The Man Who Would Be King

Freddy Haynes seemed a shoo-in to lead the NAACP. Then Obama's ex-pastor came to town.

But the incident that for Haynes would redefine the identity of his church came in 1995. His congregation had outgrown the church's original location and had moved to Kiest Boulevard. At the same time that Haynes was hosting a revival, three young black men were tied up, shot in the back of the head and piled on top of each other in a bathtub at the Tropicana Apartments across the street.

"I read that the next morning in the paper," Haynes says. "So we're having church, and across the street some young men are getting killed? There's something wrong with that picture."

The following Saturday, Haynes led a silent march, the male members of his church dressed in black to demonstrate their displeasure with violence that had taken hold of the neighborhood. They then conducted door-to-door surveys around the block to figure out what needs, in terms of education and social services, were not being addressed. That gave birth to a ministry called Operation Transformation.

Haynes' relationship with Wright continued to grow. They traveled the country together and co-edited a book. When Haynes wrote his first book, Soul Fitness, Wright wrote the introduction. Haynes became more outspoken and critical of racism, social injustice and politicians who advocated what he called "the status quo" of "plantation politics." His role, he believed, was to shake things up.

From the pulpit and in the press, he began skewering politicians he considered insensitive to the plight of blacks and others living in minority communities, from former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller to George W. Bush, whom he publicly condemned to hell at a church in Indianapolis in 2006. He blasted preachers who built mega-churches and then forgot the Bible's admonition to help the poor. He created ministries dedicated to fighting homelessness, drug addiction and prison recidivism. He showed up at job fairs for ex-cons and took over a black prep school in Oak Cliff and rechristened it the Frederick Douglass Academy. He organized a voter mobilization drive that included members from 200 black churches.

As word of Haynes' unique message of black empowerment and community involvement spread, his church grew from 100 members in 1985 to 7,000 members in 2001 to 12,000 members today.

"To me, Friendship West represents empowerment," says Katrina Smalls, a former member who now works for another church. "In the ministry they encourage people to go vote and to educate yourself in the political process, which is something I had never thought about doing before."

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Today, the church sits at the top of a slow-rising hill on Wheatland Road, in a part of town Haynes' own people call the hood. In the last year alone, police have responded to a shooting at the high school across the street, a double murder at the nearby Southwind Apartments and a February rape at the same complex that ended with a mob-style beat down of the victim's attacker.

In this dreary neighborhood, defined by grubby pawnshops and dollar stores interspersed with long stretches of undeveloped land, the presence of Haynes' church is startling. A sprawling cream-colored edifice that takes up an entire block, it is capped with a roof of copper designed to evoke memories of the Egyptian pyramids. Throughout Haynes' church, there are other African symbols, and the church's own logo is a globe turned toward Africa. The idea is not just to remind Haynes' parishioners of where they came from, but also of God's promise to liberate and bless his chosen people, in the same way he freed the Hebrew slaves from their Egyptian masters. This lesson is a theme Haynes often returns to in his sermons, and it forms the bedrock of the theology to which he and Wright subscribe.

The goal, he says, is to make people proud to be black. "If anything, I am trying to uplift and set free, especially mentally, those who feel that they are not worthy of society, not worthy of being first-class citizens."

Haynes says the church is one of the largest employers in South Dallas, with 45 different ministries that offer everything from job training to financial counseling to support to those suffering from HIV/AIDS. As a businessman, Haynes presides over a multimedia empire that includes books, DVDs, a magazine and a Web site that carries his sermons to all reaches of the globe. As impressive as his church is, it is only the beginning of his ambitions. On the land south of the building, now 60 acres of weeds, Haynes envisions a sort of black Vatican City, complete with a grocery store, a retirement community and tennis courts.

Building a mega-church has left Haynes open to the criticism that he has done the very thing he once railed against: Peter Johnson, a prominent black preacher and former staff member of Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said spending $32 million on a church building is a "vulgar, even sinful" investment. "If you can raise that kind of money on the backs of black people, why not sell it and give that money to the poor?" Johnson wonders.

But Haynes counters that his church is a symbol, both of what the community can become and the value of the people living in it. Already the building has drawn new development to southern Dallas such as a Target, and he says more is on the way. "When we were building the church, people would come up to me and thank me, just because it had been so long since they had seen cranes in this part of town," he says.

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