Predominantly Black Churches Rely on Faith to Push For Social Justice

Since the time of slavery, faith and social justice have been woven into the fabric of black churches in America.

"On one level we are spiritually nurturing and saving souls, but on the other level we have the responsibility to speak truth to power," said Frederick Haynes, senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Oak Cliff.

You can often find Haynes preaching scripture and a bit of public policy from his pulpit. His congregation of nearly 9,000 families includes socially active people of faith who turn to prayer and protest to drive change.

"My own sense of what a pastor, what a preacher, is supposed to do goes back to scripture, first. Secondly, I'm a black person, I'm a black man. I'm a black preacher...with a ministry that dares to move beyond worship on Sunday to impact what's going on by way of the structures and the systems that mess with people during the week."

For 34 years as the senior pastor at Friendship West Haynes has seen children grow into adults in a city that is heavily segregated. Data from the city of Dallas shows that poverty disproportionately impacts minority communities in Dallas.

Haynes calls addiction, crime, and mental illnesses plaguing Dallas' minority communities wolves chasing his flock. So he fights them where that evil thrives - in the streets. His faith demands it.

"I have never divorced Jesus from justice. My theology says faith without works is dead. My theology says that God is concerned about justice for the oppressed. Jesus did not confine his ministry to sanctuary. How can I say I'm following him and I'm spending all my time in the sanctuary and I'm never out in the street?" he asked.

That belief is shared by many of the socially-active people of faith who have frequently taken to the streets of downtown Dallas to call for police reform and better educational opportunities. Many of them no longer read from the Civil Rights playbook.

"I'm encouraged when I see the Next Generation Action Network and Black Lives Matter getting out there, and basically saying 'we're praying with our feet,'" Haynes said. "They believe in non-violence, but they also will get in your face in a way Dr. King never would have."

Haynes has been a fixture at the rallies in Dallas, often using a bullhorn to address his other congregation - protesters. That has caused some friction between the pastor and members of his own congregation, as well as other leaders of large, predominantly black, churches.

"Most recently the concern has been, 'we do that too much' and people don't want to hear about politics when they come to church on Sunday. In light of where we are, in Oak Cliff, we have a responsibility to witness in the hood in a way that transforms it. That means we have to be concerned about the personal plight of people and public policy," the pastor said.

Prayer and protest have lead to healing and change in Dallas. Haynes is confident that his church, and other minority ministries in North Texas will continue to use their faith to pursue social justice.

"Faith can build bridges and tear down walls," Haynes said. "What we do in the sanctuary must flow over into how we live in the streets. Change lives to change the community."

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