Thursday, June 18, 2015
Shock. Horror. Bewilderment.
That's how most Americans reacted to the news that nine people were killed during a mid-week prayer service in Charleston, South Carolina.
For the Charleston community, there's some relief now that the suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, has been arrested. But there are still many unanswered questions and many more sleepless nights ahead as the victims' families grieve and seek healing.
Roof's deadly attack at the historic Mother Emaunuel AME Church is now being investigated as a hate crime. The response it has triggered, however, is an outpouring of love and compassion seen in South Carolina and beyond.
Today in the nation's capital, about 100 lawmakers and their staff met to pray for the victims and their families at the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
Organized by the Senate staff of South Carolina's Tim Scott, the speakers included Senate Chaplain Barry Black; Otis Gordon of Life Changers International Ministry, N.C.; and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
Sen. Lankford, a former youth pastor who was recently honored with the Distinguished Christian Statesman Award, told CBN News that coming together in prayer was a natural response.
"For those of us who are followers of Jesus, it's entirely normal for us to be able to stop and to pray for the hurting of other people and to find a way to be able to engage," he said.
He also expressed concern for how the attack in South Carolina might affect other houses of worship.
"Churches should be safe places," Lankford said. "I can't imagine what it's going to be like in churches all over America next week that when a guest walks in the door and says 'Can I sit and pray with you?' - that should be normal. And now there's going to be suspicion."
Before leading in prayer, Sen. Lankford cited scripture, telling the crowd God is near to the brokenhearted. He also believes this is an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate their faith to a world that is sometimes hostile to Christian beliefs.
"There's a great deal of animosity and hatred," Lankford told CBN News. "So we pray. We respond different. There's a New Testament principle about loving those who hate you even and reaching out to those folks that are opposed to you. It's what we do and how we stand up different."
Friday, May 01, 2015
It's true, the nation's first black president can't win when it comes to speaking out about race relations in America.
Tuesday he offered comprehensive thoughts on the riots we had seen the night before in Baltimore, tensions between some police departments and the communities they serve, and the underlying issues that leave too many minorities feeling frustrated and hopeless.
However, in the midst of his heartfelt remarks, his use of the word "thug" got the most attention.
"My understanding is, is you've got some of the same organizers now going back into these communities to try to clean up in the aftermath of a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place," the president said.
By using the word "thug," one Baltimore leader suggested the president might as well have called the young men and women in the streets Monday night a racial slur beginning with the letter "n."
Wednesday the White House defended the president's word choice. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president would not revise his remarks.
It's the type of nuance that further complicates an already complicated issue that continues to plague America 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement.
WHAT'S THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION DOING?
Following Ferguson, President Obama put together a task force that's given him recommendations to help prevent situations like we saw in Ferguson and are seeing in Baltimore. The Justice Department will soon offer grants to police departments who want to retrain or better train their officers and to those that are interested in using body cameras.
The White House is also pointing to other programs like the president's My Brother's Keeper initiative, which helps teach boys of color, many of whom are growing up without a father in the home, how to control their emotions and how to be men.
THE SOLUTION AND THE PROBLEM
Here's the problem. Americans have short memories and it doesn't help that soon the 24-hour cable news networks will be moving their satellite trucks out of Baltimore en route to the next big, breaking story. The president acknowledged this in his remarks.
"If we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It's just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant, and that we don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don't just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We're paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they're important. And they shouldn't be living in poverty and violence," he said.
However, he and his spokesman also blamed Congress, saying life would be better for minorities living in urban areas if the Republican Congress would act on a number of the president's proposals. That may or may not be true, but it's beside the point here.
Even though it's impossible for the president to make everyone happy, especially on this issue, even though he'll get accused of paying too much attention to one part of the population, President Obama has an obligation to keep the issues we see in Baltimore in front of us long after most of the nation forgets, which will likely be in about two weeks.
As his presidency winds down, he has more freedom to speak out on this purely American issue that affects people of all colors. If any one of America's parts are weak, then she can't be strong.
As the biracial leader of the free world, Mr. Obama is uniquely positioned to speak to both black and white Americans about why fixing the racial tensions and racial disparities that plague America are so important. If he works to make people care, then communities will improve and any necessary Congressional action will follow.
