Charleston marks anniversary of church shootings with memorial

Members of AME church walk down Meeting Street to a memorial ceremony marking the first anniversary of the shootings at Emanuel AME Church

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – The city of Charleston came together on Friday for a memorial and other events to mark the first anniversary of the murders of nine members of a Bible study group in what prosecutors called a racially motivated hate crime.

The events were made even more poignant coming less than a week after a gunman slaughtered 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, marking the largest of many mass shootings in modern U.S. history.

Security was tight for the service at the TD Arena, where a stage was fronted by banner portraits of each of the nine victims and backed by the flags of many countries.

President Barack Obama had eulogized the victims of the rampage at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, including its slain minister and state Senator Clementa Pinckney, in the same arena last year.

Hymns were led by a 100-member choir and a minister prayed for the Charleston and Orlando victims, as well as for the soul of the accused church shooter, Dylann Roof.

Roof, 22, could face the death penalty on state murder charges and federal hate crime charges. Roof is white, while his victims were African American and the federal indictment against him said he acted out of racism.

Charleston State Senator Marlon Kimpson urged lawmakers to address gun control after so much bloodshed.

“He (Roof) was a home-grown terrorist filled with hate right here in South Carolina,” Kimpson told the congregation.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley showed the programs from nine funeral she has kept since last summer, and spoke about faith and each victim. She recalled how they welcomed Roof and prayed with him for an hour before they were killed.

“Tywanza Sanders stood in front of his 87-year-old aunt and looked the murderer in the eye and said, ‘You don’t have to do this. We mean you no harm,'” Haley said. “I will always talk about these people who changed my life.”

As well as the memorial, events including Bible study sessions, a prayer breakfast and tree plantings will take place around Charleston. The church also will open its doors to religious leaders and elected officials from around the nation on Friday afternoon.

The church has had many visitors in the past year, Emanuel’s new pastor, the Reverend Dr. Betty Deas Clark, told Reuters during a recent Bible study meeting in the room where the massacre took place.

“I believe we’re moving forward … Forgiveness is the message of the hour,” Clark said.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)

Two Washington state church fires possible arsen

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – Authorities in southwest Washington were investigating on Thursday fires at two churches they believe were deliberately lit over the past two days and put places of worship in the area on high alert, police said.

The suspicious fires occurred at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Vancouver, Washington, early Wednesday morning and at the Liberty Bible Church of the Nazarene on Thursday morning, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Authorities “are investigating these two incidents as intentional acts of arson,” the sheriff’s office said.

The Clark County Fire Department said authorities had yet to determine whether the two acts of suspected arson were committed by the same person.

Sheriff Chuck Atkins “is asking that all churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship, remain vigilant,” the sheriff’s department said.

Washington state media reported that the fire at the First Congregational United Church of Christ caused $2 million in damage. The fire at the Liberty Bible Church of the Nazarene was set when an object was thrown through a window and was quickly doused by the church’s sprinkler system, media reported.

No possible motive was known yet, the sheriff said.

Vancouver, Washington, is a community of 160,000 people about 10 miles (15 km) north of Portland, Oregon.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Paul Tait)

California Man Offers Free Gun Safety Classes to Church Personnel

A Northern California man is reportedly offering free gun safety classes to religious leaders.

Geof Peabody, who owns a gun range in Placerville, near Sacramento, told CBS News that he’s provided the training to some 500 ministers and church security teams over the past eight years.

“Safe and saved,” Peabody told CBS News. “We can accomplish both with the right training.”

Sacramento television station KOVR also covered Peabody’s story, reporting that the owner saw “a dramatic increase” in interest in recent months. Peabody told KOVR a recent class attracted nine different churches, who collectively sent about 25 students to learn introductory training.

The classes cover more than firing weapons. Peabody told KOVR he also teaches his clients certain defense techniques, which can be used to stop someone else from shooting.

The news comes at a time when America is feeling particularly jittery.

A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll, conducted in the wake of the San Bernardino mass shootings, found that 47 percent of Americans believe they or someone in their family will be the victim of a terrorist attack. And data available on Google’s website indicates that more Americans have performed searches for concealed carry permits, which allow people to carry hidden handguns in public, this month than they have at any other point in the past 11 years.

