How Trump, Kaepernick and NFL inspire venom — and prophetic witness

When Texas pastor Freddy Haynes joined other ministers over the summer calling for a boycott of the NFL, it was to protest the league’s treatment of embattled quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

But Donald Trump has pushed the debate, and the proposed boycott, to whole new levels.

“What the president did was basically to stir the pot and heightened the energy,” said Haynes, senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas.

Kaepernick was a San Francisco 49ers quarterback in 2016 when he knelt during a pregame national anthem. It was to draw attention to issues of police brutality and social injustices faced by blacks and other minorities. He hasn’t landed a roster spot since.

The president recently got involved by criticizing the growing number of players who have since emulated Kaepernick’s anthem protests. He blasted NFL owners for not squelching the protests and called participating players SOBs.

Haynes said he’s a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan but will continue to preach the boycott and the issues Kaepernick has raised from the pulpit and on social media even in the hyped-up, ugly atmosphere.

My concern is that the response to the president will blind people to the real issues that Colin Kaepernick was pointing and continues to point to.

“Some have said some pretty vile and nasty things about me because of this stance,” he said.

Even Dallas owner Jerry Jones’ gesture of kneeling and locking arms with players — before the national anthem — did not change his mind.

Haynes spoke with Baptist News Global about the ministers’ NFL boycott, Trump’s statements and how these intersect his own ministry.

You joined the NFL boycott in the summer. Does it feel prophetic now?

On one level, there are possibilities the country is waking up to the real issues Colin Kaepernick and a number of us have been raising about the criminality of our justice system, police misconduct and abuse.

My concern is that the response to the president will blind people to the real issues that Colin Kaepernick was pointing and continues to point to. I kind of have mixed emotions. I am hopeful. We have an opportunity if we take it as a teaching moment on the real issues or, if we are not careful, it will become an emotional reaction to what the president has done and is doing. And I think that would be taking a wrong turn following a red herring.

Why add your voice to those calling for a boycott in the first place?

The main thing I could not believe that with the quarterback rating of Colin Kaepernick he was not going to be playing football this year — even though  he said he would not continue to kneel. Yet, teams have knowingly welcomed to their rosters persons with domestic violence, sexual assault issue. Colin Kaepernick does not that have kind of criminality in his background — but he can’t get a job. It hit me that he was being white balled — some say blackballed. For me, the issue has everything to do with standing up against racial injustice. If the NFL will do that for someone who is against racial injustice, then I have to take a stand against the NFL. They are not sensitive to issues faced by almost 70 percent of their players.

Freddy Haynes, the senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, says a boycott of the NFL is warranted given the unfair treatment of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. (Photo/Courtesy of Friendship-West Baptist Church)

Has the president’s comments strengthened your conviction on the issue?

He reinforces why we need to participate in this boycott, or what some are calling this blackout. For him to say what he said in Alabama, it was almost a dog whistle. In fact, it was a dog whistle when he said [the protests] are violating our heritage. This in a state … with a vicious history of racism. In no way do I believe that that was accidental. I think he was dog whistling to a base that has racist tendencies. It reinforced for me that this nation needs Colin Kaepernick and others to take a stand because racial injustice is till part of the structure of the United States.

Your thoughts on Jerry Jones’ approach to this issue?

He not making it better or worse. Dr. [Martin Luther] King said the measure of a person is where you stand in difficulty.  He chose to along with Cowboys to stand in the middle. There was no real stance that was taken as far as I concerned. He took a knee, then stood. OK, so where do you stand? They found a place of neutrality. I’m just not impressed.

Have you been in touch with him or Cowboys?

No, I have not but I’ve been very public about this. … I was not watching the game on Monday and my phone is blowing up and social media is blowing up saying I made Jerry Jones take a knee. That’s just not how it happened.

How does the boycott look for you?

There is a prophetic responsibility, especially from the eighth-century prophets. They spoke truth to power and called for justice and gave voice to voiceless, oppressed and impoverished…Any prophetic ministry must stand up.

One, I am not doing anything that will enhance the rating or the money for the NFL. For years I have worn NFL paraphernalia, don’t do that anymore. I don’t watch the games. I will not participate in fantasy football. And now I am even looking at those companies and corporations that advertise with the NFL and looking at whether I will … be supporting those.

