A fourth-generation preacher, Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Bernstine introduces her as his “fellow colleague in the ministry”, says she faces the “yeast of Americanism…white supremacy”; during her Martin Luther King Sunday sermon Rev. Diana Becton says attack on U.S. Capitol “fueled by the hate of white supremacists”; both teach theology at Oakland institute
By Allen Payton
Following news articles on Sunday that Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton held her wedding and reception in the backyard of her El Sobrante home, last August, in violation of COVID-19 restrictions, a YouTube video revealed that her new husband is Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Bernstine, MDiv, DMin. He has been the pastor of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond since 2006.
According to his ministry website, he is a fourth-generation preacher, who has been preaching for over 40 years. Bernstine recently authored a book entitled, Hope Us, Lord. Among his previous publications are The Evening and The Morning Ministry, and In A Disaster Zone: The Seven Sayings of Jesus as Preached in an Urban African American Church.
He introduced Becton during a virtual service from their church on Sunday, Jan. 17 as “my incredible wife” and “my dear friend, and buddy, golf partner, book sharer reader, fellow colleague even in the ministry.”
“By the way, I have been married with her for 138 days…and I am grateful to God,” Bernstine added.
Becton can also be seen in a video on the church’s Facebook page introducing him during the service, this past Sunday, Feb. 7.
During Bernstine’s introduction of Becton on Jan. 17, which he labeled Martin Luther King Sunday, the day before the national holiday, he said, “One of the things we have to guard ourselves against is this whole notion of individualized salvation and individualized freedom. Because what is plaguing our nation, now is we got some folk, they are free, but they don’t want you to be free. And so, if I’m going to be free you need to be free, then we need to celebrate that we are free.”
“It is on that note that I want to do something special, today. The Lord laid it on my heart to invite the Rev. Diana Becton to speak to us,” Bernstine stated.
“Beware of the yeast of the Sadducees and the Pharisees…beware of their teaching,” he said. “Their teaching tends to be anthropocentric and ethnocentric. In other words, it’s so focused on who they were as people and who they were as a culture, that it literally displaced God. Whenever you do that, you’re in trouble. So, he said don’t focus, don’t give so much attention, don’t give so much of your life to their teaching.”
“Because one of the things that kind of teaching can do, because that’s what it has done in America, it can make you think you’re something you’re not. And the yeast of America is this, you all,” Bernstine continued, then getting political. “The yeast is a bad teaching because it will have you doing crazy things like storming the Capitol or have you doing crazy things by plotting to storm the capitols of fifty states. Because it got you thinking you’re something that you are not. I wish I can make it plain. Amen?”
“So, the yeast of Americanism is white supremacy, where white people, they believe they’re superior and then it makes black people inferior,” he said. “Beware of any yeast that makes you think that you are inferior. I wish I could make this plain, and that some other folk are superior.”
“So, it’s on that note that I want to introduce our preacher, for today,” said Bernstine. “She’s been experiencing the yeast, because as an attorney, she experienced the yeast. As one of the first judges in our county she experienced the yeast. And Lord knows she’s been experiencing the yeast as the first woman and the first person of color to be elected as District Attorney of Contra Costa County. The yeast is still out there, ya’ll.”
“But we are excited that in the midst of all that, as an attorney, a retired judge, District Attorney,” he shared. “But we celebrate her, here. But she wears that tag…of the First Lady of the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church.”
“She’s my first lady, my only lady because I don’t have no firsts and seconds. Amen,” Bernstine continued. “My mama was my first, but she’s gone. So, she’s my first…my only.”
Becton then preached a sermon entitled “A Maladjusted Jesus” and opened in prayer, thanking God for the life and example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (See the 37:38 mark of the video) Her message was from Matthew 9:36-38 and she spoke of “the full-blown insurrection, that attempted coup that took place in our capitol…the violence, the crazy madness fueled by the hatred of white supremacists and even the words of the President of the United States. That stuff is not normal. What we see is a national tragedy, and in this abnormal moment, I share the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. ‘God grant that we be so maladjusted that we will never be able to go out and feel that all of this is normal.’”
Becton then quoted from a speech by Dr. King, that “he argues that there are some things in this world, in our society to which we ought to never become adjusted” including “the viciousness of a mob rule…the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination…the inequalities of an economic system that takes the necessities of the masses to give luxuries to the classes.”
“We have adjusted to what is truly abnormal,” she said.
Becton then brought her sermon back to the text, “because that’s where we find Jesus. He is seeing those who are sick, blind, stressed, grieving, with souls that are uncared for. And what Jesus saw broke his heart. Take note because you just walked into the space with a maladjusted Jesus. He’s a compassionate Jesus who demonstrates that He never intended to accept the inequalities of this world. Jesus was maladjusted.”
She then exhorted listeners to be like Jesus, to see the need, feel compassion, and be troubled by their pain.
“We are just not moved anymore. We have adjusted, accepting the things that are just not normal. Things that would have broken the heart of Jesus,” Becton said. “We have to shake off our lethargy, stop walking past human brokenness in our communities. We have to feel compassion for the people. We’ve got to stop normalizing these painful circumstances. For surely anything that broke the heart of Jesus should break our hearts, too.”
She shared a quote from Rev. Raphael Warnock, the new U.S. Senator from Georgia, and then encouraged people to help others with “basic things like food and they still need to feel safe. So, we can think about ways to fulfill those needs.”
“The hallmark of Jesus’ ministry was compassion,” Becton shared. “Jesus saw the need. Jesus felt the need and Jesus was moved to meet the need. So, if we’re going to be like Jesus, we too have to see, we have to feel and then we have to be moved by compassion to do something.”
She concluded with quotes by Dr. King.
“In the spirit of Martin Luther King, today, let us remember some of the words that were spoken by a man who changed the world. ‘I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great of a burden to bear.’” Becton said. “In the words of Martin Luther King I call upon all of you to be maladjusted, today. God grant that we will go. That we will be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change the world. See, feel, move and be maladjusted.”
Becton, Bernstine Also Teach Theology
As previously reported by the Herald, Becton earned a Master of Divinity degree from the Pacific School of Religion. The school’s website includes the following description: “Vision: Living a Radically Welcoming Gospel – Whether ministering to the local homeless community or participating in our MultiFaith Transgender Summit, PSR students embody a message of radical inclusivity. Our two centers, Ignite Institute @ PSR and Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion, share an expansive, hopeful message of spiritual and social transformation.”
The school is a member of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), an interreligious consortium of seminaries and institutes in the Bay Area. That includes the Berkeley School of Theology affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, of which Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland is a member.
Both Becton and Bernstine teach at the Leadership Institute at Allen Temple in Oakland. She is Professor of Theological Studies and he is Professor of Homelitics/Preaching and Christian Ministry Cohort Leader.