AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Clergy in Ferguson have played an important role in the conversation there first after Michael Brown's death and now again after the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Willis Johnson, pastor of the Wellspring Church in Ferguson has become a well-known face and voice in those conversations. We first met him after The Washington Post published a photo of him trying to talk down an angry 18-year-old in those initial August protests.
CORNISH: In his sermon this past Sunday, Reverend Johnson spoke about not allowing reaction to the grand jury decision to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. He told us today he had prayed but was ready for what happened last night.
WILLIS JOHNSON: I'll be honest. At no point did I ever assume that the officer would be indicted. I was not naive to the reality that it would not only be an indictment, but that there would be a response.
CORNISH: This summer, Reverend Willis Johnson told us he felt the community's anger. I asked him what he's feeling in Ferguson now.
JOHNSON: More so than anything, this community, its people and even this pastor are tired. It is a challenge to be hopeful when you are continuously faced with some of the very disturbing and dispiriting things that have taken place over the last a hundred and some seven days. I mean, it's hard to sit in your home and watch things around you take ablaze. It's not good. It doesn't feel good. It doesn't look good. And you're left wondering, what good is in this? But yet, yes, I'm still hopeful and believe that there's a better day to come.
CORNISH: You are raising a teenager. What are the lessons that you think, you know, this chapter in this community is teaching him? What are the things he's asking of you?
JOHNSON: My children are elsewhere. They spend part-time with me and their mother. So my son - I called him this morning as I usually do, and they're excited about coming for Thanksgiving. And he asked me - he says dad, when I get there, can I go protest? Can I lead a chant? And I'm sitting here like, this is not the morning for that, son.
But I hope that he is encouraged to know that he has the space, the opportunity, the right to stand for something. I pray that he understands that we live in a society - while it is challenged, it is also full of possibilities and that he has a responsibility to shape what it will become - that it doesn't have to look like what it looks like now.
And I think there is a generation that is rising up who will not allow themselves to be defeated. We just need to figure out how to channel that and purpose that in a direction that will bring us to a greater and more sustainable end.
CORNISH: Reverend Johnson, what do you see in terms of healing for this community? I mean, where do you take this conversation next? Maybe I should be asking what your next sermon is going to be about.
JOHNSON: Well, I'll tell you - I just, in response to yesterday's announcement, had prepared a reflection on what do we do when we are disgraced. And we felt that. We saw that fully just yesterday evening and early this morning. What do we do? And I think there's an awesome expression and witness that is given of God in the story of Cain and Abel. And so I recently just did a piece titled "Disgrace And Grace," and the thesis is really this. When faced with disgrace, God dispense grace. And somehow we've got to keep giving our best - doing our best. And I know this is going to be shocking to some people, but at some point, we've got to figure out how we love the hell, literally, out of people and systems and circumstances. We've got to love this thing forward.
CORNISH: Reverend Willis Johnson of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, thank you so much for speaking with us.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
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