Rev. Robert Johnson, the senior pastor at Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, grew up in Mississippi, listening to and being inspired by great activists and leaders of the civil rights era, most of whom were preachers. Following their lead, the 55-year-old pastor has been what he referred to as a long-term social activist, but during his five years at Saint Mark, Johnson has shifted from activism to advocacy.
It wasn’t until after a lunch meeting with Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action (KIFA) that Rev. Johnson began to make this shift.
“He says, ‘what I’m inviting you to do is to become a part of advocacy, and advocacy has to do with legislation.’ So, it’s the laws that get passed that determine the kind of lives we’re going to live in a community together.”
After that personal invitation from Rabbi Rieber, Rev. Johnson became involved with KIFA, a statewide, multi-faith, issue-advocacy organization that “puts faith into action” by educating and engaging and advocating on behalf of the public.
During the past year, millions of citizens took to the streets as activists, demanding justice for victims killed by police brutality and fighting for racial equality. Since these protests, citizens have realized a greater need for advocacy to bring about an end to decades of systemic racism.
“Rabbi Rieber said, ‘if we’re depending on just changing people’s hearts and minds, that’s going to only impact some people, but if you change the laws, people have to obey the laws of the land.’ So he invited me to be on the board of KIFA, and that’s when things kind of really took off.”
As a board member with KIFA, Rev. Johnson leads their racial justice working group, a team that focuses on policies that target racial justice. Rev. Johnson and other members of KIFA often meet with state legislative leaders and local organizations to advocate for the passage of specific policies.
“When he joined the board, he reached out to the NAACP, and during the meeting, he stressed his commitment to partnerships and said we’re better and stronger when we work together,” said Kenya Cox, President of the Kansas State Conference of NAACP.
“Through his advocacy work, it gives him a unique voice and an opportunity to speak to and illuminate issues within the community for policy policymakers and legislators.”
Through his advocacy work, Rev. Johnson’s reach extends beyond Wichita and the Saint Mark church family. Last month, he lent his voice and vision to the regional March On for Voting Rights campaign, a series of marches held across the country to combat the growing number of voter suppression laws being passed across the country and to demand Congress act by passing federal voting rights legislation.
“I’m not looking for national recognition. But if there is an opportunity for me to make an impact. I’m taking it. But it’s not because I’m looking for a unique platform; they’re just some things I care very deeply about,” said Rev. Johnson.” So, I don’t care whether I speak at a local school, at a bar, or on a national platform, I’m going to do that.”
Rev. Johnson is currently working on a book set for release early next year that talks about his journey throughout his ministries, his outreach efforts, and things he’s passionate about, such as decolonizing Christianity, voting rights, and community development. He hopes his words can open people’s eyes to injustice by really “digging into” Christianity and breaking it down without the lens of White colonialism.
Rev. Johnson is dedicated to promoting social justice advocacy and now serves as an inspirational figure for current and future generations. His message is clear, all humans have equal value, and fighting for this should be a vital part of every pastor and person’s life.