The second piece is that I’m using the time where I would normally watch the games to have conversations about racial justice with young people I’m mentoring…We even have a book club. We are reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and Choke Hold [by Paul Butler]. The  book club discussions focus on these topics so that it’s a constructive time and not just a time when we are turning the TV off.

Will you continue to preach about these issues, and the boycott?

Yes. This Sunday I’m starting a series on prayer. Paul in Ephesians chapter 3 — he was kneeling and praying. This is part of the prison epistles. And Daniel took a knee in chapter 6. That’s what I’m doing in both services — looking at what it means to take a knee.

What kind of reaction have you had to your stance on the NFL boycott?

A lot of positive feedback from a number of persons. Some have surprised me because I know they are avid football fans, yet they have said thank you very much. On social media, they said I had opened their eyes to the realities of what’s going on and how Colin Kaepernick was not offending or attacking the military — he was not attacking the flag. Instead he was pointing to something else: if we are living out the meaning of the flag and justice for all, then we should all be on our knees with him. I’ve had quite a few say I’m not giving up my football and you can’t tell me how to spend my time. Even one a dear sister in faith … said one of my lines — I enjoy football but I love justice — had convicted her.

Why do you feel it’s your responsibility to be involved in an issue dealing with professional football?

There is a prophetic responsibility, especially from the eighth-century prophets. They spoke truth to power and called for justice and gave voice to voiceless, oppressed and impoverished. … Any prophetic ministry must stand up. I believe Colin Kaepernick has been more prophetic than many of my colleagues. He and other players … have taken up the prophetic mantel without even having the call.

After crisis, what’s next for Charlotte?

Dean_Russ_croppedWhere do we go from here?

That’s a question I keep hearing, in one form or another, around Charlotte, N.C. Now that we’ve had our crisis, the protests exploding out of the killing of yet another African-American male by police — what’s next? How do we change what needs to be changed? How can we let this moment give us some momentum to make us better, to change the disparities, to heal the divisions?

During the heat of the protests, the mayor wrote, “This is not Charlotte.” Others said, “We need to get back to the way it was before.”

But this is Charlotte. “The Queen City” was judged 50th out of 50 major U.S. cities in helping the poorest among us to move out of poverty — despite our power as a banking center, and the nearly unprecedented growth we have known in the last 20 years. This “City of Churches” was evaluated 48th out of 50 cities in a study of racial trust — this, despite the nice (very nice), cordial, Southern hospitality that oozes even from our sky-scraping skyline. This is Charlotte — and these facts mean, whatever we do, we do not need to go back there.

There is calm, and there is peace — and going back would just be to take up the calm. In these after-the-storm moments we need to hear the ancient prophets warning of those who cry “‘Peace! Peace!’ when there is no peace.” There is no peace, so we’re all asking …

Where do we go from here?

Here’s the thing about going anywhere from here: fighting injustice is difficult. It’s really, really difficult.

It’s not that people don’t want to do the right thing. I believe most people, given a clear understanding of any situation, honestly want to do the right thing. I’m a little schizophrenic about our humanity — I know we’re deeply flawed, yet I have this high anthropology. I just believe in people. I think that most of us, most of the time, want to do the right thing.

But coming together around how we accomplish that right thing … is difficult. It’s really, really difficult.

In Charlotte today, there is a palpable sense of urgency. We know we need to do something. We know now is the time. We want this to happen.

The mostly-white business community, the power-brokers who have built this banking juggernaut, want this to happen. The black executives and their colleagues want this to happen. The evangelical clergy, black and white, want this to happen. The progressive clergy, black and white, want this to happen. And the black Millennials, the activists, the organizers want this to happen.

I really believe they all want a new Charlotte, and these groups are all meeting, and planning and talking and praying — but even among my clergy group there are disagreements and quiet factions.

Where do we go from here? We can’t even get out of one meeting with a clear direction for the next.

So it goes for years: we polish the patina, anxious that the status quo will be disrupted — not because we want racism, injustice, inequality, but just because it’s always easier the way it is. There are good intentions, but they are never a match for complacency and resignation, indecision and confusion, the way things are and the way they’ve always been. Then the tempest comes, we have our chance, we meet and dream, and then … it passes. And we wake up one day, and the way Charlotte is is back to the way Charlotte was.

