congress. It’s unprecedented in American history. And [there’s] the fact that this Pope is taking on social issues, which are always political. So, quite contrary to the post-modernist thinkers, religion is going to play a major role prophetically in the future of human society.
You met the Pope. What’s he like?
Yes, I met him. We talked. We did a service together (Dr Bernard was one of 10 religious leaders who conducted an inter-religious service with the Pope at the 9/11 site in New York City on Sep 25). Again, theologically, there are Biblical questions when it comes to the papacy. However, speaking of this particular individual, I think that he is a very charismatic leader, he has the people’s best interests at heart, he’s connected with the marginalized and the oppressed. And he’s looking to change the tone of the Catholic church without compromising its theology or its principles.
Pope Francis is very popular.
That’s because of his willingness to identify with the common man. Because the Catholic notion of the Pope was this very spiritual, holy man set apart from every one. Now he has floated down to earth. Some of the religious hierarchy may not agree with that, but in terms of the people, they’re responding. And he is being more gracious than legalistic.
Today at service you taught on the issue of identity, making reference to crises in gender identity as seen in celebrities like Caitlin Jenner. What is the bigger picture?
Out of the 4,000 years of history that Jesus had to refer to, to characterize humanity, just before his return, He pointed to two: he pointed to the days of Noah, and interestingly enough, the days of Lot. Not Sodom and Gomorrah but Lot, which includes Sodom and Gomorrah. And the major issue for Sodom and Gomorrah was the gender identity crisis. We’ve seen that played out today, just as it was played out then.
The second aspect was Lot’s condition, which was the condition of the culture. It was also the condition of the righteous, because Lot was called a righteous man. [The Bible] said that “his soul was vexed” which simply meant that he was overwhelmed by the condition of the culture, so much so that he became desensitized to the urgency of the times. So when the angels came, they said, “We gotta go.” And he was like, “No, spend the night, take it easy. Have something to eat.” He really didn’t understand the urgency of the times. So those two conditions—the condition of the culture and condition of the church—is my major concern because that was the reference that Jesus made to describe humanity before His return. And that’s a sermon I haven’t preached here yet so you can’t talk about that.
Promise you’ll do it soon.
Okay… Newsflash: My book is coming out for Christmas: Four Things A Woman Wants From A Man. Lots of great interviews in there with women from around the country (US). Really good stuff. It comes out Dec 1. And it’s nicely priced, paperback, so you can buy 10 of them and give them away (smiles). It’s a book written to women for men.
We’re looking forward to that! You said you risked your reputation to stand with Pastor Kong. It’s not something a lot of people would do for us. What makes you strong enough to do that?
Well, one, I believe in him, I believe in his work, I believe that his motives were pure, and my reputation is intact. If your reputation is intact, and you are authentically who people think you are, then you have nothing to worry about. And we need illustrations in the body of Christ where we see someone loving at all times, sticking with a person who’s in trouble. Because too often, we bail out. And I’ve seen, over the years, individuals jump ship on people—“Wow, that wasn’t a friend.” And also, that verse (Proverbs 17:17) was to minister to the congregation: love your Pastor. No matter what he’s accused of or going through, love him. Because that’s when you’re truly a friend.
How do we rebuild our reputation? Is it possible?
I think reputation is not just the skill with which you do what you do, but the integrity of character associated with you. I think over time CHC will show consistency, maturity, integrity, and that reputation will continue to grow. In fact, I think it will accelerate because this is the first church in the history of Singapore that has gone through something like this and didn’t collapse. In fact, two years from now, you’ll say, “Wow, it grew stronger”. And that’s the message: “Every branch in Me that bears fruit I will purge it, so that it will become more fruitful.” Right?
If sentencing is harsh on Nov 20, how can we remind one another to keep our trust in God?
Just tell them to remember what Dr Bernard said (laughs). The greater the trust, the greater the peace. Peace is the measure of the trust we have. Nothing changes. We’re still required to trust the Lord, no matter what.
What can we do for the families of the six?
Be there for them. Show them that we care consistently, support them, love them.
Pastor has clearly stated that Sun, Pastor Aries (Zulkarnain) and Pastor Bobby (Chaw) are the new leadership, and they have stepped up. If in the worst case scenario, the congregation needs to get used to not seeing Pastor on stage or hearing his voice, what should we be prepared for?
Pastor Kong has been preparing the congregation these two years, more intensely over the past year, and even more so in the past several months. So, the reality of his absence, I think, will grip them even more so depending upon the outcome of sentencing. But I think that people today, especially the millennial generation, tend to rally around a cause more than they do a person, and that’s good, so long as the vision, mission and core values and core purposes are presented. And I would hope that as long as individuals such as myself who represent stability, will continue to come in, maybe a little bit more often. Also there’s what Pastor Phil brings to the table.
But I would say that, more than bringing in a lot of guest ministers, they need to build that relationship with the congregation. Aries needs to do that. Bobby needs to do that. I’ve done it over the past 16 years. But I think that Sun has to do it as well. And I plan to work with them closely, especially Sun, to help develop her theological understanding, because seminary teaches you certain things, but it doesn’t tell you where to land. You have to establish the framework and theology of the house. And Sun is a good student. So, my objective is to see her grow deeper in her understanding and her articulation, of biblical truth. I’m her mentor.