INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Religion has a way of getting people through times of fear and uncertainty.
For 100 years, the pastoral staff at Eastern Star Church helped make that happen for its congregation. Fighting for civil rights has been part of those tough times. In Tuesday night’s We Stand Together, News 8’s Katiera Winfrey sat down with senior pastor Jeffrey Johnson Sr.
Eastern Star Church at 5750 30th St. is one of the largest churches in Indianapolis. When you think of the work its congregation does, it’s also big. They have three locations, two in Indianapolis and one in Fishers. Their goal is to put a lot into the community, from day care services to a fresh food market and housing. They try to offer something for everyone.
Johnson said it’s all God’s work no matter what.
While times are uncertain, he says, good faith and work will get us through.
JOHNSON: Our church is 100 years old. I’ve been here for 32 years. I’ve been in ministry for 40 years. And so for me the social justice agenda did not happen with Sean Reed or Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. I’ve been doing this every day for four decades being a part of this . So as a consequence I have had this a-ha moment that people are having recently were seeing with all the videos that are going on. And the media showing them. People are having an aha moment. Saying we have a problem with injustice. We have a problem with racism. We have a problem with any inequality. Well I’ve known that for a long time. And so I’ve been in conversations with individuals trying to figure out how do I fit in. What do I need to do, how do I respond to this. To business leaders both black and white. Trying to figure out what do we need to do as a business and a company. And some of these are fortune 500 CEOs, and CFOS, and COO’s. Trying to figure out inclusiveness and what they can do. I’ve been in contact with politicians who understand the policies and legislation that need to be changed. There are some issues with legislation with these laws that have excluded black and brown people. And sometimes people in poverty. So what does that look like. And I’ve dealt with social justice leaders.
NEWS 8’s KATIERA WINFREY: All through slavery, through civil rights, through now, churches and religion have somewhat been a heartbeat of a community. Where everyone looks to the church for reassurance. For guidance. Do you believe that the church has an even more of a role now as the entire world comes to terms with reality black people have experienced for centuries?
JOHNSON: I don’t know if it’s more vital but I believe it is as vital. I tell young Black people, we like to celebrate Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner in Frederick Douglass. But we want to at times separate them from Christianity in the black church. No those are preachers. Those are people of faith who believe Christ called on their lives to preach. It has a social expression of their faith. And so that has been a part of the black church from the beginning. And is still part of the black church that social expression of faith.
WINFREY:Talk about some of your experiences. What is it like being able to go out and minister to those communities? Particularly in a time like this.
JOHNSON: One thing about it is I grew up in poverty. And I grew up in 46218 in Indianapolis in Arlington Woods. I grew up in this neighborhood. And this neighborhood unfortunately has been marginalized and you don’t see any grocery stores. It’s a food desert. But it’s also an economic desert. The average salary over here is $25,000 a year. That’s not a living salary. And being in that desert one of the things that I believe, I had to do was come back to the community that helped me. So one of the things that Eastern Star Church with a 100 year history we’ve been doing this for 100 years, but we put in something about three years ago called the R.O.C.K initiative. And the R.O.C.K initiative: renewing our community for the kingdom. There are four parts to that. One is enhancing this community. We believe that it is some great people in this area. These are great neighbors, husbands, and wives, and single parents and children. And we just want to come inside this community and enhance this community. And also we are looking at education. And then the R.O.C.K initiative also does housing. And also the R.O.C.K initiative deals with financial literacy. For some it’s not a matter of not making enough, for many it is but for some tonight it’s not knowing what to do with that you make. We’re being able to do that both with members of our congregation in for this community to make a difference. That’s the social expression of our faith. And all of that has to deal with the social justice.
WINFREY: Anything else you think is important to add about just everyone do your part and push for change?
JOHNSON: We’re seeking to stay together with this. This is not just a Jeffrey Johnson doing his own thing or Eastern Star Church know we all need to come together. Whether it’s the government officials, the health officials, or social justice leaders, or the educators, or the pastors and ministers and the people of faith community leaders. This is something that we all need to be a part of to get the social justice that we’re talking about.