Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, pastor of the Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, the first Jeremiah Wright Jr. Spiritual Leader-in-Residence at Howard University preaches at Rankin Chapel on Jan. 15. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, pastor of the Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, the first Jeremiah Wright Jr. Spiritual Leader-in-Residence at Howard University preaches at Rankin Chapel on Jan. 15. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

The Sunday service leading the week to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday has been known as “Rev. Jeremiah Wright Sunday” for almost 40 years at Howard University’s Andrew Rankin Chapel. Last spring, when Wright announced his retirement, the Dean of Rankin Chapel, Rev. Bernard L. Richardson, Ph.D., started working on a plan, announcing that the Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Spiritual Leader-in-Residence would be established. On Jan. 15, the inaugural sermon for the residency was given by the Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, marking that the legacy of Wright’s work has a home at Howard University.

“Jeremiah Wright meant so much to this chapel, this university and so many of us,” Richardson said. “This residency is designed to engage spiritual leaders in lectures and workshops and offer spiritual direction for the intersections of faith, service and justice.”

The Dean shared his vision that this residency will be an endowed program that will add to the legacies of Rankin Chapel and Howard University.

Wright was introduced to Rankin Chapel in 1983 by Bea Pace Smith, a founding member of the Friends of Andrew Rankin Chapel. The Friends of Rankin Chapel recommended Wright, now pastor emeritus at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, as a guest preacher in 1983. He’s been coming to the Rankin Chapel pulpit ever since, except for one year after he had a stroke.

“He did not have the global recognition as one of the best preachers, but he eventually grew to that prominence, Smith said. “He was one of the first guest preachers to create an overflow when services were held in the original Rankin Chapel.”

 Haynes is a guest preacher every year at Howard. Like Wright, he is respected as an advocacy and social justice minister who easily connects the Bible to historical and current issues.

“He devotes his life to economic justice and empowerment for underserved communities,” Richardson said.

Preaching on the theme, “Do You Understand Your Assignment?” Haynes’ was able to weave scripture with King’s teachings and Wright’s advocacy. He said King’s assignment was to deliver messages about why our people cannot wait.

“He gave us the strength to love in a nation that was hating on us,” Haynes said. “He’s been with us to the mountain and raised the question, ‘Where do we go from here?’ Martin King understood the assignment.”

When Wright took on the pastorship at Trinity in Chicago, it was a congregation that was, in Haynes’ words, “unapologetically blessed, unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian. Wright went back to Pan-Africanist ideology to be progressive in his preaching. It was a philosophy that grew Trinity and attracted former President Barack Obama to join the church.

When the news media uncovered controversial statements made by Wright during the first presidential run for Obama, that created a frenzy. Like others who have evaluated and debated Wright’s controversial words, Haynes thinks that the news media lit the match that created a fire.

“Before you knew it, they took some sermonic sound bites out of context. Any time they take ‘text’ out of ‘context,’ it becomes a pretext that cons people,” Haynes said from the Rankin Chapel pulpit.

Making it clear, Haynes said that even though Wright became infamous for the quotes from  his sermon, he was already respected in the sacred, scholarly and Black communities. He is credited with having the patience to stay with his assignment.

Haynes’ sermon kicked off an inaugural week of workshops, lectures, teach-ins and panels that honor Wright’s approach to interpreting the Bible in practical, everyday life.

To see the full inaugural “Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Spiritual Leader-in-Residence” sermon, go to the Rankin Chapel YouTube, https://youtu.be/742XDMT1R6Q

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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