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Religion Today Blog Christian Blog and Commentary

Amanda Casanova

Religious persecution, missions, Christianity around the world

Ten Democratic presidential candidates took to the debate stage Thursday in Houston for the ABC News Democratic Debate.

Here are five major highlights of the evening:

The Healthcare Divide 

As expected, Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren faced off on healthcare. Biden has said he would like to build on former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act.

“I know that the senator says she’s for Bernie. Well, I’m for Barack. I think Obamacare worked,” Biden said. “This is about candor, honesty, big ideas.”

Warren, meanwhile, has supported a “Medicare for All” plan, which has also been supported by Bernie Sanders. The plan would end private insurance and Americans would enroll in a government healthcare program.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg says he wants to let voters choose a Medicare-like plan that he calls “Medicare for all who want it,” and Beto O’Rourke calls his public-option plan “Medicare for America.”

Castro vs. Biden

While many expected Biden and Warren to clash Thursday night, it was Julian Castro, a former member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, who took aim at Biden.

He accused Biden of "forgetting what you said two minutes ago" during a discussion over whether Biden's health care plan would require Americans who opt for the plan would have to buy into it.

Later he added: "I'm fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you are not."

Beto Calls for Gun Control

O’Rourke is drawing praise for his debate performance in his home state of Texas. In a discussion on guns, O’Rourke said he would support a mandatory buyback of assault-style firearms.

"Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore," he said.

O’Rourke is from El Paso, the Texas town where a gunman killed 22 people in a shooting at Walmart last month.

On Trump, O’Rourke said: “We have a white supremacist in the White House and he poses a mortal threat to people of color across this country.”

Buttigieg Shares His Story

Pete Buttigieg shared his personal story of coming out under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“I had no idea what kind of professional setback it would be, especially because inconveniently, it was an election year in my socially conservative community,” he continued. “What happened was that when I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them, they decided to trust me and re-elected me with 80% of the vote. And what I learned was that trust can be reciprocated, and that part of how you can win and deserve to win is to know what's worth more to you than winning.”

Buttigieg is the first openly gay person to run for president.

What Wasn’t Talked about

While voters said in a CNN poll that aggressive climate change action is a top priority, candidates only talked about climate change for seven minutes.

Likewise, candidates did not answer any abortion-specific questions during the debate.

And finally, there were no questions about the federal courts, where President Donald Trump has already appointed some 125 judges.

Watch the debate here:

Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Win McNamee/Staff

Video courtesy: ABC News

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (RNS) — Pastor Greg Laurie urged his grieving congregants at Harvest Christian Fellowship on Wednesday (Sept. 11) to have compassion for people dealing with mental health issues as the church copes with the news that one of its pastors died by suicide.

“Sometimes we want to just say, ‘They’re just not spiritual or they don’t love the Lord,’ and that’s just a ridiculous thing to say because they may have a struggle you know nothing about,” Laurie said. 

Hundreds filled the pews at the church’s midweek service, two days after the death of preacher and mental health activist Jarrid Wilson.

Wilson, co-founder of the mental health nonprofit Anthem of Hope, was open about his own depression. He often posted on social media about his battles with mental illness. 

Just hours before his passing, Wilson had posted a series of tweets that dealt with suicide, including one encouraging followers to remember that loving Jesus doesn’t always cure illnesses such as depression, PTSD or anxiety.

“But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort,” he wrote.

Citing Scripture, Laurie preached about the tendency to hold certain people to elevated standards, “expecting them to be everything for us.” He advised to instead “look to Jesus Christ. … He’s the only one who will sustain you.”

Laurie said Wilson “knew that suicide was the wrong decision.”

“He knew it was not the answer. He was doing what he could to prevent it and to bring this issue to our attention,” Laurie said. “We need to remember what he told us on his best days, not his worst.

“He made a wrong decision, but he was forgiven by God,” he added.

Laurie also stressed the importance of seeking help when feeling depressed or experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

“We don’t need to do life alone. We have each other. We have the church,” Laurie said.

In his sermon, he aimed to normalize mental health. 

“We would not say of someone who died of cancer, ‘Why didn’t they overcome their cancer? Why didn’t they get the upper hand on it?’ … Just as there are issues like that, there are also mental issues that can be medical,” Laurie said.

Kay Warren, whose husband, Rick Warren, is head pastor for Saddleback Church, was a special guest Wednesday. The Warrens lost their son to suicide in 2013.

She described Wilson’s death as a “catastrophic loss.”

“In the face of a loss like this, we can’t put any pretty little bows on it,” Warren said.

She urged church members to “be gentle with each other” as they grieve Wilson’s death. She acknowledged that some may feel confused after the suicide, while others may feel anger toward Wilson and God.

