U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris Offers Inspiring Words for Young People

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris Offers Inspiring Words for Young People

Video Courtesy of 11Alive


At an Atlanta church service dedicated to youth Sunday, the presidential candidate compared leadership to a relay race in which each generation must ask themselves “what do we do during that period of time when we carry that baton.”

Then she added with a smile that for “the older leaders, it also becomes a question of let’s also know when to pass the baton.”

The 54-year-old senator — one of the younger contenders for the White House in 2020 — did not mention any other presidential hopeful or tie her remarks to the Democratic presidential scramble. Her spokeswoman said she only wanted to encourage the youth at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Her commentary to the congregation once led by Martin Luther King Jr. comes as former Vice President Joe Biden, 76, considers whether to join a field that already includes Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is 77. Both men have run for president before and fallen short.

‘Biden and Sanders are seen as strong contenders for the Democratic nomination, though other candidates and some voters have emphasized the need for a more youthful approach to try and beat President Donald Trump in the general election. Several other candidates in the race, including two governors, are also in their late sixties.

Harris noted Sunday that King was 26 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycotts that pushed him to the forefront of the civil rights movement.

Later Sunday, Harris told a rally at Morehouse College in Atlanta that Attorney General William Barr should testify under oath on Capitol Hill, rather than just submit the written summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation.

The Justice Department said Sunday that Mueller’s team did not find evidence that Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller also investigated whether Trump obstructed justice but did not come to a definitive answer.

Other highlights of Sunday campaigning:

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND

Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand assailed President Donald Trump as a coward who is “tearing apart the moral fabric of the vulnerable,” as she officially started her campaign for president.

The senator spoke in New York Sunday, feet away from one of Trump’s signature properties, the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

She said that instead of building walls as Trump wants to do along the U.S.-Mexico border, Americans build bridges, community and hope.

Gillibrand also called for full release of Mueller’s report in the Russia investigation. Attorney General William Barr released a summary Sunday afternoon, but Democrats want to see the full details.

Gillibrand is trying to position herself in the crowded field of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination. While some hopefuls have shied away from mentioning Trump, Gillibrand has not hesitated to do so.

ELIZABETH WARREN

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Sunday the National Rifle Association is holding “Congress hostage” when it comes to stemming gun violence.

The Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate tells a campaign rally that if seven children were dying from a mysterious virus, “we’d pull out all the stops till we figured out what was wrong.” But in terms of gun violence, she said the NRA “keeps calling the shots in Washington.”

Warren finished a two-day campaign trip to New Hampshire with an event at a middle school in Conway Sunday afternoon.

Warren focused much of her speech on her approach to economics, but paid special attention to unions Sunday. She said more power needs to be put back in the hands of workers.

BETO O’ROURKE

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke told voters in Las Vegas Sunday that President Donald Trump bears blame for the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border but responsibility lies with everyone in the country to fix the situation.

O’Rourke spoke Sunday to more than 200 people packed into and snaking around a taco shop on the city’s north end. He said immigrant families are leaving their home countries and journeying on foot because they have no other choice.

The former Texas congressman said desperate families were broken up in the U.S. when they were at their most vulnerable and desperate moments, and what happened to them “is on every single one of us.”

United Methodist Church on edge of breakup over LGBT stand

United Methodist Church on edge of breakup over LGBT stand

The United Methodist Church teetered on the brink of breakup Monday after more than half the delegates at an international conference voted to maintain bans on same-sex weddings and ordination of gay clergy.

Their favored plan, if formally approved, could drive supporters of LGBT inclusion to leave America’s second-largest Protestant denomination.

A final vote on rival plans for the church’s future won’t come until Tuesday’s closing session, and the outcome remains uncertain. But the preliminary vote Monday showed that the Traditional Plan, which calls for keeping the LGBT bans and enforcing them more strictly, had the support of 56 percent of the more than 800 delegates attending the three-day conference in St. Louis.

The primary alternative proposal, called the One Church Plan, was rebuffed in a separate preliminary vote, getting only 47 percent support. Backed by a majority of the church’s Council of Bishops in hopes of avoiding a schism, it would leave decisions about same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy up to regional bodies and would remove language from the church’s law book asserting that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Monday’s voting did not kill the One Church Plan but makes its prospects on Tuesday far more difficult.

As evidence of the deep divisions within the faith, delegates Monday approved plans that would allow disaffected churches to leave the denomination while keeping their property.

“This is really painful,” said David Watson, a dean and professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who was at the gathering. “Our disagreement has pitted friend against friend, which no one wanted.”

Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the U.S. While other mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches, have embraced the two gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still officially bans them, even though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied and talk of a possible breakup has intensified.

