“Watch Night Service” in the Black Church in America symbolizes the historical fact, that on the night of Dec. 31, 1862 during the Civil War, free and freed blacks living in the Union States gathered at churches and/or other safe spaces, while thousands of their enslaved black sisters and brothers stood, knelt and prayed on plantations and other slave holding sites in America — waiting for President Abraham Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation into law. The Emancipation Proclamation legally recognized that the Civil War was fought for slavery.
One hundred and fifty years later, African American Christians continued the faith tradition of their enslaved ancestors and gathered at a designated meeting space, the church, to celebrate; they are the survivors of a people who were defined in the U.S. Constitution as three-fifths human, shackled in chains and denied the right to vote.
One hundred and fifty years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, across denominational lines, African American Christians will join with family members and church members to pray and thank God for allowing them to survive the oppressive Voter Suppression ID laws that were created by states after President Barack Obama was elected the first African American President of the United States.
These Voter ID laws mirrored the unethical, racially discriminating poll taxes and voting tests which were enacted after the Civil War.
Like other black churches in America, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago offered two “Watch Night” worship services.
Thousands of children, women and men will united in the Spirit of the Lord in the Sanctuary, while other members and guests from as far away as New York, Oregon, Vietnam and Australia participated in Trinity’s “Watch Night” service at www.trinitychicago.org.
The Men’s Chorus and Sanctuary Choir led the intergenerational virtual congregation in “Look Where God Has Brought Us.”
It is a tradition in the Black Church in America that five minutes before midnight, men, women and children will kneel, hold hands and pray to God from the present year into the New Year.
One hundred and fifty years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law, on Dec. 31, 2012, African American Christians engaged in their prayer posture, and will reflect upon the fact that approximately 11 million Africans were enslaved during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, where 10-20 percent of them died on the slave ships, and the exact number of enslaved Black children, women and men killed or died during slavery will never be known.
And the choir sings:
Look where God has brought us,
look how far we’ve come,
we’re not what we ought to be,
we’re not what we used to be
Thank You, Lord, thank You, Lord,
for what You’ve done!”
While Many Faiths Have Evolved, Too Many Have Not, Former Jehovah’s Witness Says
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has become much more accustomed to the culture and religion of Middle Eastern and North African countries. One sharp difference is the role of half of that region’s population: girls and women.
“Unfortunately for many Muslims, half of their human capital is repressed or completely silenced, and many academics and reporters who are knowledgeable about the region cite this one fact for lack of progress there,” says Richard E. Kelly, a self-described “survivor” of Jehovah’s Witness.
“But many of us here in the West also come from a religious tradition that has repressed women, and some Christian sects remain faithful to ancient, Old Testament dogmas.”
In the New Testament, gospel writers clearly show Jesus to be a non-sexist, pro-woman figure, says Kelly, www.richardekelly.com, author of “Growing Up in Mama’s Club: A Childhood Perspective of Jehovah’s Witnesses” and its sequel, “The Ghosts from Mama’s Club.” Christians are forced to choose between two points of view on women – that represented by the four Gospel writers in the New Testament and the teachings of the Old. Unfortunately, the latter too often prevails, he says.
“Because we are a pluralistic society that respects differing religious perspectives, we are sometimes afraid to be frank about certain beliefs,” says Kelly, who escaped the “cult” of Jehovah’s Witness as a young man.
Women, who are viewed as being below men, but above animals, in the faith are the most negatively affected by ancient beliefs, he says. Kelly reviews why religions should update their take on women:
• The whole world is watching: In what may be the most stubbornly religious part of the world, rural Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, 15, may be doing more than all military campaigns to turn the tide of Islamic extremism in the Middle East.
Yousafzai was shot in the head by members of the Taliban for standing up for girls’ right to be educated. In this day of instant global communication among the masses, Yousafzai’s story has reached millions. The Arab Spring should be a powerful lesson of the effects of social media in uniting people against tyrants.
• Women’s repression insults men: Because the cultural and religious traditions of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) view women as little more than chattel, members with this perspective are unable to enjoy a healthy relationship.
“I’ve experienced the tragic consequences of this view,” he says. “My sister, Marilyn, grew up believing she had less value, because that’s what Jehovah’s Witnesses taught her. Consequently, she suffered abuse at the hands of three husbands, the last of whom took her life.” By viewing women as inferior, men are also victims. They’re denied the mutual respect, trust and shared decision-making of a healthy malefemale relationship, Kelly says.
• A moderating influence: Kelly echoes the concerns of other whistle blowers – world-renowned scientists like Richard Dawkins – who worry over the plausible circumstances of world destruction at the hands of religious extremists.
“We’re dealing with those who believe that the world’s fate was literally given to them by their God; people who don’t believe in the values of the Enlightenment, but who have the fruits of today’s nuclear technology,” he says. “In any group, women tend to have a moderating influence, and introducing more female influence over and within religious groups may literally mean the difference between the future of the world and the end of it.”
