A Black Baptist preacher in Dallas, Texas, offered a fiery call at the general assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for Christians to engage in social justice even if they get attacked for being “heretics.” Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church, offered the keynote address at the CBF racial justice luncheon.
Haynes critiqued the way the Bible can be used today to stop Christians from caring about social justice. He compared this problem to the creation of the “slave Bible” that removed passages about justice or liberation from the version for enslaved persons in the Caribbean.
“The slave Bible is an edited Bible. The sad reality is even though we can easily judge those who use an edited Bible in order to justify the enslavement — no, the most evil expression of enslavement in the history of humanity — there is a hermeneutic from the slave Bible that continues to haunt and handcuff Christianity, especially in what Maya Angelou refers to as these yet to be United States of America,” he said.
“Surviving the slave Bible is the slave Bible hermeneutic,” he added. “The slave Bible hermeneutic divorces Jesus from justice. The slave Bible hermeneutic divorces personal piety from social responsibility. The slave Bible hermeneutic in a real sense participates in making Christianity a captive of capitalism. And as a consequence, we have Americanity instead of Christianity.”
Haynes compared this hermeneutic to identity theft. Mentioning a friend that had been “victimized by identify theft,” Haynes noted the impact.
“The person who stole their identity benefited from their name while at the same time jacking up their reputation,” he said. “In this yet-to-be United States of America, maybe Jesus is testifying from eternity that there are those who are benefiting from my name but they have jacked up my reputation.”
Haynes particularly directed his ire at John MacArthur, a prominent preacher and theologian in California who has led efforts among conservative Christians to fight social justice as allegedly unbiblical. Haynes acknowledged MacArthur’s influence through preaching and commentaries so that McArthur’s “right-wing conservativism has captured the minds of so many Christians in this country.” So, Haynes addressed his comments as an open letter to “Brother John” since MacArthur had publicly suggested those who advocate for social justice are heretical.
“You read the Bible from the top down, and yet Scripture took place from the bottom up,” Haynes said in his open oral letter to MacArthur, before adding that “all of scripture was addressed to an audience” living under an oppression like that of Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans.
In that context of oppression, Haynes noted, Jesus showed up in Nazareth and read from the scroll about bringing good news to the poor, setting the captives free, and declaring “the year of economic justice.”
“That’s the very mission statement of Jesus. It sounds like Jesus is down with social justice,” Haynes said. “Our Savior understands that spiritual anointing is not simply for personal piety or a passport to paradise after we die, but John, but our spiritual anointing is for us to engage in social activism on behalf of those who are broken in society.”
Haynes also noted Jesus’s parable in Matthew 25 about separating the nations as sheep and goats based on if they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirst, visited the prisoner, and clothed the naked. Offering his contemporary “remix” of the passage, Haynes argued the U.S. was failing the sheep-goat test.
“I hear Jesus saying to America, ‘I was hungry but you cut aid to dependent children. I was thirsty and you contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. I was a stranger and you built a wall on the border. I was in prison because of the prison industrial complex. America, go to hell.’ And America is going to say, ‘Jesus, when did we do that?’ And Jesus is going to say, ‘Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, my sisters and brothers, you’re also doing unto me.’”
Haynes argued Christians shouldn’t focus just on the sin within us but also on “the sin we live in.” He pointed to Dallas to highlight the sin of environmental racism so that the south side — the historically Black side — has more landfills. And he noted that while one zip code in the Dallas area has a life expectancy of 85 years while just 15 minutes away people in another zip code only live to an average of 65. That, he added, isn’t an issue of genetics but justice.
Such talk, however, will bring cries of “heretic” from conservative preachers like MacArthur. But Haynes put aside such criticism and said he would wear the label if that was what it means to follow Jesus in working for social justice.
“I’m a heretic in the name of Jesus,” Haynes declared as he praised those at the luncheon for also being “a bunch of heretics.”
Haynes’s church, which is part of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, was recognized along with Wilshire Baptist Church, a predominately-White CBF congregation in Dallas during the luncheon with a 2022 Dr. Emmanuel McCall Racial Justice Trailblazer Award. Also honored during the event was Michael Cheuk, a pastor in Charlottesville, Virginia.