In one of life’s delicious little ironies, New Millennium Church now meets on the campus associated with one of Little Rock’s most ardent racists of the 1950s.
In 1957 Wesley Pruden, pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church, publicly supported the infamous order by Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus (also a Baptist) to close the city’s high schools to keep them from being integrated. Pruden was president of the local White Citizen’s Council at the time Little Rock’s Central High School became a national focal point when police escorted nine black children into the previously all-white school, through a wall of screaming protestors.
Congregants who disagreed with Pruden’s stance left to form University Baptist Church. Eventually, this dissenting group began to worship in a daycare center adjacent to the Broadmoor facility. Ironically, Broadmoor eventually dissolved and University took over the sanctuary, its members back in their erstwhile home, along with others who had joined in the diaspora.
University was among the few “progressive” churches in the Arkansas Baptist Convention, serving open communion and accepting baptisms from non-Baptist churches (a practice known as “alien immersion”). Those progressive stances put it crossways with Pulaski Baptist Association, which kicked the church out.
Feeling unanchored without a traditional Baptist home and network, University changed its name to Lakeshore Baptist Church, and petitioned the association for membership – without changing any of its doctrinal positions – and was accepted. Later, after the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was formed, Lakeshore opted to affiliate with that organization as a missions partner.
When Griffen and others started New Millennium Church nine years ago, Arkansas CBF Coordinator Ray Higgins helped New Millennium secure a place to worship with Lake Shore Drive, and they shared the campus. Last year the two churches merged and temporarily operated under a combined name before New Millennium became the church’s sole name.
So it came to be that New Millennium Church – a progressive, interracial, social-justice-advocating congregation – now worships in the same facility where pastor Pruden spouted racist rhetoric in 1957.
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This series in the “Faith and Justice” project is part of the BNG Storytelling Projects Initiative. In a 1967 address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King Jr., exhorted people of faith to “realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We tell the compelling stories of the people and organizations that are helping to bend the “arc of the moral universe” toward justice and, in so doing, are transforming the communities where they live.
Judge (and pastor) Wendell Griffen speaks truth to power with clear, incisive language, the kind of words that raise howls of protest. But it’s not the racism and discrimination Griffen has faced all of his life that makes him controversial. It’s that he chooses not to live silently within the confines of American culture’s white, male, conservative rules about women, race and sexual orientation.
Seed money to launch our Storytelling Projects initiative and our initial series of projects has been provided through generous grants from the Christ Is Our Salvation Foundation and the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation. For information about underwriting opportunities for Storytelling Projects, contact David Wilkinson, BNG’s executive director and publisher, at [email protected] or 336.865.2688.