PASTOR OF THE YEAR
[subtitle] Pastor Lee Johnson does much more than lead from pulpit [/subtitle]
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Cathy Wilson had never seen pastor Lee Johnson like she did during a Bible study class more than 20 years ago.
“When we got out, I told him, ‘Man, you had a glow over your head,’ said Wilson, the wife of former Capital Outlook publisher Roosevelt Wilson. “We talked and he went on.”
Johnson, pastor at First United Presbyterian Church, recalled joking about what Wilson described. But deep inside had an inkling that there might have been a message in what she said.
Then, years later during a drive from Tallahassee to see his family in Waycross, Ga., the lights came on.
It turned out to be an awakening to what Johnson, 65, now described as God calling him to be a minister. He immediately informed his wife, former city commissioner Dot Inman Johnson, of his decision.
“I called my wife and I told her, ‘I’m going to do it.’ She knew what I meant because God had a calling on my life and I wasn’t going to run from it anymore.”
Since that day, Johnson has become one of the city’s most prolific preachers and advocates for human rights. He’s fought for all classes of people facing challenges – legal, social or simply fairness.
Johnson’s passion for winning souls and fighting for human causes has earned him the honor of being named the Capital Outlook’s Pastor of the Year. It’s the latest of several recognitions and honors, including the 2016 Martin Luther King Award, that Johnson has received.
And, rightfully so, said Johnson’s son-in-law Jarrod White.
“Sometimes because of his passion, he can become over exuberant in his zeal,” said White, who is married to Johnson’s daughter, Ebony. “Those who are underprivileged and do not have a voice in society he gives them a voice.”
Johnson’s penchant for human causes started at an early age. He recalled as a 12-year-old meeting civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. at his hometown church in Waycross. The message that King brought became the impetus for seeking justice for others, said Johnson, who served as president of the Tallahassee chapter for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Later in life, he ran for a Georgia state senate seat and although he didn’t win after getting 47 percent of the votes, his passion never waned. He ramped up his efforts after coming to Tallahassee to work for a finance company in Quincy in 1980.
Johnson was at the forefront when the Dream Defenders youth movement needed spiritual support in their sit-in at the governor’s mansion in protest over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. When a night club owner wanted to build a parking lot adjacent to a home in the Bond community, Johnson successfully led the fight to prevent it.
He took a stance in the fight against a push to drug test food stamp recipients. Johnson also successfully questioned why a drug-addicted woman who was arrested for prostitution was jailed instead of being given help for her substance abuse.
Johnson has even been called to take up the cause of others around the country. In a way, he said, he is doing what he would have been doing had he won in his only political race.
“I feel I’m doing the job of the people that we elected to do the job,” he said. “It’s amazing how that worked out. I do what I do because I care.”
But no matter the fight, Johnson said, he doesn’t bring any of it into his sermons. But he acknowledges being criticized for championing the cause of others.
“When you step out there, they are going to start shooting at you,” he said. “They are going to get dirt on you. There are even other preachers who would say, ‘I don’t know why he’s doing that.’”
The list of cases is countless and Johnson doesn’t intend to let up, going on the belief that his fights are no different than some that Jesus faced.
“Jesus was called before the Sanhedrins many times. He was called to explain why he healed on the Sabbath, why he did this and why he did that,” Johnson said. “He was involved socially and politically. Feeding the hungry is something Jesus did but it wasn’t something he did because he just wanted to be in the limelight. He cared.
“All of these issues; when I look at them, my plight is not always to attack the system but to educate them.”