The strong showing for the Traditional Plan reflects the fact that the UMC, unlike other mainstream Protestant churches in the U.S., is a global denomination. About 43 percent of the delegates in St. Louis are from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly support the LGBT bans.

Althea Spencer Miller, 63, assistant professor of New Testament at Drew University Theological School in New Jersey, and a pastor, poses for picture Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, at a national Methodist conference in St. Louis. Miller, who identifies as lesbian, said the United Methodist Church has an opportunity to show that “God’s kingdom is a kingdom of such diversity” by opening the door to same-sex marriage and LGBT ministers. The potentially divisive vote will be Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jim Salter)

“We Africans are not children in need of Western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics,” the Rev. Jerry Kulah, dean at a Methodist theology school in Liberia, said in a speech over the weekend. “We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal church elite in the U.S.”

The Africans have some strong allies among U.S. conservatives, including the Rev. John Miles II, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas, who opposes same-sex marriage and gays in the pulpit.

“I have a very difficult time even though I have gays in my family and in my church,” he said. “I know it grieves them and it grieves me to grieve them. But it’s just what we believe is the truth.”

In recent years, the church’s enforcement of its LGBT bans has been inconsistent. Some clergy members have conducted same-sex marriages or come out as gay from the pulpit. In some cases, the church has filed charges against clergy who violated the bans, yet the denomination’s Judicial Council has ruled against the imposition of mandatory penalties, which typically called for an unpaid suspension of at least one year.

The Traditional Plan would require stricter and more consistent enforcement.

Among the outspoken supporters of the more permissive One Church Plan was the Rev. Adam Hamilton, a pastor in Leawood, Kansas, who said it offered a way for Methodists “to live together — conservatives, centrists and progressives — despite our differences.”

For LGBT Methodists, it is a time of anxiety.

“For me it’s about who’s in God’s love, and nobody’s left out of that,” said Lois McCullen Parr, 60, a church elder from Albion, Michigan, who identifies as bisexual and queer. “The Gospel I understand said Jesus is always widening the circle, expanding the circle, so that everyone’s included.”

African Americans Win Top Oscar Honors

African Americans Win Top Oscar Honors

The Oscars showcased Black excellence on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Obama and Curry to Boys of Color: ‘You Matter’

Obama and Curry to Boys of Color: ‘You Matter’

Video Courtesy of FOX 10 Phoenix


Former President Barack Obama and Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry told a roomful of boys of color on Tuesday that they matter and urged them to make the world a better place.

Obama was in Oakland, California, to mark the fifth anniversary of My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative he started after the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The death of the African-American teen sparked protests over racial profiling.

The initiative was a call to communities to close opportunity gaps for boys of color, especially African-American, Latino and Native American boys, Obama said to roughly 100 boys attending the alliance’s first national gathering. The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance is part of the Obama Foundation.

“We had to be able to say to them, ‘you matter, we care about you, we believe in you and we are going to make sure that you have the opportunities and chances to move forward just like everybody else’,” Obama said.

Obama, who left office in 2017, was joined by basketball star Curry. The men spoke for about an hour, answering questions from the audience and joking around. They talked about lacking confidence or being aimless as teens.

Obama praised single mothers, including his own. He advised the boys to look for a mentor, and to find opportunities to guide others.

Curry joined the former president in praising the value of team-work.

“What we do on the court and the joy that comes out of that is second to none,” he said, “because nothing great is done by yourself.”

The former president cracked up the audience, and Curry, when asked a question about being a man. He said that being a man is about being a good person, someone who is responsible, reliable, hard-working and compassionate. Being a man, he said, is not about life as portrayed in some rap or hip-hop music.

“If you are very confident about your sexuality, you don’t have to have eight women around you twerking,” he said to applause. “‘Cause I’ve got one woman who I’m very happy with. And she’s a strong woman.”

As Southern Baptists mull executive vacancies, will diversity play a role?

As Southern Baptists mull executive vacancies, will diversity play a role?

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, left, discusses racial unity with Atlanta pastor Dhati Lewis, a vice president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, during Evangelicals for Life on Jan. 17, 2019, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

In recent decades the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded defending slavery, has attempted to come to terms with its record on race.

Now as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination faces a rare leadership vacuum at the top of two of its agencies and two of its seminaries — and installs a new mission board president Wednesday (Feb. 6) — questions have arisen about whether its statements committing to diversity will be reflected in hiring decisions.

SBC President J.D. Greear told Religion News Service he has recommended that search committees seeking new executives keep racial diversity in mind and consider going beyond “following networks that you know” in their search.

“In the ones that have asked me I have strongly encouraged there to be at least consideration given,” he said in an interview in January.

