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Our Pastor

In his classic book, “The Prophets,” scholar Joshua Abraham Heschel describes the prophet as one who identifies with the pathos of God, who is stirred by the heartbeat of God, and who is called to be the uncompromised mouthpiece of God.

That’s an apt description of the Rev. Dr. Cameron Madison Alexander. A gospel preacher for 55 years, and pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church North for the last 40 years, Alexander has been a modern-day Isaiah preaching good news to the poor, binding up the broken hearted and proclaiming liberty to the captives. Akin to the biblical prophet Amos, who critiqued the government of his day, Alexander’s preaching embodies the prophet’s burning plea: “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

“It’s not enough to talk about what black folks ought to do,” Alexander once said. “We have to also look at what government is not doing to ensure fairness and equal opportunity. God is on the side of the least of these. Jesus said ‘the first shall become the last and the last shall become the first.’”

During his amazing tenure at Antioch—which spans eight U.S. presidents—the gifted pastor and expert administrator has made the inner city church a light in a darkness, a hospital for the hopeless dispensing the balm of Gilead to a people rebuked and scorned and locked out and let down.

Becoming pastor of the historic church in 1969 was a natural progression for Alexander. An activist at heart, he helped lead a bus boycott that integrated the Bibb County transit system during his pastorate in Macon. And while pastoring in Savannah, he formed a partnership with C & S Bank president Mills B. Lane to improve 109 blocks of real estate in Savannah.

His arrival at Antioch was nothing short of divine intervention. While on vacation in Atlanta, his father—at the request of a member of Antioch—asked him to fill in one Sunday while the church prepared to vote on a new pastor. After preaching “A Man is In Town,” the church offered him the position on a write-in vote. At the time, Antioch had only 600 members with an annual budget of less than $40,000. Today it boasts of 14,0000 members and a multi-million dollar annual budget.

Antioch was founded in 1877 during a time when the euphoria of freedom among blacks in the south subsided as Reconstruction acts that granted rights to the newly freed people were being repealed. During this trying time many black institutions—colleges and churches in particular—were founded. One such church was Antioch, which started as a “prayer band” in a butcher shop on Marietta Street by eight former slaves calling themselves the “Bethursday group.” Its founding pastor promised the church would be a “light in darkness.”

Under Alexander, it still is. Indeed, upon becoming pastor, he quickly put ministries into action and organized a number of community outreach programs. And during the past four decades, the church has literally helped transform its surrounding community. Because of its presence, over the last 15 years, a business, community and real estate revival has been sparked.

“Don’t let the sign be lying,” Alexander is fond of saying. “If you are a church, you should act like a church. The core of the gospel teaches that the church must heal the brokenness of our society.”

In fact, scholars say reaching out into the community is one of the main reasons Antioch has flourished over the years.

“Antioch is serious about following the teaching of Jesus,” former Emory University professor and current Morehouse College president Dr. Robert Michael Franklin told a reporter. “They take the mission to make a difference in the lives of the hungry, the homeless, the imprisoned, and the sick and so on very seriously… With all the black community’s problems that appeals to people.”

Cloud of prophetic witnesses

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”— Isaiah 61:1

In the conference room of the Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in southwest Atlanta, is a picture of a dozen or so prominent local religious leaders all dressed in the resplendent glory of their academic and religious achievements. Doctoral gowns and velvet tams are the order of the day. But in the same picture is Alexander, wearing a simple black robe, the style generally worn by non-ordained clergy.

“I cracked up when I saw that picture,” says one local pastor still laughing. “That’s just like doc. He’s just as accomplished as anyone in that photo but you’ll rarely catch him, um, wearing his accomplishments on his sleeve. He’s always been down to earth that way.”

The unscripted picture is a fitting portrait of a man who shuns the spotlight and prefers to work behind the scenes. At a time when the preacher has become more entertainer than gospel messenger, Alexander has quietly built an enduring legacy without promoting his ministry on television, hosting conferences, writing books, or calling press conferences to get his name in the paper.

Indeed, despite his impressive pedigree—the son of a preacher, recipient of honorary degrees, former state convention president, pastor of one of the premier churches in the city, and a long list of other accomplishments—he has never leveraged any of it for personal glory.

In today’s cult culture of the celebrity pastor, Alexander is a rare breed—a preacher who has remained close to his “prophetic” roots when pastors were agents of social change not religious pop stars.

When once asked if he would ever run for office, Alexander quipped “that would be a demotion.” While he understands and appreciates the power of politics in the lives of the people—and most major candidates have sought his blessing—he’s always seen his proper role as a prophet to Caesar.

Scholars like Dr. Franklin say Alexander’s leadership is based on the biblical model of the Old Testament prophets—whether Amos, Jeremiah or Isaiah—who confronted the kings of their day and called God’s people to repentance, revival, and renewal. They could not—and would not—settle for business as usual.

In the New Testament, Jesus was also a Divine Disturber. He disturbed Roman authority, challenged the status quo, confronted the self-righteous Pharisees and embraced those written off by society, declaring that “the first shall be the last and the last shall be the first.”

Like early African American preachers, Alexander is drawn to the power of those texts. Indeed, during slavery, black prophetic preachers saw the Bible as a tool for social justice. Rejecting the racist politics of the white church, which erroneously taught that God ordained slavery, early black preachers chose to worship a God of liberation.

