Persisting in Curiosity: Rev. Harvey Clemons & Dr. Philisie Washington
Rev. Harvey Clemons and a member of his congregation, professor Dr. Philisie Washington, describe the importance of depending on each other to help bridge gaps in community knowledge and foster curiosity.
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Rev. Harvey Clemons Jr. has been at the helm of the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, in Houston, Texas since 1983, and is a native Houstonian, being reared in the Fifth Ward community. Educated in the Houston Independent School District, his studies later at the University of Houston-School of Architecture foretold a desire to design and build. Today, Reverend Clemons is a builder of people’s lives and their communities. He has received numerous awards, honors, recognitions and ministry achievements for his work in ministry and comprehensive neighborhood revitalization. He is a mentor and advisor to religious, government, business, and academic leaders throughout the world.
Dr. Philisie Washington is a lifetime member of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church with family generational ties. She is an Associate Professor and Director of the BSN Program at Prairie View A&M University College of Nursing, Houston. Dr. Washington is involved with grant projects for nursing student success such as the multi-year federal grant project entitled G.R.I.N.D. (Get ready to Initiate a Nursing Degree) and the university Summer BRIDGE program. Her passions include family, nursing and research about homeless youth.
Rev. Harvey Clemons Jr., pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Houston, TX believes that curiosity about the natural world has the power to propel Christians into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God. “How can we know God and not fully be curious about his creation and ultimately about…ourselves? The more we know of Him, the more we know of ourselves.” Rev. Clemons likens a curious disposition to a flowing river, always moving, growing and ripe to make discoveries, while an uncurious mind resembles a stagnant pond overgrown with algae. “For finite creatures, to never pursue the infinite is to become stagnant, because God is always creating and there is always more to learn. The uncurious becomes stagnant, (but) the curious discovers more about the reality of our existence in the world, and ultimately the creator of the universe” Even when curiosity seemingly leads to dead ends, Rev. Clemons holds on to the words of 1 Corinthians 13:12 that juxtaposes the limitations of perspective in time and space, with the promise of revelation.
Dr. Philisie Washington, an Associate Professor at Prairie View A&M University and Registered Nurse, has been a member of Pleasant Hill all her life and knows the value of curiosity first hand from her scientific training. “We wouldn’t be alive if we didn’t have some form of curiosity, seeking knowledge and (desire) to move forward…cataloguing (information)…for the next generation.” Even when scientific inquiry leaves more questions than answers, she says that her faith gives her a sense of calm and peace amidst the unknowns.
When asked about what scientists in congregations like herself can do to bridge the gap between faith, science and health in the church, Dr. Washington shared that communication and the manner in which it is done is key.
“I think that my role as a healthcare provider and (the role of) scientists in general is to replace fiction with facts…to correct and redirect in a loving and meaningful manner, without being judgmental. I can offer an understanding of what germ theory is, (explain the scientific basis behind) handwashing and hygiene…in a way that is more like a conversation than a command of “do this because we say you that you should.””
Recently, Dr. Washington had an opportunity to put this into practice when she was invited by Pastor Clemons to give a talk on managing stress during the pandemic for a Bible study. While Dr. Washington doesn’t get to do much research these days in her roles at Prairie View A&M University, she was excited and eager to share more about her research and work on the topic of stress with her church.
Rev. Clemons is grateful to have scientists and healthcare professionals like Dr. Washington in his congregation, and to be a part of the advisory council at BioLogos. He describes his involvement with BioLogos as being “a refreshing journey that has stretched (him),” and one that has enriched his own personal journey as a truth seeker.
“To be around the thinkers at BioLogos and realize that we share a mutual love for God is refreshing. In a camaraderie dialogue, theologians and scientists are seeking the truth to glorify God and enlighten mankind.
Whether in the Academy, or whether a faith practitioner, we must constantly be in search of truth. Once we find that truth, we must have the courage to declare it, regardless of how palatable it is. Some truths are harder to deal with than others. Courageously, the prophet, and ultimately the preacher and the scientist are obligated to share the fruits of their findings.
BioLogos’ approach in search of truth is an inspiration to me. To many of us, as we lead people and understand the responsibilities and obligations of a Good Shepherd, access to truthful information is imperative.”
Rev. Clemons first got connected with BioLogos back in 2015. After attending his first BioLogos conference, he invited BioLogos President Deb Haarsma to give a talk to his congregation in 2016 and shortly thereafter joined the BioLogos advisory board. He was also a speaker at the 2017 BioLogos conference, giving a talk titled, “Science and the Living God,” where he described the vastness of the universe as motivation for curiosity and wonder.
“There’s a great gulf between God’s boundless knowledge and power and our limited ability to provide and protect ourselves and those we love—this is not a statement of resignation—but should be a motivation to be curious, to inquire, to learn more of creation.”
When asked about where his curiosity has most recently led him, Rev. Clemons shared his latest curiosity is about the current pandemic, and how he as a pastor can communicate God’s voice to his congregation during this challenging time. He believes that the pandemic has exposed an underlying need in the church “for faith and science to work together, and the value of science, scholarship, researchers and the academy,” to the church.
He acknowledges that as a pastor it can be easy to get, “bogged down into the daily routine of ministry and dealing with the day to day needs of people and the reality of where people are at the moment, that (there isn’t) always (enough) bandwidth to constantly evaluate research, the new cutting edge new frontiers of science,” for himself. However, he hopes that fellow pastors and congregations will not let this deter them from joining in on faith and science conversations. Working with scientists already in church congregations and connecting with organizations like BioLogos can help bridge the gap and lessen the load.
This article is part of a special series published by BioLogos for Black History Month, highlighting underrepresented voices on faith and science. This work was supported and made possible by a Diversity grant from the National Association of Science Writers (NASW).
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