North Carolina Church Votes to Fire Outspoken Pastor, Rev. Earl C. Johnson, Who Is Known for Tackling Controversial Issues Like Same-Sex Marriage

Rev. Earl C. Johnson became pastor at Martin Street Baptist Church in 2009.
Rev. Earl C. Johnson became pastor at Martin Street Baptist Church in 2009.

Members of one of Raleigh’s oldest black churches voted to fire their pastor Wednesday night, according to the pastor.

About 180 of the 600 members of Martin Street Baptist Church gathered to decide whether to cut ties with the Rev. Earl C. Johnson, who has served as pastor since 2009. Johnson said two-thirds of the members in attendance voted to fire him.

Johnson, 59, emerged as an outspoken religious leader who didn’t shy away from controversial issues such as gay marriage and the deaths of unarmed black teenagers. He took part in Moral Monday protests and worked to open the church to the larger East Raleigh community.

Johnson said he thought some church leaders at Martin Street Baptist disapproved of his actions.

“The only thing they were consistent about was that I wasn’t working with the leadership,” Johnson said.

George Currie, chairman of the deacons’ ministry at the church, declined to discuss Johnson or the Wednesday night vote. Wake County Commissioner James West, who serves as a deacon at the church, also said he did not want to discuss the matter, as did a couple dozen church members approached by a reporter after Wednesday’s meeting.

A few weeks ago, Johnson received a letter from the deacons that said he “demonstrated a lack of mutual respect for the opinions, concerns and roles and responsibilities of other church leaders.”

Johnson said the church leadership didn’t approve of partnerships he made with community nonprofits. He said he used to allow organizations that couldn’t always pay a rental fee to use the church building, and sometimes he wouldn’t talk to the deacons about it in advance.

At one point, Johnson partnered with an after-school program.

“The church is more about money than about helping black children in the community who need help with their education,” he said. “Martin street doesn’t need the money. They could have let those kids stay for free.”

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SOURCE: The News & Observer
Taylor Knopf