Otherwise, the moment will pass and not much will change. If the president doesn't become more vocal on these issues, it's likely that when America pauses to commemorate 100 years since the Civil Rights Movement, Americans will look back and shake their heads at a missed opportunity.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
This evening President and Mrs. Obama will host Prime Minister of Japan and Mrs. Akie Abe. The event will be the 8th official state dinner of the Obama administration.
The White House will be decorated to celebrate springtime in Washington, D.C., including orchids and cherry blossoms which were established as a gift of friendship from the people of Japan.
The occasion is also being used to unveil the Obama's state china service. The pattern includes a ring of color Mrs. Obama calls "Kailua blue" inspired by the waters off the president's home state of Hawaii. The gold presidential coat of arms appears on the service plate, dessert plate and can cup.
According to the White House, the pattern fulfills Mrs. Obama's goal for a more modern design that can complement other state services from previous administrations. The china was donated by the White House Endowment Trust, which is administered by the White House Historical Association.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Sen. Marco Rubio's official entrance in the race for the White House leaves up for grabs his U.S. Senate seat, making Florida a toss up contest in an important swing state during a presidential election year.
So far, two-term Florida Congressman Patrick Murphy is the only Democrat to declare his candidacy for the open seat.
Other names include Reps. Alan Grayson, Gwen Graham, and possibly even DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz or the perennial candidate former Gov. Charlie Crist. At the moment, however, Murphy is the only one who's made it official and has a campaign website.
On the Republican side, conservatives appear to be rallying behind Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis, a 36-year-old former Navy JAG, though the GOP field likely will grow more crowded.
But there's also an effort to draft another Republican who's no stranger to a political fight: former U.S. Representative and retired Army Col. Allen West.
The Conservative Action Fund is circulating a petition to draft West to "replace Rubio with a principled conservative" and prevent "Obama-loving liberals [from] tak[ing] this seat right out from under us," according to an email the political action committee is circulating.
In past interviews the tough-talking war veteran has said he'd consider running, but West has yet to make it official.
If he does decide to run, it conceivably paves the way for a rematch between him and the man who un-seated him in what became the most expensive U.S. House race in history.
Of course, there are fundraisers, campaign events, and primaries that come first, but if it is Murphy v. West part two, history won't be repeating itself with only the Bushes and Clintons.
Tuesday, April 07, 2015
President Barack Obama took the occasion of the White House Easter Prayer breakfast to explain what Easter means to him and to tease his critics.
"As it says in the first letter of John, 'Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth,'" he told the crowd of Christian leaders gathered in the East Room.
"On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned," he continued, smiling as laughter and applause rang out from the crowd.
"But that's a topic for another day... I was about to veer off. I'm pulling it back," he said as the laughter continued.
The White House Easter prayer breakfast, started by President Obama in 2010, has become an annual event. It's an opportunity for the president to talk about his Christian faith that many of his critics continue to doubt.
"For me," he said, "the celebration of Easter puts our earthly concerns into perspective. With humility and with awe we give thanks for the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus Christ our savior."
He went on to say, "And yet even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus' sacrifice on Easter we can't lose sight of the fact that the story didn't end on Friday," he said as "amen's" arose from the crowd. "The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious resurrection of our Savior."
The president thanked the pastors and Christian leaders from different Christian traditions across the nation for their prayers, because he says he needs them, especially now.
"Particularly at a time when my daughters are starting to grow up, starting to go on college visits - I need prayer," he said.
"I start tearing up in the middle of the day and I can't explain it. Why am I so sad?" he said smiling as people laughed. "They're leaving me."
As Christians celebrate the risen Savior, the president said, "I pray that we will live up to his example. I pray that I will live up to his example. I fall short so often… every day I try to do better."
Grammy Award-winning artist Amy Grant followed the president on stage, singing "Thy Word is a Lamp Unto My Feet."
"Jesus be my guide, hold me to your side," she sang, dressed in all white.
Monday, March 16, 2015
If there was any question, recent news events reveal racial divides in America persist 50 years after the Civil Rights movement. It's a problem that a handful of presidents have tried to address, including the nation's first African American president. But even President Obama has faced roadblocks.
April Ryan covers the White House for American Urban Radio Networks, a job she's held for nearly 20 years. As a journalist for urban stations, it's her job to find out what the commander in chief is doing for urban America and what he thinks about issues important to her listeners.
After keeping a journal about her adventures for nearly two decades, April has written a book called, The Presidency in Black and White: My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America.
I chatted with April about how she landed her job covering the White House, what she thinks about racial tensions, and why she often feels like the "black Forest Gump."