I don’t know where we go from here.

I want it as much as all the others who are meeting and dreaming and hoping and planning and praying, and I believe that if we don’t find the where and the how, then where we’ll go from here is just too frightening to imagine.

Where are the white clergy on Charlotte’s streets?

Dean_Russ_croppedI walked the streets of Charlotte, N.C., four nights last week. I walked alongside protesters clad in Black Lives Matter t-shirts and all the signs: “Am, I Next?” “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” “End white silence.”

I walked in blue jeans and a black collared shirt. Since Baptists generally do not wear clerical collars a liturgical stole identified me as part of a kind of godly barrier between protesters and police. As I type those words, I am struck by their irony and tragedy. The clergy from our city were called to the front lines to stand between those who “protect and defend,” and those whom they are charged to protect and defend. So were we, the clergy, there to protect the police from the protesters, or the protesters from the police?

I’ve never thought of my role, in representing God, in quite this way.

After Keith Scott was killed by an officer in the line of duty (what was his duty?), there were clergy on duty, on the front lines, when Justin Carr, an African-American protester, was also killed, allegedly by another protester. Clergy were there, and I also witnessed my colleagues in the breach standing between tense stands of angry protesters and riot clad officers in blue. They stood as a voice of reason, a visual representation of Peace, urging the police to stand down and the crowd to move on.

Even as the church in America declines in significance, if we are to believe the data, there is yet an authority yielded to the church and its leadership. There have been several times in the course of three decades of ministry that I have sensed the weight of that authority vested in me, but none more poignantly and powerfully than in the streets of Charlotte.

Our clergy were young and old, an interfaith and ecumenical representation. We were men and women, and we were black and white — though we who are white were relatively few in number, and who we are tells an interesting story.

Many of the white clergy were associate ministers — maybe younger and more idealistic? Maybe more free from the pressing, more “important” concerns that senior ministers face? Maybe less attuned to the pressures of congregational expectation, or congregational misunderstanding and disapproval? Other white ministers represented smaller, more “alternative” congregations, those whose passions and commitments to social justice or racial and economic equality put them outside the bounds of mainline Protestantism (another irony to consider).

There were very few white pastors who represent the large, mainline Protestant churches whose steeples are recognizable landmarks in our city, those who are accorded a legitimate voice within the halls of power, with city leaders and business executives. And there were very few pastors there whose congregations represent conservative or evangelical Christian concerns.

Walking along Trade Street a young clergyman stepped beside me. We exchanged names, and when I asked what church he served, he replied that he was from a Winston-Salem congregation, in a noticeably conservative denomination. He volunteered his next words: “Most folks in my denomination don’t care much for this kind of stuff.”

In the streets. With the people. Hearing their pain. Seeing their faces. Understanding their stories. We don’t care much for this kind of stuff.

Maybe there’s a reason the church in America is in decline. Maybe we should not doubt the data.

The call to be in the streets was not a call to stand as a monolithic voice against law enforcement. It was not an unqualified defense of the latest victim (who was shot while reading a book — or was that a gun in his hand?). It was not a call to march in lockstep with the many angry voices in the crowd.

Unfortunately a call to justice is never so neat.

But there are only two logical explanations for our current, sad state of affairs. Either the vast problems in large segments of our black communities — economic deprivation and crime and the breakdown of the family — are the result of the blacks in those communities, or the problem is larger than that. And if the problem is much larger, as I believe it is, blacks in the community and blacks out of the community, whites connected to those communities and whites completely isolated from the problems and pain in those communities — we are all part of the problem. And we are all called to be part of the solution.

But we will not be part of the solution if we only represent a comfortable, apathetic, separated religion.

So, to my white clergy colleagues: if you missed the marches in Charlotte, don’t worry, unfortunately there’s plenty of time. We need you involved. The hard conversations about how we got here and where we will go from here are just beginning — and a protest may be coming to your city very soon.

A confession of racism from a non-racist

Corey FieldsI drove slowly and nervously down a narrow street on a sunny, humid morning, hoping the Google Maps lady wasn’t leading me astray. There were crumbling, dilapidated row houses as far as the eye could see. “This might be one of the roughest neighborhoods I’ve been in,” I thought to myself. I stashed away belongings that I normally leave sitting out in my car, and probably pushed the lock button about three times.

