Griffen brings fierce urgency of prophetic hope to Wesley Chapel

Judge Wendell Griffen addresses those gathered Jan. 16 for the first installment in the Faith in Black and White lecture series, a cooperative effort between Hendrix College and Philander Smith College. Philander Smith president Roderick Smothers Sr. looks on.
PHOTO BY CARMEN BRADFORD / COURTESY PHILANDER SMITH COLLEGE

By K.D. Reep
Special Contributor

The first event in the 2017 Faith in Black and White public speaker series was held Monday, Jan. 16—Martin Luther King Jr. Day—and offered joy, challenges and hope to attendees at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church on Little Rock’s Philander Smith College campus.

McClellan Magnet High School’s Sounds of Harmony choir brought the church to its feet with its rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” a fitting way to set the stage for the presentation by the series’ first speaker, Judge Wendell Griffin, to talk about radical revolution.

“The giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism beget septuplets,” Griffen said. “Now, we must also contend with sexism, xenophobia and techno-centrism. We bred and nourished homophobia. We bred and nourished half-truths with prosperity gospel. We bred and nourished these triplets into birthing corporate profit above care for citizens.

“We must confront these septuplets, which are re-assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his vision with drone warfare, militarizing injustice and worshipping capitalism above God,” he said.

Griffen explained the basis of his book, The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope (Judson Press, to be released March 1, 2017), which encourages politicians and citizens to focus on the needs of the people God cares about most—those who are oppressed, on the margins of society, who hunger and thirst.

“This is the most important policy concern we have today,” he said. “We must insist that our politicians see God in that homeless person, prisoner, child, single mother and Muslim.”

Griffen, a U.S. Army veteran and a University of Arkansas School of Law graduate, was the first person of color to become an associate and later a partner in a major Arkansas law firm (Wright, Lindsey, and Jennings in Little Rock). He served as Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission chairman, Arkansas Court of Appeals judge, and University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Visiting Professor before being elected to his current post as Circuit Judge of the Sixth Judicial District of Arkansas, Fifth Division. He also serves as pastor of Little Rock’s New Millennium Church.

Hendrix College and Philander Smith College, both United Methodist-related institutions, are co-hosting the public speaker series “Faith in Black and White: The Church and Race in ‘Colorblind’ America,” to explore the systems of racial injustice in contemporary American culture and the role of the Church in creating a more racially just society. All events in the series are free and open to the public.

Speakers will explore the ways that churches have both supported and struggled against systems of racial injustice and will try to point a way forward for the Church in the effort to bring about a more racially just society. The series will bring together an interracial audience of Hendrix and Philander Smith students, as well as pastors and church members from central Arkansas congregations.

The next speaker in the series is the Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson, senior pastor of Wellspring United Methodist Church in Ferguson, Missouri, who will speak on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., in Mills A in the Mills Social Sciences Center at Hendrix College. His most recent book is Holding up Your Corner: Talking about Race in Your Community (Abingdon Press, 2017).

For the third lecture, Temple University professor Dr. Nyasha Junior will present “The Bible in Black and White” on Tuesday, March 14, at 7 p.m., in the Nugent Room of the Kendall Center at Philander Smith College. Her work focuses on the intersections of race, gender and religion, in particular through her Womanist approach to biblical interpretation.

The final installment in the series features Dr. Emilie Townes, Dean and Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, will present “(In)Justice” on Wednesday, April 5, at 7 p.m., in Mills A in the Mills Social Sciences Center at Hendrix. An American Baptist clergywoman, Townes is one of the world’s foremost scholars of Womanist ethics.

The speaker series is underwritten by the Margaret Berry Hutton Odyssey Professorship at Hendrix College, which is currently held by psychology professor Dr. Leslie Zorwick and religious studies professor Dr. Robert Williamson, director of the Hendrix Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics, and Calling.