Richard E. Kelly grew up as a Jehovah’s Witnesses. At 20, while working at the religion’s headquarters, he left the group to live with his wife, Helen, in New York City. Because Kelly’s family believed Armageddon was imminent, his education was limited to what was required by law, since there would be no future. However, he went on to earn a bachelor’s in accounting, a master’s in business and become president of a Michigan manufacturing company. He now enjoys retirement with his family and friends.
With incredulous looks, frequent interruptions and emotional outbursts, Vice President Joe Biden showed more life in the first 15 minutes of last night’s vice presidential debate with Rep. Paul Ryan than President Barack Obama showed during the entire debate last week against Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
And for many, Biden’s showing last night, with him not only fact checking Ryan’s “plans” but underscoring his and the President’s successes, proved that the Democrats were in it to win it.
When it came to Osama bin Laden, the president the first day in office, I was sitting with him in the Oval Office, he called in the CIA and signed an order saying, “My highest priority is to get bin Laden.”
Prior to the election, prior to the — him being sworn in, Governor Romney was asked the question about how he would proceed. He said, “I wouldn’t move heaven and earth to get bin Laden.” He didn’t understand it was more than about taking a murderer off the battlefield. It was about restoring America’s heart and letting terrorists around the world know, if you do harm to America, we will track you to the gates of hell if need be.
After talking about foreign policy, the moderator, Martha Raddatz, moved the debate along to the issue of the economy, where Biden employed Romney’s infamous 47 percent to illustrate how out of touch the Romney/Ryan ticket are when it comes to the poor and the middle class:
We knew we had to act for the middle class. We immediately went out and rescued General Motors. We went ahead and made sure that we cut taxes for the middle class. And in addition to that, when that — when that occurred, what did Romney do? Romney said, “No, let Detroit go bankrupt.” We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said, “No, let foreclosures hit the bottom.”
But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend recently in a speech in Washington said “30 percent of the American people are takers.”
These people are my mom and dad — the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, “not paying any tax.”
I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent — it’s about time they take some responsibility here. And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class we’re going to level the playing field; we’re going to give you a fair shot again; we are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the super wealthy.
They’re pushing the continuation of a tax cut that will give an additional $500 billion in tax cuts to 120,000 families. And they’re holding hostage the middle class tax cut because they say we won’t pass — we won’t continue the middle class tax cut unless you give the tax cut for the super wealthy.
During Ryan’s remarks, he tried to paint his running mate as the charitable guy who, regarding his 47 percent comments, just didn’t express himself that well:
This is a man who gave 30 percent of his income to charity, more than the two of us combined. Mitt Romney’s a good man. He cares about 100 percent of Americans in this country. And with respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.
Taking the dig in full stride, Biden, who is known for putting his foot in his mouth, strongly stated, “But I always say what I mean. And so does Romney.”
One of Biden’s best moments came, though, when Ryan attempted to explain how he would get unemployment under 6 percent. Ryan said:
Look at just the $90 billion in stimulus. The vice president was in charge of overseeing this. $90 billion in green pork to campaign contributors and special interest groups. There are just at the Department of Energy over 100 criminal investigations that have been launched into just how stimulus…crony capitalism and corporate welfare.
Here, Biden went for the jugular, explaining that if the President’s stimulus was such a bad idea, why did Ryan write him two letters begging for money for his state?
And I love my friend here. I — I’m not allowed to show letters but go on our website, he sent me two letters saying, “By the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin?” We sent millions of dollars. You know…
Raddatz jumped in here, asking Ryan pointedly if he had indeed asked Biden for stimulus money, “You did ask for stimulus money, correct?” with Ryan responding weakly, “On two occasions we — we — we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants. That’s what we do. We do that for all constituents who are…..
Victoriously, Biden replied:
I love that. I love that. This was such a bad program and he writes me a letter saying — writes the Department of Energy a letter saying, “The reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs.” His words. And now he’s sitting here looking at me.
Moving on to the issue of Medicare, Ryan seemed to suggest that there was something wrong with Obama’s 15-person board on Medicare.
And then they put this new Obamacare board in charge of cutting Medicare each and every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors, Ryan said.
This board, by the way, it’s 15 people, the president’s supposed to appoint them next year. And not one of them even has to have medical training.
To which Biden quipped, “You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems every vice presidential debate I hear this kind of stuff about panels.”
After discussing Romney’s flaws with Medicare due to his notions that it should be privatized and that he would turn it into a voucher program, Biden asked the public:
Who do you believe, the AMA, me, a guy who’s fought his whole life for this, or somebody who would actually put in motion a plan that knowingly cut — added $6,400 a year more to the cost of Medicare?
Now they got a new plan: ‘Trust me, it’s not going to cost you any more.’ Folks, follow your instincts on this one.
And with regard to Social Security, we will not — we will not privatize it. If we had listened to Romney, Governor Romney, and the congressman during the Bush years, imagine where all those seniors would be now if their money had been in the market.
Their ideas are old and their ideas are bad, and they eliminate the guarantee of Medicare.
When Ryan attempted to explain how he would provide for seniors who fall through the cracks, Biden brought home his point that, with all of their talk about having bipartisan support, no Democrats have signed off on their Medicare plans. Raddatz asked, “What is your specific plan for seniors who really can’t afford to make up the difference in the value of what you call a premium support plan and others call a voucher?”