CBS News reported Peabody’s graduates can carry concealed weapons, and many of them bring their guns to church. In addition to San Bernardino, another incident is undoubtedly fresh in the minds of some of the church personnel who receive training from Peabody. Nine people were killed when a gunman opened fire at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, back in June.

But there is conflicting evidence on whether concealed carry permits actually curb gun violence, particularly in chaotic active-shooter situations like those in San Bernardino and Charleston, as well as conflicting ideologies about whether firearms belong in church under any circumstance.

Woman Brings “The Power of Pies” to Charleston Church Targeted by Gunman

A Minnesota woman has taken what she calls “something sweeter than pie” to the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, site of a shooting during a Bible study that left 9 people dead: Love.

Rose McGee traveled over 1,000 miles from her home in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota to bring hand made “comfort pies” to the Bible Study that resumed at the historic church after the deadly attack in June.

“As far as I am concerned, it’s the sacred dessert of black culture, a comfort sweet potato pie, which means when you have this, it just soothes the soul,” said McGee.

“I actually was just sitting in my living room watching television as everybody else was and became very frustrated, about everything and decided to get up, went into the kitchen and started making pies.”

McGee, who grew up in Tennessee, said the pies are a recipe handed down through her family beginning with her great-grandmother.

McGee has donated pies to other communities that have faced tragedy over the years and found that the pies could bring healing and promote community.

McGee admitted being a little nervous about sending her pies to the Charleston church.

“I’m really holding my breath and hoping the people of Charleston will like this pie,” said McGee. “Because South Carolina is a place where sweet potato pies are done right.”

“All I can say it’s amazing what happens when people come together,” added McGee.

China Crackdown on Crosses Draws Backlash

“Aren’t you ashamed of what you have done?” a crying woman screamed at the security guards keeping the parishioners of Lower Dafei Catholic Church from protecting their church’s cross.

The woman was part of a dozen Chinese Catholics who tried to stop the government from cutting the cross off the top of their building.

“We have violated no law. We do not oppose the government,” said the parishioner, who gave his name only as Chen for fear of retaliation from authorities. “We have been good, law-abiding citizens.”

Tu Shouzhe told ABC News about the government ripping the cross from his church’s building.

“It was a surprise attack. We did not let them in, but they broke in by cutting off the lock. We demanded paperwork, but they showed us none. They cordoned us away from the church,” Tu said. “They had 60-70 people. We had just about a dozen or so. Everyone was crying. Our hearts ached. We felt powerless to resist, and only prayed and sang hymns.”

Chinese Christians are rising up against the government’s actions to the level that even some of the “official” churches are starting to rebel.  The Christian Associations in the nation – which was designed to ensure the Communist Party’s control over churches – has said that the government’s actions are out of line.  They warned the action could turn the faithful into “enemies of the party.”

“The crackdown has alienated the Christians in China, who are otherwise law-abiding citizens,” Yang Fenggang, an expert on China’s religions at Purdue University, told the Associated Press.

Catholics in China Protest Cross Removals By Government

Christians in China have had enough of the government’s campaign to eradicate the cross from the country.

“Each time they take a cross down, we will put more up,” one church leader told the Guardian at a protest on Friday. “We are even considering making flags and clothes with cross patterns. We will make the cross flourish throughout China.”

The activists say that the Chinese government has ripped down 1,200 crosses in the last two years with an increase in the amount of crosses torn down in the last few weeks.  The focus has been in the Zhejiang province where Christian churches have been flourishing.

Zhejiang has over 300,000 Catholics and one million Protestants between the “official” government churches and underground churches.

“Christianity has grown so fast that Christians outnumber Communist Party members. The whole purpose of this is to control the ‘overheated’ growth of Christianity. They are nervous not just about Christianity but of any organized civil group,” Bob Fu, president of Texas-based non-profit China Aid, told Christianity Today.

In addition to the stripping of crosses from church buildings, many churches have been completely destroyed by the government and local officials.

