Pastors worried about what they can say from the pulpit during these politically polarized times have to be bolder, the Rev. Earl C. Johnson says.

“You can’t lead out of fear,” says Johnson, who lives in Raleigh but has spent most of the past year traveling the country as an interim pastor and consultant for congregations in the American Baptist Churches USA, a denominational arm. “You have to turn your moral outrage into political action.”

Johnson recently accepted a two-year appointment as interim pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Scranton, Pa., where he says he hopes to help the 75-member historically black congregation build its spiritual and numerical strength. Johnson says he has given the church a message that has become familiar to ones across the country that face declining attendance: They must change to stay alive.

In a story in The Times-Tribune of Scranton announcing his appointment at Shiloh, Johnson said he told church members, “They have to accept those people who come in who don’t look like them, who don’t dress like them, who don’t act like them, don’t talk like them, don’t worship like them, who are not like them.”

Johnson, 60, has long been known for his strong views on social issues. From 2009 to 2016, while pastor of the historically black Martin Street Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh, he often spoke publicly about voter suppression, political district gerrymandering, gay marriage, fair pay for hourly workers, health care for the poor, and police violence against black youths. He frequently attended Moral Monday protests led by the Rev. William Barber, a longtime friend, and led political forums for the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association.

Johnson left Martin Street Baptist last year after the church membership voted to fire him. At the time, Johnson said he had been criticized for developing relationships with community non-profits and said one deacon had told him he was speaking too much about social issues and needed to “get back to the Bible.” Johnson nor church leaders have spoken publicly about the pastor’s departure since.

Today, Johnson says he’s not interested in serving again as the sole pastor at any one church.

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SOURCE: MARTHA QUILLIN 
The News & Observer

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