Forums
Featuring guest Bishop Claude Alexander

Bishop Claude Alexander | A Common Vulnerability

Jim talks with Bishop Claude Alexander about his growing up in the south with parents esteemed in the medical field and about the role of science in racial reconciliation in America today.


Share  
Twitter
Facebook
LinkedIn
Print
4 Comments
4 Comments
rickety bridge

Jim talks with Bishop Claude Alexander about his growing up in the south with parents esteemed in the medical field and about the role of science in racial reconciliation in America today.

Description

In the episode, Jim talks with Bishop Claude Alexander about his growing up in the south with parents esteemed in the medical field–his mother was the first black psychiatrist in Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas and his father was family practitioner who was assigned to Martin Luther King, Jr. whenever he was in Mississippi–and about the role of science in racial reconciliation in America today. Claude provides some pastoral and poignant notes of hope at the end of the episode.

  • Originally aired on May 14, 2020
  • With 
    Jim Stump

Before You Read

Dear reader,

We’ll get right to it: Young people today are departing the faith in historic numbers as the church is either unwilling or unable to address their questions on science and faith. BioLogos is hosting those tough conversations. Not with anger, but with grace. Not with a simplistic position to earn credibility on the left or the right, but a message that is informed, faithful, and hopeful.

Although voices on both sides are loud and extreme, we are breaking through. But as a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of donors like you to continue this challenging work. Your tax deductible gift today will help us continue to counter the polarizing narratives of today with a message that is informed, hopeful, and faithful.

Transcript

Alexander:

Why do kids want to become basketball players? They see Michael Jordan, they see LeBron James, right? They see. We have not exposed people to the rockstars in science. We have to increase that bullpen of people, right? And then increase the places into which they are seen and heard. Because they’re out there. 

My name is Bishop Claude Alexander. I am the pastor of the park church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Stump:

I’m Jim Stump. And this is Language of God. Bishop Claude Alexander has been around BioLogos for a long time, attending some of the first meetings of the organization. And you don’t have to spend much time with him before realizing that he is a man of deep faith and wisdom. And that wisdom is in high demand. He’s now one of our board members at BioLogos, as well as serving on the boards of The United Way, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Christianity Today, and Gordon Conwell Seminary (among others). But his real work has been to his congregation at Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he’s been pastoring for 30 years. He talks to us about the challenges of shepherding a large and complex congregation during these days of COVID-19. He comes from a family of prominent physicians, and science has always been a big part of life for him. And we also talk about the specific challenges of the science and faith conversation for minority communities. We end our conversation with specific concerns and specific hopes he has for our society right now.

Let’s get to the conversation with Bishop Claude Alexander.

Interview Part 1

Stump:

Well, Bishop Claude, we’re so glad to be talking to you today. But these are strange and difficult days. How are you and your family doing during this pandemic?

Alexander:

Well, this has been a great time for us in that our oldest daughter began her spring break on the first side of this and of course, received the email that said, don’t come back.

Stump:

Just stay home.

Alexander:

Just stay home. So it’s been good for us. The girls, of course, are going through classes online, and my wife and I are enjoying them being in the house.

Stump:

We have one of those in our house now too. So that has been an unexpected blessing of these difficult times. We’ll talk more about your work and how that’s been affected by Coronavirus in just a bit. But first, I’d like our audience to hear something more about your work and life in the pre COVID-19 days. So, you’ve been the senior pastor at the park church in Charlotte, North Carolina there for what 27 years?

Alexander:

No, it will actually be 30 in August.

Stump:

30 years! So is that what you had always planned on doing with your life?

Alexander:

Well, no. Part of it was geared towards medicine. I have parents, both of whom were and are physicians. My mother was a psychiatrist and my dad is a family practitioner and so growing up in that household medicine was the thing.

Stump:

Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about your parents in that regard.

Alexander:

So my mom was the first black psychiatrist in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. This was in the 60s. So she wasn’t just the first black psychiatrist, but she was probably the first female psychiatrist in those days. Well, my dad, he helped desegregate the American Medical Association. And he also was a part of the medical arm of the civil rights movement. So every march needed medical coverage. And my dad was a part of those doctors who made sure that there were physicians and nurses and medical supplies for every march. And so he was Medgar Evers’ physician. He also helped in the development of the Community Medical Center Movement that started in northern Mississippi. And so medicine was the stream of life, for me. Community health and public health. That was it.

Stump:

So how did that influence you growing up, seeing your parents work as they did, I’m sure the kind of barriers that they broke down are rarely broken without a fight. What was that like for your family and for you personally, as a kid growing up in that environment?

