D. L. Dykes, Jr.
| David Leroy "D.L." Dykes, Jr.|
(Louisiana Methodist pastor, theologian, and author)
|Born|| November 27, 1917 |
Pleasant Hill, Sabine Parish, Louisiana
|Died|| February 21, 1997 (aged 79) |
|Spouse|| Sue Ellen Brown Dykes|
David Leroy Dykes, Jr., known as D. L. Dykes (November 27, 1917 – February 21, 1997), was the senior pastor from 1955 to 1984 of the large First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. He is remembered for his early television ministry, his appeal to racial moderation during the tense years of the civil rights movement, and his liberal theological views.
Dykes was born in the Pleasant Hill community in Sabine Parish in northwestern Louisiana to David L. Dykes, Sr. (1883–1964) and the former Ruby Perley (1896–1944). In 1934 and 1938, respectively, he graduated from Pleasant Hill High School and the Methodist-affiliated Centenary College in Shreveport. Early in his career, he was a secretary to the Young Men's Christian Association Atlanta, Georgia, where he attended the graduate school of Emory University, having received his Bachelor of Divinity degree there in 1942 from the Candler School of Theology. He served as the pastor of churches in Zwolle in Sabine Parish and Fayetteville, Arkansas, before he returned to Shreveport to accept the pastorate at First Methodist. Centenary awarded him a Doctor of Divinity in 1952.
Shreveport businessman George Nelson of the Querbes and Nelson insurance firm, told the reporter David Westerfield of The Shreveport Times that his lifelong friend was "a pioneer [who] influenced the lives of a lot of people." Dykes preached a message of God's love as well as responsible actions in daily living. He titled his only book, The Power of Love.
Dykes faced death threats and a cross burning at his home because he defended the rights of African Americans. Nelson recalled that Dykes was "at the forefront of trying to calm racial friction. He was meeting with minority leaders [when] a cross [was] burned in his yard. . . . One night a fellow went to the church and said he was going to kill him, and D. L. talked him out of the gun. He was fearless."
Longtime associate David Stone, the youth director at First Methodist when Dykes was pastor, told Westerfield how Dykes lived his sermon of human rights. There was a black teenaged girl who had been attending the youth group and desired to join the church. Stone learned that the church was collecting $25,000 a year from a segregationist donor with the condition that no blacks be permitted to join First Methodist. Stone apprised Dykes of the situation. Dykes determined that the girl could join and that other funds could be tapped elsewhere. "He lived what he preached. He had courage, and he stood up for this community," Stone said.
Nelson added that not everyone agreed with Dykes but still "loved him because they respected his integrity. The greatest talent he had was in his communication skills. He could make anybody feel like he was interested most in them."
Creativity in the ministry
One of Dykes' successors as pastor at First Methodist, Pat Day, who took the pulpit in 1993, said that Dykes "made his mark throughout this area and throughout the world. He was an outstanding leader, a creative individual, and an inspiration to so many, including myself."
In 1955, Dykes began televising First Methodist worship services on KSLA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Shreveport. In 1982, he founded the Alternate View Network. With the use of a satellite dish near the church, the program was sent to three hundred cable television systems and reached four million homes. The network offered a forum on religious, social, and political topics to people of various opinions. Dykes was still on the network a few weeks prior to his death.
AVN soon established a home page on the Internet. "I'll remember him as an innovative person who cared deeply about people," said Jack Easterwood, who worked with Dykes at the Alternate View Network nd whose father was a First Methodist member who helped to bring Dykes to the church. Easterwood told David Westerfield that Dykes was "interested in all people - those who were poor and those who were rich and famous. He set a pace that others would follow."
A "Faith and Reason" series of twenty-four videos released in 2000 examines Dykes' theological views. The tapes quote Dykes as having said that Jesus Christ "did not see Himself as the Son of God, He didn't see Himself as anything special." In Scripture, however, Jesus said that He and the Father "are one." Many hence questioned the theology espoused by Dykes.
The series repeatedly quotes Dykes: "Jesus is not God," and the Trinity is not "important." According to Dykes' position, if Jesus were God, then we cannot possibly aspire to live as He lived, as a moral, socially-minded person concerned mostly with political justice. Dykes' son, David Robert Dykes (born 1942), a pastor formerly in Denver, Colorado, said that his father was "not so much interested in the notion of Jesus dying for our sins, as he is in the way Jesus lived, and what Jesus said."
Dykes is quoted as having said that people could not follow Jesus if He were truly divine. But if "Jesus was the model human being for all model human beings", then "we can live a life just as pure and spiritual as He did". Dykes claimed that "What God is and what mankind can be, they are one and the same. ... You see true God and potential man, they are the same."
Under this view, God is "not a God of Justice [because] He never punishes or rewards." In his examination of Dykes' beliefs, Marcus Borg warns that presupposing a "just" God will inspire "righteousness in the worst sense of the word." The consensus in the video series is that God apparently is not so much concerned about judgment and personal morality as He is about relationships and systematic political justice. Accordingly, a Savior who offers atonement for the sins of mankind is not really necessary. As the younger Dykes explains, Jesus saves us not by the cross but by His concept of "the nature of life and human relationships."
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dykes came under fire from conservatives on the grounds that he had strayed far from the meaning of Scripture. However, he stood his ground against detractors and completed a long ministry.
Dykes was a former Shreveport "Young Man of the Year," a member of the Centenary College Hall of Fame, and was cited for outstanding service and brotherhood by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Dykes also started the School of Church Careers at Centenary. He was also a motivational speaker in secular settings. In 1956, he addressed the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet in Minden east of Shreveport.
When he retired from First Methodist, the pulpit passed to the Texas minister John Fellers, later affiliated with the Institute of Religion and Health of the Texas Medical Center in Houston. Fellers was the pastor in Shreveport from 1984 to 1992.
Death and legacy
Dykes died at Schumpert Medical Center in Shreveport of cardiovascular disease. He suffered a stroke and a heart attack in 1985 and underwent triple bypass surgery. He recovered until the final attack which occurred some ten days prior to his death. "He astounded the doctors many times," said the Reverend Day.
Dykes was survived by his wife, the former Sue Ellen Brown (1918-2015), a native of New Orleans, and son, David, who is married to the Reverend Deborah "Debo" White Dykes, both of Jackson, Mississippi.
Dykes' services were held in the sanctuary at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, located downtown at the head of Texas Street. About one thousand mourners attended. Dykes and his wife are interred at the Dykes family plot at Pleasant Hill Cemetery. An unnamed Dykes baby interred at Pleasant Hill Cemetery lived from September 28–30, 1946.
The Reverend James W. Moore, a former Dykes associate, summed up the man: "He was indeed a legend. What a gift he had for communication." David Dykes said of his father: "He wanted to lift us up to a much higher place. His life's ambition was to pant after God with a thirst that would never be quenched."
Dykes is remembered too through the D. L. Dykes, Jr. Foundation, founded in 1986 in Jackson, Mississippi, by R. Z. Biedenharn (1911–1990) and supported through the philanthropy of Dykes' friend Charles T. Beaird, a non-theist from Shreveport who was the last publisher of the since defunct Shreveport Journal. The stated purpose of the foundation is to "support, expand, and disseminate the thoughts and ideas" of Dykes so as to "change the minds and hearts of people."
- David Westerfield, Longtime Shreveport pastor Dykes dies," Shreveport Times, February 22, 1997.
- Westerfield, "He lived what he preached", Shreveport Times, February 25, 1997.