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Now more than ever it appears the United States must do more to promote religious freedom abroad. What's one way America can encourage rogue nations that oppress Christians and other religious minorities? Money!
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham led a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to look at how the United States can use the power of foreign aid to encourage regimes to chose religious liberty over religious persecution. Research shows countries that allow religious freedom prosper economically.
"This is a religious war and we must take sides," Graham said, referring to the crucifixions and beheadings of Christians and other religious minorities at the hands of ISIS and other terror groups in the name of Islam.
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford sits on Graham's subcommittee and stepped out of the meeting to talk to Beltway Buzz about what he hopes the United States can achieve.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
A man standing outside the White House on a frigid February day held a large sign that read, "It's Islam Stupid." He was protesting President Obama's Summit on Countering Violent Extremism and the deliberate move by the White House to not make the summit all about radical Islam.
However, much of the questioning by the media has focused on semantics. Is the administration tiptoeing around the real threat? Why is the administration quick to suggest Muslims are targeted for their faith, but refers to the Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya as "citizens?"
Does the administration think it's counter productive to mention religion?
In his remarks on the first day of the summit, President Obama made it clear that neither the Islamic State nor al Qaeda represents Islam.
"We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with people who have perverted Islam," he said.
He also said Muslim leaders in America and elsewhere need to do be very clear about their condemnation of the Islamic State and other groups beheading and burning people alive in the name of Allah. They need to make it clear, he said, that the extremists don't speak for all Muslims or Islam generally.
The goal of the summit is to engage and equip communities in the United States and around the world to catch extremism before it gets out of hand.
For instance, the president says a young person in the United States who is becoming radicalized will demonstrate symptoms, such as becoming withdrawn at school, that his or her teachers and others will notice right away. He says people in communities need to serve as the first level of prevention.
Watch President Obama's speech below:
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
President Barack Obama will launch his summit on countering violent extremism Tuesday amid news that Christians, journalists and other innocent people are being beheaded and burned alive in the name of Islam and the creation of an Islamic State.
However, the administration isn't focusing exclusively on threats from the Islamic State or any other Muslim extremists making international headlines and grating the nerves of counter-terrorism officials worldwide. Instead, the Obama administration is aiming to look beyond the headlines at all types of extremism.
As one senior White House official said in a conference call previewing the summit, violent extremists "come in all shapes and sizes."
They say they're not leaning on stereotypes to determine who's more likely to be recruited to violent extremism or which communities in the United States are more susceptible. Officials also say they're not treating extremists as part of a religion, rather they're just calling them terrorists.
The first part of the three-day summit will focus on domestic counter-terrorism strategies and best practices.
The second half will include representatives from more than 60 countries. Representatives from the private sector will also participate. The goal, officials say, is to engage communities and fight extremism from the grassroots.
Senior White House officials say President Obama is expected to make a series of announcements and/or take actions during the summit, but they're not saying what form those may take.
Wednesday, January 07, 2015
In a sentiment, with which I think most Americans agree, President Obama expresses his deepest sympathies to the people of Paris and France for the horrific terrorist attack on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The satirical weekly paper has been repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
President Obama went on to say, "The fact that this was an attack on journalists, attack on our free press, also underscores the degree to which these terrorists fear freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But the one thing that I'm very confident about is that the values that we share with the French people, a belief, a universal belief in the freedom of expression, is something that can't be silenced because of the senseless violence of the few."
That's another sentiment with which I think most Americans agree; however, the Obama administration, specifically the president's Justice Department has come under attack for attempting to silence, or at the very least, obstruct the news gathering of some American journalists and their organizations.
In 2013, the Justice Department collected two months of telephone records for 20 reporters at the Associated Press. However, the AP wasn't aware of DOJ's subpoena because it was issued to the AP's phone providers. DOJ said it collected the records to investigate a leak of classified information and alerting the AP could have threatened its investigation.
The same year we learned Fox News reporter James Rosen was also a target of the Justice Department's surveillance. His visits to the State Department, phone calls, and personal emails were monitored. He was even accused of being a possible criminal "co-conspirator" for his alleged role in publishing sensitive security information.
Also, the president's remarks about the tragedy in France come as former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson sues the Justice Department for illegal surveillance. In the lawsuit Attkisson says three different forensic exams on her computers revealed she was being monitored over a two year period by hackers connected to the Justice Department. She's seeking 35 million in damages.