I walked up to every door of the church, but they were all locked. I sat down on the steps to avoid being too easily seen. I tried to deny and dismiss my nervous feeling, asking myself, “What’s wrong with you? You’ve done this before.” After a quick text message, a side door opened and he invited me in, his extremely relaxed demeanor making me feel even more foolish and perplexed about my jittery feelings.

I had gone to meet and talk with a pastor who has established some amazing empowerment and development ministries right in the thick of Wilmington, Del.’s, poorest neighborhood. I’ve visited and done research on these types of ministries before, and I jumped at the chance to meet this native of Harlem now serving 15 miles down the road from my new church.

We had a very inspiring conversation, and after he showed me around and introduced me to some of his staff, I went on my way. As I walked back to my car, I walked past a few more neighbors, and that nagging, low-grade nervous feeling returned. Why? On the drive home, I did some thinking.

In Topeka, Kan., the city where I lived previously, there were similar development and empowerment efforts in the poorest neighborhood. The houses there were detached rather than the row house style in Wilmington, but the situation was otherwise the same: highest infant mortality in the state, rampant drug use and violent crime, families living with all their utilities disconnected. I thought back to Topeka and realized something: I don’t ever remember feeling nervous there. I went to that neighborhood literally dozens of times to observe the ministry, talk with the leaders, and meet residents. Whenever I drove through, I felt saddened by the conditions I saw, but I hadn’t been afraid or nervous.

This was despite the fact that the Topeka neighborhood’s residents talked about how often they hear gunshots in the area, and there was even one night when a 5-year-old girl was caught in crossfire and killed. I still went to the neighborhood on a number of occasions (in daylight, mind you), and even after that happened, I don’t remember being nervous in the neighborhood.

But here I was, in a Wilmington neighborhood with all the same characteristics and statistics, and I was nervous.

I thought about the two neighborhoods for days, trying to figure out why Wilmington made me nervous, and Topeka didn’t (even after a high-profile shooting!). I could only come up with one difference.

“No, it can’t be,” I thought. “That’s not me, there’s no way.” I frantically searched my brain for another substantive difference between the two neighborhoods, refusing to believe it was what I thought of. There had to be another reason.

I couldn’t think of one. I still can’t. To my horror, I could only think of one way the two neighborhoods are different. The Topeka neighborhood was majority white. The Wilmington neighborhood is virtually all black.

I also thought about my inner reaction to the neighborhoods. Do you remember the word I used? “Rough” was how the neighborhood struck me. But as far as I can remember, I didn’t refer to the Topeka neighborhood that way. “Poor” or “impoverished” were words I used. “Rough” was the word I apparently reserved for this black neighborhood, and I couldn’t even explain to you why.

Apparently, it’s not just a police officer in a helicopter who somehow deduces that a man walking gingerly to his car with his hands up is a “bad dude.” Apparently, it can even happen to a diversity-loving pastor.

My mother always taught me to value everyone and would talk about how she had many childhood friends of color despite how others felt. I grew up with black friends and teachers. I remember being appalled when I first learned about the overt racism against which Martin Luther King Jr. fought. DC Talk’s “Colored People” was one of my favorite songs. I had a black seminary professor who helped me discover and respect the theological perspectives of minority groups. I would later become involved in social advocacy ministries and work with many black pastors in urban areas. The church I now serve as pastor is one of the most ethnically diverse congregations I’ve ever been a part of. I’m no racist.

But somehow, it has seeped into me. That’s what racism does. It’s somewhere in my subconscious. That’s where bias hides. Slowly, over time, through the way people talk, the way things are reported on the news, and dozens of other minute factors, it happens. The privilege of my race and acceptance of my culture as normative went unnoticed long enough for the racism that is so deeply embedded in the DNA of this country to find its way into my consciousness as well.

To be sure, blatant racists exist. Ferguson police officers were found to have shared racist jokes through their work emails. Twitter lit up with racist comments when Sebastian de la Cruz sang the national anthem at a San Antonio Spurs game in 2013. I was once on a traveling worship team that was told not to visit a church because one of our members was black. Blatant racism is still all over the place. We may assume that it’s the blatant racism that does the most harm. What if it’s not?