“That one moment of deep darkness and despair (does) not negate what he believed, it doesn’t negate his life and it doesn’t negate his ministry,” Warren said.

Rolaundra Coleman, 38, of Riverside, attended the service and said she was surprised when she learned of Wilson’s passing, but she added, “Mental illness doesn’t take any prejudices against who you are.

“I think that the church needs to do more talking about mental health,” Coleman said. “We act like, you know, if you have mental health problems then that means your relationship with the Lord isn’t what it should be. That doesn’t coincide.

“It’s good to go to church, but just church alone, you need to accompany it with more action,” Coleman said.


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: RNS/Alejandra Molina

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) — Months before the annual observance of the bombing that rocked a congregation, a community and the nation, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church has been getting ready.

Renovations were taking place in June: fresh paint and new technology for the classroom spaces in the basement. Just as at worship services, Sunday school attendance ebbs and flows each week, depending on the number of longtime members and curious tourists. This Sunday (Sept. 15), which marks the 56th anniversary of the attack that killed four young girls, the church hopes to unveil the refurbished space where visitors can watch videos about kindness, caring for all humans no matter their race, and the civil rights history of the church and its community.

“After you leave this place, we don’t just want you to experience history,” the Rev. Arthur Price Jr. said in a June interview at his church. “We call the four girls ‘angels of change’ and our hope is that people will leave inspired, become agents of change as a result of what happened here.”

“We’re adding more content about not just what happened in 1963 but how the church was organized and the tension that was going on in the city during that time,” Price said in a subsequent interview about the church that was at the forefront of the civil rights movement before and after the bombing.

The pastor was busy this week preparing for his church’s “memorial observance” that is expected to feature special guests including a prominent U.S. chaplain, the pastor of another church that was attacked and a presidential candidate.

Lt. Col. Ruth Segres, an Air Force chaplain at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas, will be leading the Sunday school lesson.

“That Sunday school lesson that was taught that Sunday (of the bombing) was ‘The love that forgives’ and she will teach a lesson surrounding that theme,” Price said of Segres, who is in charge of recruiting Air Force chaplains.

Just before the church bells are set to toll at 10:22 a.m. — the moment on Sept. 15, 1963, that the dynamite set by members of the Ku Klux Klan went off — former Vice President Joe Biden “will give a reflection about the day,” the pastor said.

After a wreath laying, the Sunday service will start, with the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, pastor of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, South Carolina, serving as the guest preacher.

“I think we have a symbiotic relationship, considering the two churches experienced acts of violence within their place of worship,” said Price of the AME church where nine worshippers were killed by a white supremacist during a 2015 weekday Bible study.

“This is a way that we can come together in solidarity and preach the message of Jesus Christ and how he teaches us to stand tall and not to fear in the face of adversity.”

The observance recalls the deaths of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Morris, who is also known as Cynthia Wesley. They were preparing for the church’s Youth Day when they died. As a poem by Camille T. Dungy in a recent special edition of The New York Times Magazine noted, had they lived, one of the girls would have been 67 and the other three 70 this year.

“We’ll toll the bells for the four girls and two more times for the two boys who lost their lives that day,” Price said, referring to two black male teenagers who were shot to death in Birmingham in the hours after the bombing.

The church, which dates to 1873, reopened in June 1964. Price said the basement was renovated the following year and has since featured fellowship gatherings, men’s breakfasts and Bible studies. 

Convictions in the killings did not occur for decades.

A “Justice Delayed” exhibit at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute across the street from the church noted that Robert Chambliss, Thomas “Tommy” Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were identified as potential suspects as the FBI initially investigated the blast. But it wasn’t until much later, after subsequent probes, that they were tried and received sentences of life imprisonment. Cherry was the last to be convicted, in 2002. 

Beyond the annual Sept. 15 observance, at other times there are reminders of the tragedy, some marked with grief, others with hope.

In May, Price officiated at the funeral of Chris McNair, father of one of the four girls killed in 1963, and a former Alabama state legislator. And just last week, Price welcomed to the church a government delegation from Wales, including its minister for education, Kirsty Williams.

“She was proud to see the Wales window that was given by the people of Wales in 1965 to the church because the people of Wales wanted to make a statement of solidarity with the movement,” he said of the Sept. 5 visit.

An adaptation of the window, which features the image of a black crucified Christ, is now part of the church’s logo.

Price said the visitors from Wales were heeding the message he hopes his church inspires even before the church launches the new videos about kindness across racial lines.

“That’s one of the things that the Welsh government did,” he said. “They presented us with a plate with a black hand and a white hand extended to each other, dealing with even though we’re different, we’re not deficient, and that we ought to be working together so that we make sure that what happened here 56 years ago never happens again.”


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: RNS/Adelle M. Banks

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