RYAN: Hundred percent coverage…
RADDATZ: How do you make that up?
RYAN: … income adjusts (inaudible) these premium support payments by taking down the subsidies for wealthy people.
Look, this is a plan — by the way, that $6,400 number, it was misleading then, it’s totally inaccurate now. This is a plan that’s bipartisan. It’s a plan I put together with a prominent Democrat senator from Oregon.
BIDEN: There’s not one Democrat who endorses it.
RYAN: It’s a plan…
BIDEN: Not one Democrat who (inaudible).
RYAN: Our partner is a Democrat from Oregon.
BIDEN: And he said he does no longer supports [it].
RYAN: We — we — we put it — we put it together with the former Clinton budget director.
BIDEN: Who disavows it.
Once they moved to the issues of taxes, Raddatz said,”Well, let’s talk about this 20 percent. You have refused — and, again — to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics? Or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?” Again, Congressman Ryan found himself unable to articulate his plan:
RYAN: Different than this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements. You see, I understand the…
RADDATZ: Do you have the specifics? Do you have the…
RADDATZ: Do you know exactly what you’re doing?
RYAN: We want to work with Congress — we want to work with the Congress on how best to achieve
this. That means successful. Look…
RADDATZ: No specifics, again.
RYAN: Mitt — what we’re saying is, lower tax rates 20 percent, start with the wealthy, work with Congress to do it…
RADDATZ: And you guarantee this math will add up?
After minutes pass by with Ryan offering no real details about how he will lower tax rates 20 percent across the board, Raddatz asks irritably, “Can you declare anything off-limits? meaning what wouldn’t Ryan touch in his efforts to lower tax rates. When he still couldn’t offer an answer, Raddatz began tossing out possible answers in the hopes of being able to give some idea to the public where Ryan stands on taxes:
RYAN: Yeah, we’re saying close loopholes…
RADDATZ: Home mortgage deduction?
RYAN: … on high-interest people.
RADDATZ: Home mortgage deduction?
RYAN: For higher-income people. Here…
RADDATZ: And you’re — and you’re going to increase the defense budget.
RYAN: Think about it this way.
RADDATZ: And you’re going to increase the defense budget.
RYAN: No, we’re not just going to cut the defense budget like they’re — they’re proposing…
RADDATZ: So no massive defense increases?
RYAN: No, we’re saying don’t — OK, you want to get into defense now?
RADDATZ: Yes, I do. I do, because that’s another math question.
RYAN: So — right, OK.
RADDATZ: How do you do that?
RYAN: So they proposed a $478 billion cut to defense to begin with. Now we have another $500 billion cut to defense that’s lurking on the horizon. They insisted upon that cut being involved in the debt negotiations, and so we have a $1 trillion cut…
RADDATZ: Let’s put the automatic defense cuts aside, OK?
RYAN: Right, OK.
RADDATZ: Let’s put those aside. No one wants that.
RADDATZ: But I want to know how you do the math and have this increase in defense spending?
Giving up, Raddatz says, “I want to move on.”
Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can watch this debate and think that Ryan either won it or there was a draw. Just as it was clear across party lines that President Obama lost last week’s debate to Mitt Romney, it is just as clear that Biden trounced Ryan in Thursday night’s debate.
Ryan seemed categorically outclassed in foreign policy, and just when you were waiting for Ryan to finally unveil their seemingly secret plan for the economy, Ryan revealed that — outside of regurgitating a “5-point plan” — they do not actually have a plan.
The public still doesn’t know what loopholes they intend to close in order to make their tax plan work and using warm and fuzzy anecdotes about money Romney gives to charity, which is likely a tax write-off, isn’t going to fill that gaping hole.
While the President will have to make sure that he does his part next week, Biden definitively stepped up to the plate and brought this one home for the Democrats last night.
And I am not alone in my assessment.
Here are some reactions from high-profile politicos and news organizations:George Stephanopoulos: “Over the course of the debate, more of the issues fell in Biden’s corner, he was able to take control of more of the debate.”Mark Shields: “I just thought he really kind of hung Ryan out to dry on the no details of the tax plan. I mean, that really was exposed.”Governor Martin O’Malley: “People said ‘oh he laughed too much’, but it is laughable that we would be 28 days out from this election and they still haven’t told us how they’re going to do this wonderful plan that all the details are behind door number three. That stuff is laughable. You can’t cut by 20% taxes for millionaires and billionaires, corporations by 30% and not have to pay for it somehow.”Wolf Blitzer: “Congressman Ryan’s low point happened near the end of the debate around 10:20 eastern when he was asked about abortion.”Buzzfeed: “After effectively vanishing from the national stage, Ryan re-emerged Thursday not as the intellectual leader of the right, but as passable debater with a slightly crooked necktie.”Reuters: “While Ryan tried to depict the Obama administration as projecting weakness, Biden hit back hard with repeated questions on details of Romney’s foreign policy plan, which Ryan was hard put to answer.”