Black churchgoers in Philadelphia come to Biden's defense amid fallout over debate performance

Biden gave remarks at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia.

July 7, 2024, 2:58 PM

As President Joe Biden contends with the growing fallout from his debate performance, calls to drop out and criticism of his age, he found safe harbor at a Black church in Philadelphia on Sunday, where the congregation came to his defense.

"We want you to know, President Biden, that Bishop Morris is 91 years old on his way to 92," Mount Airy Church of God in Christ Bishop J. Louis Felton said of the church's founder, Bishop Ernest C. Morris Sr.

"And so, Mr. President, since you are only an octogenarian sitting next to a nonagenarian, don't let anybody talk about your age. You're a young whippersnapper," Felton continued during his introduction of 81-year-old Biden, eliciting a laugh from the president and applause from the audience.

Later, during his sermon, Felton took on Biden's critics head-on, saying more attention should be given to former President Donald Trump's false statements.

President Joe Biden greets Bishop J. Louis Felton, Senior Pastor at a church service at Mt Airy Church of God In Christ in Philadelphia, July 7, 2024.
Nathan Howard/Reuters

"I don't know why it is that you want to make an issue of the president and his condition with stammering and not being able, at certain times, to bring forth words while another person lies fluently and you never challenge his lies," Felton said to cheers.

Biden, when he got up to speak after Felton, said he was grateful for the support.

"Mr. Felton, thank you for that introduction and moving sermon. And thank you, this incredible congregation, for welcoming me as you have," Biden said.

"I've always felt the power of your faith in good times and in tough times," Biden later added of the Black church. "Fact is, the Scripture says, all things work together for good. To those who love God are in our call according to His purpose. Our purpose is to serve others."

President Joe Biden speaks during a church service and campaign event at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia, on July 7, 2024.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

"We're all imperfect beings," the president went on to say. "We don't know where or what faith will deliver us to or when. But we do know is that we can seek a life of light, hope, love and truth. No matter what, we can seek that life. Take all of our experiences and give everything we have to work together, because when we do, you can't stop us."

Biden praised the church for its role in helping America live up to the ideal of equality, saying that because of the church, America has "never full walked away from it."

"And that's because of you and generations before you who led the church from slavery to freedom. Always praying, always believing that joy cometh in the morning," Biden said. "You've never given up. And my life, and as your president, I've tried to walk my faith."

President Joe Biden (2nd R) attends a church service and campaign event at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia, on July 7, 2024.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

In his earlier remarks, Felton said America needed to "see some love for a change."

"That is why I believe God, who is in charge of everything, interfered [with] the president's schedule. He was previously scheduled to speak at a conference today, but God knew President Biden need[ed] some love and sen[t] him here today so we can show him," Felton said.

Biden was to speak at the National Education Association's conference in Philadelphia on Sunday, but his campaign announced Friday that he backed out because the group's staff union went on strike, and the president would not cross a picket line.

"President Biden, you are not only among friends, you're among family," Felton continued. "We did not come to beat up on you, to put you down, to criticize you, to magnify your flaws or mistakes. We come to love you."

With a nod to the precarious political position Biden finds himself in, Felton said Biden will find his way out.

President Joe Biden speaks during a church service and campaign event at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia, on July 7, 2024.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

"If Jesus could get out of the pit, President Biden is coming back," Felton said. "He's a comeback kid, he's a fighter, he's a champion, he's a winner."

"Our president gets discouraged but today, through your Holy Spirit, renew his mind, renew his spirit, renew his body," Felton prayed. "He's the man we need in these terrible times."

Afterward, Biden went to a separate space in the church to greet congregants and snap selfies.

"Can I get a hug from you?" one woman asked Biden, who gave her a kiss on the cheek, as others asked for pictures.

At one point, another woman said, "We don't want to wear him out."

Later in the day, Biden told reporters that his party was behind him.

"Mr. President, is the Democratic Party behind you, sir?" a reporter shouted on the tarmac in Harrisburg, where Biden is set to make his third campaign stop of the day.

"Yes," Biden responded.

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