Alexander:

Well, I think the first thing is the notion of access and equity were values that were really honed in to me, even when I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know the language of equity or access. But I saw the value of it. I saw it lived out. I saw it being provided for communities in need. And I was able to see how a church helped in the provision of it. Jackson Heights Comprehensive Health Center had their mental health headquarters in a church that was K Chapel Baptist Church, and my mom served as the mental health director there. And so I saw the merger of faith and medicine, of religion and science in a very healthy way. My parents both were and are strong believers. My mom, she passed in December of 2018. But, but she led me to the Lord. And I saw how in both of them, there was no sacred-secular divide. Right? Your service flowed from their devotional life with the lord and vice versa, they fed each other.

Stump:

So I guess the question for you then is how is it that you ended up becoming a pastor instead of a medical doctor and serve the Lord in that way that was so admirably portrayed for you and your family?

Alexander:

Well, they both put me in a place where the Lord could speak to me uniquely. My mother was Baptist. My dad is Church of Christ Holiness. And so two Sundays we’ve been in one church and the other two in the other. My mom, her dad was a pastor. I didn’t meet him, he died prior to my birth. But my mom understood the stirrings of the Lord. And, therefore she was able to be flexible in how the Lord was leading me. My dad, no, he wanted a doctor. But he understands now the unique course that God has me on.

Stump:

So tell us a little bit more about that journey for you from that childhood educational path and how you came to be at the church that you are now.

Alexander:

Sure. So I was educated in primary and secondary education in the Catholic school system. You’ve got to remember, Mississippi was on the front side of desegregation. And so my parents put me in Catholic schools believing that to be a safer place for me. And so it was a wonderful place for this Baptist, Holiness, kid to also be informed by another stream. And I was supported by the priests in pursuing my calling to ministry. So, it was wonderful for me at 17. It became very clear, and this was my senior year in high school, that the ministry was the calling. 

Stump:

Can you tell us about that calling? Was it an experience of like a mystical experience of some sort or a clear word?

Alexander:

It was a growing word that gained volume and weight. So it became louder and heavier upon me. There were some times of wrestling with depression in my junior year. But it was when I finally said, yes, in that senior year, that things were clear. The volume subsided. The weight lifted. And I knew that this was what God had for me. So I went to Morehouse College in 1981. Graduated, ready for seminary at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where I got my MDiv. 

Stump:

So this is middle 80s?

Alexander:

‘85 to ‘88.

Stump:

Yeah. So what came next?

Alexander:

Well, I was called to a church in 1987. So this was my middle year, and pastored there from 87 to 90. And then in 1990, I was called to University Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

[musical interlude]

Stump:

Well, let’s bring this back to the present day then and the circumstances we’re finding in a church like yours now, which in those 30 years has grown dramatically and increased in complexity a lot, I’m sure. How does that shepherding, how does that care, play out in a situation like we’re facing right now with the pandemic?

Alexander:

Well, I think it plays out in a couple of ways. One, this notion of presence, right? That’s a challenge in staying in place, how do you demonstrate presence? Fortunately for us, we developed a technological structure that was streaming as far back as 2000. So, the pivot to being fully digital was an easy one for us. However, what it meant is we had to be even more intentional in our engaging of people. Increasing touch points so they could feel cared for. That’s one.

Secondly, the usage of small groups has been one way of care. Now, those groups are even more important because they can leverage the zoom technology and continue maintaining contact and especially when someone has lost a loved one, and you can’t have a physical funeral or extend the degree of care to which people are accustomed. Those small groups and this leveraging of technology becomes even more crucial. 

I think the third thing is being able to give voice to the grief that people are feeling. There are so many levels of loss that people are experiencing. And they are going through the various aspects of grief. And yet, many would not see themselves as grieving because we think of grief only in terms of when someone has died. But there’s been so many other deaths. The loss of agency, the loss of mobility, in many ways, seemingly even a loss of choice. All of those things in this society are major things to absorb. And so how do we give language to it? How do we help people give voice to it in our sermons, in our Bible studies? How do we help people deal with ambiguity? Because there’s a lot of uncertainty. And yet, part of our faith requires living in ambiguity because our certainty is not in the events of life. It’s in that God who is with us in the events of life, yeah.

Stump:

Could you address some of the challenges of the pandemic, particularly for the African American community? I’ve not seen any indications that the disproportional effects have anything to do with biology, right? So that means they must stem from other societal structures?

Alexander:

Well in 1987, the National Lung and Heart Association did a study dealing with Arterial Sclorosis, a national study. And they, of course, identified the disproportionate number of co-morbidity factors, diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure and all of that, in communities of color. That was in 1987.