What if it’s the racism that’s right under our noses and goes unnoticed even while deeply affecting our response to certain people and situations? I’m talking about the subconscious stuff that makes me more uncomfortable in a black neighborhood than a white one.

It’s this racism that makes it so that white applicants with felonies on their record have better job hunting success than black applicants with clean records. It’s this racism that makes it possible for white ranchers to train their guns on federal agents and walk away, while a black therapist gets shot lying down with his hands out. It’s this racism by which Terence Crutcher is called a thug for his checkered past while the white female police officer who shot him garners no such label or reputation despite previous illegal drug use, vandalism and restraining orders.

I share my confession because I believe that confession is the only way forward. I must be willing to acknowledge that I operate with bias that I don’t even know I have. I must remember how uncomfortable I can feel when I don’t look like everyone else, and realize that, for others, that can be a daily experience.

We must confess because it is by confession that we acknowledge that racism is not a thing of the past. One of our biggest barriers to progress is the assumption that Martin Luther King Jr. was somehow single-handedly able to reverse centuries of racism (and its effects) in his short lifespan.

1 John 1:8-9 says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” May it be so.

Worship: Good for what ails you

Reflecting on the recent annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Vancouver, British Columbia, I was struck by two things: The deep hunger in my own life for corporate worship and the centrality of worship in our common life. Over 300 believers from more than 50 nations gathered in Vancouver, British Columbia July 4-8. We sang, prayed, read scripture and confessed our common faith.

I love the BWA’s diversity. During one service, I looked around at the varied attire — some in colorful African robes and headdresses, others in business suits or tattered sweaters. It was all there. And the languages! What music that must have been to God’s ears. And what a foretaste of heaven. As John wrote in Revelation, “… a great multitude … from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb …” (7:9).

Nothing cures our pinched ethnocentricity like worshiping in an international setting. As we were belting out the chorus “How Great Is Our God,” someone from Ghana looked at me as if to say, “So you know our songs, too?” And at that moment I was thinking, “Hey, he knows our songs!” One friend I met, an African-American pastor from the United States., told about her first-ever Baptist World Alliance meeting. It was in Stockholm, Sweden, when she was 12 years old. As she entered the worship space with her family, she heard all those blue-eyed blondes singing her favorite hymns. She exclaimed, “Daddy, I thought we were going to a Baptist meeting.” Up to that time, she had thought all Baptists were black! I repeat: Nothing cures our ethnocentricity like international worship experiences.

Authentic worship addresses social injustice. Our BWA gathering provided us time and space to reflect on our blighted history with First Nation people (the phrase used by Canadians for Native Americans). In a very moving worship segment, scripture readings and songs were interspersed with readings from First Nation sisters and brothers describing their mistreatment at the hands of white Europeans. In those moments I gained new insight into worship as confession.

But we also experienced worship as lament. During that week, three horrific shootings occurred back home: in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas. Though we were all numb from the national tragedies unfolding, rich and thoughtful worship provided us litanies of sorrow, repentance and fresh commitment. A liturgy of praise and petition invoked the Risen Christ to come touch his lacerated and bleeding world. As the psalmist wrote, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God” (73:16-17). Somehow, this jumbled world makes more sense after being in the presence of The Holy.

N.T. Wright reminds us of the ballerina who was asked to say what a particular dance meant. She replied, “If I could have said it, I wouldn’t needed to dance it.” Truly, worship expresses the inexpressible, whether it be joy, grief, confession or praise.

Every follower of Christ (pastors and laity) should find some occasion to worship in a culture or context other than our own. Getting out of our usual denomination, tradition, worship style, location, culture or language allows us to hear God in a new way.

Whether your fresh encounter is around the corner or in Vancouver, some new experience with God is waiting for you. And along the way, you might discover that God’s work reaches beyond your zip code and it transcends your native language and custom. Worship. It’s good for what ails you.

Toggling between abhorrence and appreciation

There are numerous variations of the song. The one most frequently bellowed in my house is, “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg.” It is maddening. Not only are my children (and their friends) butchering a delightful Christmas tune, but they are violating a cardinal rule in my house: No Advent or Christmas activities until we eat the Thanksgiving turkey!