Radical slave preachers, such as Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, led organized revolts against the institution of slavery. Harriet Tubman was even inspired by the gospel of freedom to lead hundreds of blacks out of bondage. For many blacks, standing up to injustice was religion’s demand.

Unfortunately, scholars say that prophetic preaching in the American pulpit is in serious decline and has been for the last two decades as preaching has turned to themes of prosperity and personal enrichment. But Alexander, who has remained close to his roots, preaches a fourfold sermon: one that’s spiritual, cultural, biblical, and prophetic. He understands that as a true pastor he must not only feed the flock, but warn the flock; not just challenge the people, but challenge the powers that be.

Said Alexander: “God is not going to come back and say, you built great cathedrals for me; you had great choirs; you raised a lot money or this or that. He’s going to ask what did you do for the least of these?”

Ministering to the ‘least of these’

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”—Matthew 25:35-36

“Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Inspired by the six ministries in the book of Matthew, which outlines the church’s responsibility to the less fortunate, Alexander says the church’s true calling—after saving sinners—is to help roll away the burdens of society’s least of these.

Thus, the establishment of Antioch Urban Ministries, Inc. in 1990, a far-reaching social action outreach network, whose vision was conceived by his son, the Rev. Kenneth Alexander.

A safety net for men and women on the outskirts of society, the groundbreaking ministry includes seven transitional housing ministries serving people suffering from everything from substance abuse to those infected with HIV/AIDS.

Antioch’s vast outreach ministries also includes the Atlanta School of Recovery, a Prison Ministry, Project Redirection, a pretrial intervention program that targets first-time misdemeanor offenders in Fulton County; the Odyssey Project, a ministry for youth-at-risk; and an Incarceration Intervention Program. Additionally, the church has an employment resource center that provides a variety of employment and training and health care services.

Lesser known may be Antioch’s work internationally through Antioch International Macedonian Missionaries ministry which is based on Acts 16:9-10. Deacon Joe Beasley, Director of Human Services at Antioch, said the international mission began about 15 years ago in Haiti to address the issue of inadequate access to safe drinking water, medical care and food.

Since then, Antioch has sent two ambulances, built a school and a church, opened a clinic, and sent a medical staff to provide for the Haitian people.

Beasley said beyond Haiti, the ministry also does work in nearly a dozen other countries, including South Africa, Turkey, Columbia and Brazil, where AIMM facilitated the opening of the first university for black Brazilians, known as Afrobras and hosted the visit by former Senator Benidita da Silva and Pastor Gideon da Silva.

“The purpose of AIMM is to be responsive, as dictated by the scriptures, by becoming foreign missionaries, serving our brothers and sisters abroad,” said ministry coordinator Sis. Linda Harper.

Divinely deployed servant of God

“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”—Jeremiah 1:5

Born and raised in Summerhill, Alexander was a “Grady baby.” At the tender age of 6, he moved with his parents to northwest Atlanta.

Alexander’s father, who pastored the Lindsay Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, preached for 67 years and painted houses and hopped cars at the Varsity on the side while his mother worked at Crawford Long Hospital as an elevator operator.

At Washington High School, Alexander played in the band and developed a love for the saxophone as well as for a beautiful majorette named Barbara. She became his wife of 55 years and mother of his four children.

Alexander later received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Morehouse College, a Master of Divinity Degree from the Morehouse School of Religion and Doctor of Divinity Degrees from the United Theological Seminary (Louisiana) and the Morehouse School of Religion.

Prior to accepting the call to Antioch, he was the pastor of the St. John Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia between 1965 and 1969. His other pastoral callings were at the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Cartersville, Georgia, the Flagg Chapel Baptist Church in Milledgeville, Georgia, and at the New Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia where he was pastor from 1958 until 1965.

For 29 years, he served as president of the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia, Inc., which claims a membership of over 800 churches. He’s a former vice president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., and former dean for the Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress, an auxiliary of the state convention.

Alexander’s influence, however, extends beyond the pulpit. Last year he was inducted into the Atlanta Business League’s Legends Hall of Fame, and earlier this year into the International Civil Rights Hall of Fame located at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

In addition to these honors, Pastor Alexander has also been invited to submit one of his inaugural sermons to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The sermon will become part of the oral history and spoken word collections that preserve American’s accounts of and reactions to important cultural events.

A lifetime member of the NAACP and the SCLC, Alexander has even been compared to Atlanta’s most famous preacher: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Born four years apart, they were both raised by prominent Baptist ministers, attended Booker T. Washington High School and Morehouse College. During the late 1950s, Dr. King pastored Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Alabama and led the civil rights movement while Alexander served in Macon and organized the movement to desegregate Bibb County’s transit system.

Like Dr. King, the seeds of Alexander’s desire to reach out to the less fortunate were plated early in life. “Very early in life I realized that while I had a life, it belonged to a loving God who expected me to do something with it to make the world better,” he once recalled. “Though I was a regular kid in all, I always had a deep spiritual sense that I had some responsibility to render to this world.”

Influenced by civil rights luminaries like Malcolm X, Mary McCloud Bethune, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and Rosa Parks, Alexander says he’s always been involved in civil rights in one way or the other. Delivering the unredeemed is what the church is supposed to be doing.

“Uplifting the community is just common religious sense,” he once said. “If the church, which is divinely-deployed to carry on the work of God, can’t make a difference, then a difference won’t be made.”

Dr. Alexander is married to Barbara Jackson Alexander. They have four children, nine grand children, and two great grand child.

Revised 02-04-10