And so there was certain things in the medical life of people that put them at risk. But the danger of COVID is that you now have a virus that is opportunistic, that is an accelerant for people with those risk factors. This is a opportunistic virus, you know. Where access and equity of treatment prior to COVID-19 was an issue, the advent of COVID-19 just escalates things, right? So when you talk about cuts in public and community health, when you talk about underfunding the ways and means by which access and equity in healthcare are frustrated, when you talk about this notion of insurance, health insurance for underserved populations, then you increase the likelihood of the things that we are seeing now. So, for people of faith, the matter of public health, community health, that must come on our radar, we must be able to draw lines between these various dots. If not, we will continue to see these gaps. And I believe that the gaps will only increase.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hi Language of God listeners. Here at BioLogos we think that asking questions is a worthwhile part of any faith journey. We hope this podcast helps you to think through long held questions and consider new ones but you probably have other questions we haven’t covered yet. That’s why we want to take this quick break to tell you about the common questions page on our website. You’ll find questions like “How could humans have evolved and still be in the image of god,” “how should we interpret the Genesis flood account?” and “What created God?” Each with thoughtful and in depth answers written in collaboration by scientists, biblical scholars and other experts. Just go to biologos.org and click the common questions tab at the top of the page. Back to the show!

Interview Part 2

Stump:

Zooming out from this particular crisis, science in general has not always been on the side of racial reconciliation very well. Does it have a role to play now though? Is there something that science and scientists can be doing that will help in closing this gap? Or is this all on the side of public policy?

Alexander:

No, I think that there is definitely a role that scientists can play. There’s not a day that goes by now that we don’t see Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, Sanjay Grupta and others. Our own Francis Collins, right, is at the tip of the spear. I think that what we must do is amplify their voices, increase their exposure to various communities to see the vital role that science and scientists are playing in everyday life. I mean, when you think about it, I mean, the whole world has been put on pause by a microscopic virus. Right? The titans of industry can’t help this. It’s the scientists. It’s the microbiologists. It’s the infectious disease persons that are at the front line of this.

We must highlight them and their level of community concern, their conscientiousness has to be heard and seen. I mean when you see the news of a doctor who is warning about certain steps being taken, and is willing to put himself on the line for the concern of people, that has to be highlighted and admired. The more that that is seen, the greater the degree of trust people will have in scientists and an appreciation for science.

Stump:

Is there a role in at least medium-term, or long-term even, for addressing some of these concerns of being able to inspire more African Americans to go into the sciences to these medical fields? People who have come from communities where they see the disparities, that would bring that kind of perspective into the roles that they can achieve, where they might be able to do something about that? How do we inspire young African Americans to go into the sciences at a higher rate than we’re seeing right now?

Alexander:

Well, I think number one is being able to expose them to those who are doing it well. Right? Why do kids want to become basketball players, right? They see Michael Jordan, they see LeBron James, right? They see. We have not exposed people to the rockstars in science. I believe that they are definitely there. But being able to expose them. Now this is where partnering with institutions is important. So BioLogos is doing a wonderful job of setting the table for Francis and others to be seen and heard. We have to increase that bullpen of people, right? And then increase the places into which they are seen and heard. Because they’re out there. 

Stump:

This academic discussion of science and faith that BioLogos is part of has been a predominantly white discussion. Can you give us some advice on changing that? What are the concerns of minority communities is related especially to science and faith that perhaps we don’t see as easily?

Alexander:

Well, I would say being opportunistic. This is an excellent time to lean into the value of science and life and faith, that’s number one. Communities of color don’t lose sleep over evolution. Right? That’s not high on the list.

Because, especially for the faithful, the issue of how God chose to make all that is not a big thing. The fact that God is the Creator, that’s the thing. So for communities of color, it’s more about how science has negatively impacted communities of color and how it positively impacts communities of color. That’s one.

Stump:

Give us some examples of each of those if you would.

Alexander:

Well, we all know…well, maybe not everyone knows.

Stump:

Not everyone does this is why I’m asking you to say it.

Alexander:

Not everyone knows how the Tuskegee Experiment, how African Americans were manipulated during tests for syphilis, and the harm that that did. And so there is this suspicion, this mistrust about science, right? There was an article today. People in Georgia where, you know, certain businesses are being reopened and this wonder about because they are disproportionately ethnic businesses, whether or not that is some sinister plan to get rid of people of color right? Just because this notion of how disease was used by scientists in a way that harmed people of color. So we’ve got to know that history. But I think being able to show the importance of this wide pursuit. This God who is macroscopic in terms of astrophysics is also microscopic, in terms of virology, right? It’s being able to lift that up in both the most minute and the most cosmological. And then being able to tie this to the unique challenges that AI is producing and transhumanism is bringing. And being able to say, “Okay, what does it mean to be human?” What are the essentials and how do we help people think through the various ways in which technology is moving things so rapidly that we aren’t having time to reflect upon the full implications. BioLogos has the opportunity to step into so many of these things and show its relevance.

