By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
"I used to have a garden office out north of the Galleria across the street from the post office," Madison says. "We had an early morning weekly Bible study of businessmen."
Madison says someone brought Broden to the prayer meeting as a guest, and he kept coming. "Through the process of that Bible study he had spiritual experience—you know, met the Lord Jesus Christ."
In the mid-1980s, Broden left Arco to attend Dallas Theological Seminary. He worked during that time as an on-air personality on KNOK Radio, now KHVN FM. Newsman and talk show host Robert Ashley of KHVN, a mainstay and respected opinion-maker in southern Dallas politics, remembers on-air sparks flying between Broden and John Wiley Price, now a Dallas County Commissioner. Price was doing a political talk show on KNOK while Broden was there.
"Stephen at one time was a news guy, and eventually he did a gospel program," Ashley says. "Stephen would do his gospel program, and then John Wiley would come on with a talk show. During the transition from Stephen's gospel music to John Wiley's talk show, the two of them were always engaged in some very fiery rhetoric on political issues.
"Stephen, of course, took the more Christian conservative view, and John's position expressed what John was."
While Broden was completing a master's degree in divinity at DTS, John Reaves, an African-American businessman who knew him from the prayer group, introduced him to people interested in funding a street mission to help wayward youth in South Dallas.
"There were some businessmen in North Dallas," Reaves recalls, "who wanted to do something to help the kids in the inner city. They made a deal to help get it started, and they wanted to give Pastor Broden an opportunity to mentor some of those kids."
Reaves and Broden decline to name those men now, saying the men are not eager for publicity, but both concede the wealthy white benefactors were the sponsors and funders of the church Broden established in 1987 in a rented warehouse near Fair Park.
Fair Park Bible Fellowship now occupies a tidy but austere new building on almost an entire city block on Rowan Avenue seven blocks northeast of the Cotton Bowl. The property, which the church owns, carries a tax appraisal value of $823,000.
After a recent meeting of Broden and Johnson together with The Dallas Morning News editorial board, the newspaper posted an Internet video in which Johnson disparaged Fair Park Bible Fellowship as a non-church. In the video she tells the editorial board that her "volunteers" have described Broden's church as attended by a tiny handful of members.
"There was no sermon," she says, "just a dialogue against the Obama administration."
On a Sunday morning when the Dallas Observer visited Fair Park Fellowship, the gathering was, indeed, small—around 30 people occupying only a fraction of the folding chairs in the 80-square-foot sanctuary. The crowd was evenly mixed, white, black and Hispanic. Judging by the cars on the lot, it was mixed in income levels, as well.
Broden did not speak to the congregants from the formal lectern on the raised chancel at the end of the church but came to a small metal lectern a few inches from the front row. Before preaching, he led the congregation through a half dozen hymns, some of which were gospel hymns, others of which were traditional Protestant hymns that could be heard in all-white churches in North Dallas, all sung a cappella save for the accompaniment of a couple of tambourines wielded from the pews.
His sermon was Bible-based but with direct references to everyday life and social conditions. "We are not serving a passive God but an active God involved in the lives of those who, by an act of volition, allow him to work within them," he told his flock.
Broden preached that sin and separation from God are the causes of the social and moral ills around them: "What's wrong with this world today is S-I-N, sin. Racism is a sin problem. Greed is a sin problem. Hatred, a sin problem. The problem of the world is sin. God solves the sin problem in Christ."
The neighborhood around the church is still tough today, but 10 years ago it was hell-to-pay. Back then, an army of crackhead zombies wandered through vacant lots where houses had been bulldozed by the city. Now neat new brick homes occupy many of those lots.
Reaves, who helped Broden get the church going in the late 1980s, argues that one measure of Broden's success is the fact that many of the people he has helped are nowhere to be found in the neighborhood today.
"That is a transitional church," he says. "What happens is, people get saved. They get in the church. They start learning more about what life is all about. They get off of drugs, and they get off alcohol or whatever is their addiction. They move out of that neighborhood, and you can't blame them."
But there are people in the area right around the church who say they are closely connected to it. A half block down Rowan from the church, LaDavia Johnson, 19, answers the door of an aging but tidily painted wood-sided bungalow, eager to tell how Broden helped her get into community college.