Fort Worth Teenager Charged For Planning Columbine-Style Attack on Church

A 19-year-old Fort Worth, Texas man is behind bars accused of plotting to launch an attack on a church similar to the Columbine High School massacre.

Nicholar Amrine was arrested in June by Fort Worth police and placed in a state hospital until he was formally charged last week.

Amrine reportedly planned an attack on a youth event called “Fuse.”  He had attended the church until he was thrown out by church leaders because of his age and what authorities termed “erratic behavior.”

A pastor with the church called police after Amrine posted threatening and ominous messages on Facebook.

“All the kids that forgot about me are going to get what they deserve,” Amrine posted on June 3. “I may have been hesitant in the past but next time u see me I will not hesitate about anything. It will be over in a flash, it will be over in a bang, u will see my face, and then nothing else ever again.”

He also posted photos of Columbine shooters Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold, calling them “my heroes.”

The church cancelled the special youth event out of concern for Amrine’s threats.

Amrine is facing a felony charge of making terroristic threats.  He has been bonded out of jail and posted an apology on Facebook.

“That is not who I am and I would never do such a thing,” the teen said on July 2. “The things I posted on Facebook were wrong and I should have never done that.”

Carl Gallups Morning Worship And Our Covenant with God

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Sunday morning, July 5th, worship began at Morningside with gratitude. This was the last day of an incredible seven day Fourth of July Celebration! The congregation expressed thankfulness to our Lord for all of the amazing prophets that have spoken over the past week, for the fellowship with people from all around our nation, for the healing by God’s merciful love and for the hard work and dedication of the staff and volunteers that made this week possible.

After a truly powerful prayer and worship service, Morningside opened their hearts and ears to hear a message from Pastor Carl Gallups.  Carl Gallups is a Pastor (since 1987), a best selling author, conservative radio talk show host, and the founder of the online PNN News and Ministry Network.

Pastor Gallups spoke to the congregation on what is happening now in the United States and the Covenant of God that was made at the foundation of this Great Country.  He stated that, “The United States of America became the most powerful and richest nation the planet had ever seen and the most benevolent. The U.S. has been used by God because we made a covenant with God at the very beginning.  Israel is the ultimate covenant nation.  Israel is the nation that God came to and said I am in covenant with you. But, the U.S. is a covenant nation like no other planet the world has seen.”

Reminding all of us of what is in the Declaration of Independence, the first document in the creation of this nation that this is the creed upon which our nation was founded:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  

Pastor Gallup went on further describing the moment that George Washington took his oath in office, swearing on the Bible and then in front of a nation, kissed the Bible in his hand.  “Please remember that in his first inaugural address, Washington prayed to God and afterward prayed with other members of leadership for two hours at St. Paul’s Cathedral that sits now at Ground Zero.  In the Constitution it states quite simply at the bottom of the page… Signed in the YEAR OF OUR LORD!   Don’t let anyone tell you that this nation was not founded without God in it!”

In this timely sermon Pastor Gallups described the darkness we feel that is covering our country and that while we may have patriotism there is something else that is needed now more than ever.

Preserve the freedoms we have.  Take that freedom in these prophetic days to proclaim the gospel!  Now even in America darkness is beginning to move in quickly.  I am a patriot.  I am patriotic! But I am convinced now that America doesn’t need more patriotism, it needs more repententance! We need more of God’s Word! ”

Arizona Church Says “Don’t Abort, We’ll Adopt”

A Phoenix area church is telling women in their area who are facing an unplanned pregnancy that they will adopt their children in an attempt to stop them from killing their child via abortion.

Members of St. Stephen’s Parish say they hope the billboard will reach women who are considering abortion to make another choice.

“We’re just there to help, you know, if we can help save babies and you know, help these mothers and fathers. That’s what our goal is, you know, not to be judgmental. That’s not what this is about,” said Anne DeRose, the parish’s Respect Life Coordinator.

DeRose says the church has families that are ready to adopt but that the church will also partner with Catholic charities to find homes for every woman that is looking for adoption over abortion.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported over 13,000 abortions in the state last year.