Our story reaches back to the early 1980’s to the head of Texas Street in Shreveport, Louisiana, to First United Methodist Church where Dr. D.L. Dykes, Jr. was the pastor for thirty years. He and his intimate friend, R.Z. Biedenharn, whose family, by the way, first bottled Coca-Cola in Vicksburg, Mississippi, dreamed of constructing a state of the art television studio facility that could uplink programming via satellite across the nation. Their intention was to provide programming that would be an alternative to the fundamentalist programming that was dominating satellite and cable television in the 80s.
In 1986, R.Z. Biedenharn decided that in order to ensure that his friend’s progressive work and vision would continue to have influence, he would establish and initially fund a D. L. Dykes, Jr. Foundation. From 1986 until 1997, the Dykes Foundation focused on supporting the programming of Alternate View Network especially the weekly, live Sunday morning show, originally called “The Sunday School of the Air,” then later, “Alternate Views: LIVE.” The show, viewed by audiences across the country, featured presentations by D. L. Dykes, Jr. and live “call-in” questions from viewers.
In the summer of 1996, The Directors of the Foundation approved funding for three television programs designed as “pilots” for a new series to be broadcast over The Odyssey Channel, an inter-faith, inter-denominational channel housed at historic Trinity Wall Street Church in New York. “Faith and Reason,” was chosen as the title of the series because the producers thought it best characterized the thought and work of D. L. Dykes, Jr. The programs were to feature video “clips” of Dr. Dykes’ sermons to which guest scholars and authors would respond.
Three pilot programs were produced and completed by January of 1997. When Dr. Dykes previewed the “pilot” programs that same month, he expressed pleasure at the programming concept and gave his approval to carry the production forward. The “Faith and Reason” producers began full production of the series in March that same year.
A Lasting Legacy
When D. L. Dykes, Jr. died in 1997, he left a powerful legacy of dynamic thought and theology that continues to inform and inspire people today. His reforming spirit that R. Z. Biedenharn so admired in his friend, has continued to be a very present voice in an emerging Christian body of belief that is variously characterized as “new paradigm” Christianity (Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan), “A Christianity for the 21st Century,” (John Shelby Spong) and the phenomenon that is growing around the country called “Progressive Christianity.” The term FAITHANDREASON® was the next, logical iteration of Dr. Dykes’ groundbreaking theological insight and creativity.
After the death of D.L. Dykes, Jr., his son, David R. Dykes became CEO of the Dykes Foundation. With the FAITHANDREASON® television series already in production, most of our work over the next three years concentrated on producing these shows and maintaining a relationship with Odyssey Network and its executives and producers in New York. Over the next thirty-six months, 52 half-hour programs were produced that featured leading scholars and authors having conversations in which they responded to video clips taken from Dr. Dykes’ sermons. These programs aired widely over PBS and other networks throughout the nation. Many continue to air today.
More than 16 years later, the Dykes Foundation has expanded the vision of what R. Z. Biedenharn and D. L. Dykes, Jr. began. The FAITHANDREASON® seminars represent our desire to evolve their original mission into new forms and into new places. D. L. Dykes’ sentient thought and theology always carried the under-girding recognitions we still rely upon today: that authentic, honest spiritual exploration uncovers at the heart of faith, thought and awareness that is sane, rational, altruistic and constructive; that it should always honor the worth and dignity of life and the worth and dignity of all humanity. FAITHANDREASON® has become a recognizable brand for encouraging critical thinking and responding to matters of faith, spirituality, and ethics.
The D. L. Dykes, Jr. Foundation is poised for significant expansion to bring more and more people into the kind of awareness, spiritual exploration and ethical agency that D. L. Dykes and R. Z. Biedenharn dreamed of. We believe, perhaps more than ever, that the essential public discourse that our work with churches provides about the issues of faith and ethics that Dykes and Biedenharn first identified, must be vigorously sustained. Of course, new ethical issues have emerged, and they should be targeted and refreshed in all we develop and produce. Therefore, we will continue to work with churches to offer seminars that we have provided since 2000, expanding our pool of biblical and theological scholars to include emerging progressive theologians.
Shaping Progressive Christianity
D. L. Dykes, Jr. opened up thinking and imagination about Christian tradition across the South. He spoke of an all-loving God who desires the well being of all creation, all creatures and all human beings. He told audiences that human beings are created to be life-affirming and peace-making. His message was a far cry from the traditional “bad news” kind of Christianity many if not most Christian Americans had been raised on. He claimed that Jesus was God’s intended model for what humans could be. He dignified human beings and told them they could be part of their own healing as well as the healing of human society. He told them that they could solve social problems and they could raise the quality of life for all people all the while supported and nurtured by a life-affirming God.
Today, we can imagine the evolution of his vision and his understanding. We have full confidence that he would be speaking to us in a new way and in a new language. He would approve of our determination to provide FAITHANDREASON® activities and resources to people that would inspire in them: — a deepening sense of the connectedness of all life; — a growing reverence for the entire creation; — an expanded appreciation for the faiths and practices of people from every culture, every land; — a desire to see distributive justice spread out among all people; — a determination to regard and dignify all people regardless of nationality, cultural orientation, gender, economic status, sexual lifestyle and faith persuasion; — and a deliberate longing for peace among nations, a worldwide commonwealth that benefits the entire human family and a sustainable plan for stewardship of the planet into the future.