Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III does not remember a Sunday in the last few years where he has not talked about the plight of the impoverished.
As the senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, TX, Haynes is committed to the ministry of social justice. He said he is committed to challenging people to think.
“Jesus was preoccupied with the plight of the impoverished,” he said. “If we are not, then we are as greedy as the people who got us in this situation.”
With the popularity of prosperity gospel still alive in this country, there are some who believe that prosperity is all one hears when they walk through the doors of black churches today. Haynes says that is not true. According to him, there are a number of preachers and pastors that deliver social justice messages each and every week.
“Those of us who are engaged in social justice ministry, trying to liberate and empower the impoverished, we are not on TV,” he said. “And not only are we not on TV, but most publications and other forms of news media ignore what we are about.”
Luke A. Powery, the Perry and Georgia Engle Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ, believes there are some preachers and pastors that are silent or ambivalent.
“Obviously I am not in every congregation every Sunday, but in general there is silence at this point,” he said. “It is a mixed bag. I would say there are people that offer a heavy critique.”
Those that are not speaking out against the government are not because they do not believe they are supposed to, Powery suggests. Their responsibility, as they see it, is to pray for the leaders of the government not to critique or criticize them.
Prosperity gospel is not a new concept, contrary to popular belief. The prosperity gospel movement dates as far back to at least the 1940s and 50s. Some names like Sweet Daddy Grace, Rev Ike and Father Divine are commonly associated with the prosperity movement. These men amassed a great following and great wealth as part of their financial prosperity message. What we know today as prosperity gospel has morphed over the years, Haynes said.
“The prosperity gospel hit its apex in the 90s when the economy was so strong. It was a lot easier to say money cometh, as a motivational ‘get yours’ message,” Haynes said. “It caught the attention of middle class black people, which I maintain, sounds and feels good in a good economy. When an economy is bad, that message does not work at all.”
It is not truth, according to Haynes, because truth should be timeless.
“If a truth is not timeless, then it is not the truth.”Powery borrows a phrase used by preaching legend, Gardner Taylor — candy theology.
“Candy theology does not sustain people,” Powery said. “Agony and tragedy is part of living the Christian life. Prosperity gospel has no answers for that reality.”
He said prosperity gospel is limited, not holistic, gospel.
“In prosperity gospel, it is your fault because of your individual lack of faith rather than seeing struggle as part of the gospel,” Powery said. “During the economic boom, prosperity gospel was in its ‘hay day.’”
The message was only validated during the boom of the 90s. But Powery said there was no instruction for what could happen after the boom.
“Of course people want a good life, but what we also have to take the cross seriously and the crucifixion; the contemporary crucifixions today,” he said. “The gospel is gory, it is not sweet. It is hopeful, but the whole picture is not just resurrection. There will be ‘shadow of death’ moments.”
For Haynes, prosperity gospel has been exposed for being the fallacy and fraudulent expression of faith that it is. It is more capitalistic than it is Christian. And even though it may appear that prosperity gospel is all there is out there, Haynes said anyone who has a real sense of the black church knows that is not the case.
But where do we go from here?
Powery said he thinks in many ways, because the “occupation” movements are so fresh that people are still trying to make sense of it all. People are trying to determine how to speak to and about these issues.
Haynes believes there is a chance that social justice will now get some attention. He references the revolutions that started in Egypt, the Middle East and a lot of northeast Africa, adding they borrowed their tactics from the ministry and message of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Black churches in the 50s and 60s.
“We are now seeing an awakening. There is a good chance, that this thing is about to shift. I just hope that those of us who believe in the ministry of Jesus who believe in social justice will use our microphone in a new way,” he said. “This revolution has gotten people talking about the sinful wealth gap. There is an excitement that this may birth a new era of compassionate capitalism.”
But Haynes is concerned we will learn the wrong lesson.
“Our challenge is with this revolution going on, to remain awake. There is a revolution going on, will churches in general — the black church in particular — remain asleep with the narcotic of prosperity gospel.”
He believes “we have to use every microphone we have to teach during this teachable moment to keep us awake.”
“A lot of teaching has to be done; one sermon is not going to do it all,” he said, “A lot of teaching in our congregations. Teaching is…not all bound to the preaching. There is so much. We have to take a much more holistic approach to these issues. It’s not just the sermon but it’s the preaching life. How is your community living this out?”
Living out the Christian faith and a Christian life is also important, Powery said.
Haynes said a few years ago he was criticized for being too social. Now he is receiving a lot of phone calls saying, “We are glad you said that and we need this.”
Powery said there are voices crying out in the wilderness and he wonders if others will listen.
“Or will we still continue on the same path?”
Haynes is excited and hopeful that this revolution will create a better America that remembers, ironically, the words on the statue of liberty: “Give me your poor, tired, and those yearning to be free.”
“We have got a fight on our hands,” Haynes said. “No questions about that.”