Stump:

When you brought up some of the history of how African Americans have been treated in medical research and and the sciences, I wonder if there’s a way, and perhaps even BioLogos can can lead in this, but is there a way for us to properly lament those kinds of incidents when science has done wrong to minority communities without somehow highlighting those to the degree that overall trust in science and medical research itself is lessened just by waving those around a little bit?

Alexander:

Well, it’s all in the framing, right? What would it look like to have the director of NIH, along with the director of CDC and others, to say: we acknowledge the role that the actions of our past has brought mistrust, in certain communities. We acknowledge the emotional and psychological, as well as physical trauma that it has visited. And we commit ourselves to the practices that will uplift, that will engage and that will secure the trust of those in these communities. We will do so not just by the actions that we take, but we will promote those who are from those communities in the actions that they are taking. Right? I think that if we were able to do that, that would be a good first step.

[musical interlude]

Stump:

Well, maybe in closing here, as you survey the American religious landscape today, what are you concerned about? And what are some signs of hope that you’re seeing? Maybe let’s start with the concerns so that we can end on some signs of hope.

Alexander:

Well, the concerns… I think perhaps the biggest concern is that during times of stress, national stress, there is the tendency to become insular in focus, which presents an opportunity for the worst of passions to be inflamed. The fears of people to be manipulated and used against each other. That’s my greatest concern.

I think second to that, is a concern about how media can be used to perpetuate false narratives that can harm people in terms of the ways in which they consider themselves, their actions, and the effect that it can have on other people. Yeah. Those are the two biggest fears.

Stump:

Social media and the prevalence of media in general has certainly stoked that, hasn’t it?

Alexander:

Yes. Yes.

Stump:

There again, we have these technological innovations that have in some ways helped to keep us together and connect us. But they’ve also given these tremendous opportunities for harm by exposing us and by giving people platforms that otherwise wouldn’t have it, and that their ideas are there for the consuming.

Alexander:

Exactly, exactly. You know, and the companies, the owners of these technologies do not seem to see their role in mediating, right? The FCC at least saw itself as having a role in mediating what came across television and radio. Now, of course, those lines are even blurred now. But there’s no FCC that’s dealing with social media. Which means we are given to self patrolling. The problem with that is we’re looking more and more like the book of Judges, where everyone does what is right in his or her own mind.

Stump:

And even the “what is right” there is open to wide interpretation.

Alexander:

[laughs] Exactly right. Exactly. Right. Yeah.

Stump:

Well, how about on the hopeful side, then? What are you hopeful of?

Alexander:

Well, the first thing is that we see our common vulnerability. There’s been a leveling of the field in many ways. And more and more people are now open to discussions of faith. The American Bible Society is seeing more downloads of the Bible.

Stump:

Oh wow.

Alexander:

Because, again, think about it. Something microscopic has brought the world to a standstill. And people are in touch with the limits of their humanity, which causes them to be open to that which is beyond themselves. That’s the first point of hope.

The second point of hope is that organizations are leaning into a level of collaboration that they have not had before. And it’s crossing disciplines. It’s crossing lines that had previously kept them apart. So we’re seeing an increase in sharing of knowledge and expertise in ways that benefits people who, prior to this, would have been locked out of certain conversations and opportunities. That’s the second piece.  

I think the third point of hope is that we are realizing, many people are realizing, what really matters. The relationships that they have with each other, the need for human community, all of these first things are now rising up in the hearts and minds of people. And again, this could have happened in 2000, and we would not have had the infrastructure to adjust in the ways that we have now. And so I, you know, I take comfort in the fact that the superintendency of God never leaves you without ways to manage and even transcend circumstances. Yeah.

Stump:

Well, thank you, Bishop Claude. Thanks so much for the work that you do, for the wisdom that you’ve imparted to BioLogos through your involvement on the board there, and thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Alexander:

It’s been a joy. Thanks.

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. We are produced out of the remote workspaces and homes of BioLogos staff in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you will also find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science. Finally, if you’re enjoying the show and want to help us out, leave a review on iTunes, we love hearing from and it helps other people find the show. Thanks. 


Featured guest

Bishop Claude Alexander

Bishop Claude Alexander

Bishop Claude Richard Alexander Jr. serves as senior pastor for The Park Church in Charlotte, NC. He is past president of the Hampton University Ministers Conference, and currently serves on the governing boards of Christianity Today, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Wycliffe Bible Translators. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Morehouse College (1985), a Master of Divinity Degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (1988), and a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (2004). He and his wife Kimberly have two daughters, Camryn and Carsyn.

4 posts about this topic

Join the conversation on Discourse

At BioLogos, “gracious dialogue” means demonstrating the grace of Christ as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith.

Join the Conversation