Greear noted that he does not have direct control over the selection of the new leaders. But he said that the search committees are open to diverse candidates.

“I haven’t received resistance from any of the search committees that I’ve talked to,” he said.

James Merritt is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Photo courtesy of James Merritt

Last week, two former SBC presidents, joined by a prominent Las Vegas pastor, took the unusual step of sending a letter to the search committee for the new president of the SBC Executive Committee, inquiring about the breadth of efforts to replace Frank Page. Page retired last year after a “morally inappropriate relationship.”

“In your search for the person to fill this position, have you interviewed any minority candidates?” asked James Merritt, Bryant Wright, and Vance Pitman in an email to the search committee, according to the Biblical Recorder, a Baptist journal in North Carolina. “If not, we respectfully ask why not?”

Merritt confirmed to RNS that he sent the email. In response, he said, the committee “respectfully declined to answer our questions,” saying it could not reveal internal discussions.

“We felt like it was a legitimate question to ask out of a deep concern that we do indeed fulfill both the spirit and the letter of what we resolved to do,” said Merritt, a Georgia pastor. “And that is to reach far and wide and include minorities in the process.”

Almost a quarter century ago, Southern Baptists passed a historic resolution repudiating slavery. In 2012, they elected New Orleans pastor Fred Luter as the SBC’s first black president to a one-year term and re-elected him the next year. In 2015, they passed another statement that urged “Southern Baptist entities and Convention committees to make leadership appointments that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the body of Christ and of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Texas pastor Dwight McKissic, who has called for the SBC to place minorities in appointed executive positions — beyond the elections of denominational officers to one-year terms — tweeted his appreciation of the email sent by the three Baptist leaders.

“It would be a travesty to appt a Prez, without … interviewing a minority,” he tweeted Saturday. “It would be a huge statement of disrespect to the 20% + minority churches who comprise the SBC.”

Roger “Sing” Oldham, spokesman for the Executive Committee, responding to a request for additional information, said the search committee is “diverse in its composition” — including a white woman and two black male pastors. He expects it will update the full committee about its search by its Feb. 18 meeting.

Oldham noted that the nominees elected to the SBC’s boards and committees in June, and chosen by its Committee on Nominations, were 12.6 percent non-Anglo. Of those nominees who were not serving as pastors, 43 percent were women.

Recently, at least two milestones also have been reached among the six SBC seminaries. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Kentucky-based flagship of those seminaries, appointed its first African-American board officer in 2018. Also last year, a woman was elected chair of the trustee board of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.

Merritt said he hoped that all the current search committees would consider and interview diverse candidates.

“I think too often that Southern Baptists, we kind of come to the party a little bit late and too often we’ve been the caboose and not the locomotive,” he said. “And I think that we have an opportunity here to kind of start changing that narrative.”

After Wednesday’s installation of Paul Chitwood as president of the International Mission Board, four major SBC institutions will need to find new leaders: the Executive Committee, two seminaries and LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC’s publishing division.

Paige Patterson was ousted as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas in May after allegedly dismissing women’s concerns about rape and domestic abuse. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley announced in October that he would retire at the end of this academic year. Thom Rainer announced in August that he plans to retire from LifeWay this year.

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, speaks with reporters at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting on June 14, 2017, in Phoenix. Photo by Van Payne/Baptist Press

McKissic said in an interview that he has seen progress in blacks being hired as Baptist association and state convention staff. He said he also is aware of minority candidates who have applied for past open executive positions and were not chosen.

“It’s not because they are not interested or they don’t apply,” said the black pastor, who has proposed SBC statements condemning the Confederate flag and “alt-white supremacy.”

“The Southern Baptist Convention has not demonstrated a willingness to place a black — a minority, period — to those high-level positions,” he said.

Dhati Lewis, the sole African-American vice president at the convention’s North American Mission Board, said he is not optimistic about diversity being accomplished soon in the top ranks, though he believes it should occur.

“They’re going to choose people that they trust,” he said of selection committees. “And when your relationships aren’t diverse, it’s hard to find people that you can trust that don’t look like you, talk like you and act like you.”

Appointing more diverse executive leadership beyond the traditional choices, he said, would be an opportunity for the convention “to show that we genuinely want to reach North America and we can get beyond our Southern roots and we can become more global.”

Asked about whether a woman could assume any of these positions, some leaders said that there’s nothing in the denomination’s constitution that precludes a female executive. The SBC’s faith statement declares that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Greear said his North Carolina megachurch has reviewed its staff directory and determined that many roles that traditionally had been held by men could be held by women. Now, the captain of its domestic and overseas missions program is a woman.

“I think the SBC as a whole – that’s in front of us – is asking the same questions,” Greear said.