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The Book of Mormon urges readers to make scripture come alive in their own, modern lives so they can see God’s active love for them and understand how his teachings apply to them right now.

That principle was illustrated colorfully and thoughtfully on Saturday night by a Christian preacher as he was being honored by the New York Latter-day Saint Professional Association at a banquet attended by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“Jesus explained to his disciples that his message would be processed differently by those who heard it,” said the Rev. A. R. Bernard Sr., who received the association’s Visionary Leadership Award for his work as the founder, CEO and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center, the largest evangelical church in New York City.

He explained the impact of modern American secularization — and the need for religions to work together to overcome it to help the needy — through the Parable of the Sower. In that New Testament allegory, Jesus Christ showed how seeds of truth or faith do based on the type of soils — or hearts, or environments — where they are planted.

The Rev. Bernard described all four soils from the parable in modern terms:

  • “The first soil was called wayside,” he said, “better understood (today) as the beaten path, the status quo, the current social and political context that is often resistant to change. And it would be that environment that the message would have to penetrate, and of course, that would be the most difficult environment. Those of you who are familiar with it, it was because of that resistance to change that the devil would come immediately and take away the seed that was sown before becoming productive.
  • “He also talked about stony ground, the transiency of superficial commitment, and boy, do we see more of that in our society, where people will try things out and move on. That translates into (multiple) marriages, a host of changes along the way that never speak of permanency of groups and groundedness in belief or participating in society.
  • “He also talked about thorny ground — popular culture, the trends, issues and narratives that drive, shape and inform the social, political, spiritual, moral landscape, the lust for power, fame, greed, ambition, notoriety and celebrity status.
  • “Then he talked about good grounds that speak of the discriminating mind who could understand and appreciate the value of the message, the value of the word of the kingdom, like the Pearl of Great Price, like the treasure in the field that one would sell all to obtain, to possess these very special words, this very special message of the kingdom.”

While the Rev. Bernard used the parable to talk during the award banquet about the influences of modern society, he made it clear in an interview with the Deseret News that he saw himself in the parable and that he saw that soils — people — can change.

For example, he was a banker for 10 years before he felt called to serve God and started a small church with four people rooted in some strongly held, specific evangelical traditions. He thanked God Saturday night for the journey that led him to change his own life.

That wasn’t the only journey he has navigated with God’s help, he said.

Elder Cook praised the Rev. Bernard specifically for always seeking to meet the needs of people beyond his faith tradition.

“His exemplary service in building faith and reducing suffering needs to be celebrated,” Elder Cook said. “This marvelous Christian leader is fully deserving of the association’s Visionary Leadership Award. He not only addresses the spiritual needs of the members of his congregation but also in a Christ-like manner ministers to the temporal needs of members and nonmembers of his congregation and the community.”

But while serving outside the circle of his church was natural to Rev. Bernard when he began the Christian Cultural Center, he said working together inclusively with many different faiths was not as seamless. But today, he is the chair of the executive committee of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s statewide interfaith advisory council, and Saturday night’s banquet was attended by representatives of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baptist and Christian faith groups.

He now is a student of what he said is New York’s rich interfaith history, but that the blossoming of cooperation over the past two decades has been a revelation.

“Over time, I’ve watched soil change right before my eyes, and whereas ecumenism and interfaith dialogue and interfaith collaboration and interfaith cooperation was resisted by the status quo, that’s changing,” he told the Deseret News. “All of a sudden we realize the need to find common ground to work together towards the common good. It’s that change, even in my own tradition, that allows for relationships like the one that we have and we share with (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).”

The impact of those relationships is real. The Christian Cultural Center’s program to feed the hungry has expanded from helping 25,000 people a year to 135,000 people a year because of a decision to collaborate with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When New York’s governor asked the Rev. Bernard for help when the only supermarket in a Buffalo, New York, area closed because of a massacre, he again collaborated with Latter-day Saints who supplied enough food to feed 2,000 families and supply local food pantries for four months.

“That’s collaboration,” he said. “That’s working together, that’s changing the status quo, that’s (changing our own context to lead us) to deeper, more grounded commitments.”

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And it’s a clear example of applying Christ’s teachings and examples, he said to close his acceptance speech:

“When we think about Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well, his healing of the centurion’s servant, his story of the Good Samaritan, we understand that he was trying to tell us that his message of love, faith, compassion and outreach goes beyond our little tribe, our little group, our little tradition and it’s open to a universal embrace and inclusiveness that forces us to work together, to collaborate together, to network our resources, to build bridges, to respond to the needs, that we can indeed exemplify what it means to be a person of faith working towards the common good. Thank you for this partnership. Thank you for this honor.”

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Behind the scenes

President Russell M. Nelson, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, greets Christian Cultural Center Founder Rev. A.R. Bernard in the Church Administration Building on Thursday, June 16, 2022. | Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, moderates a panel of religious leaders at Brigham Young University in Provo on Thursday, June 16, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife sister Mary Cook meet with Christian Cultural Center Rev. A.R. Bernard in Brooklyn on Friday, March 4, 2022. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated a truck load of food for the needy. | Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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