Biden joins sermon at Church of God in Christ during 6th campaign visit to Philadelphia

Pennsylvania is considered a must-win in the 2024 presidential election. Biden’s visit comes amid calls that he should leave the race following a poor debate performance.

President Joe Biden attends a church service at Church of God in Christ, Sunday, July 7, 2024, in Philadelphia (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Joe Biden attends a church service at Church of God in Christ, Sunday, July 7, 2024, in Philadelphia (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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President Joe Biden arrived to host another campaign visit in Philadelphia Sunday, already his sixth visit so far of the 2024 election season.

Exiting Marine 1 at Philadelphia International Airport, Mayor Cherelle Parker met the president, as did Sen. John Fetterman, Rep. Brendan Boyle and Bob Brady, chair of the Philadelphia Democrats.

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From the airport, the presidential motorcade made for West Oak Lane, where the president joined Pastor J. Louis Felton for service at the Church of God in Christ. Also attending were Parker and Sen. Bob Casey. Biden received thunderous applause from an audience of about 300.

The sermon

During the service, Felton referred to the controversy around Biden’s age, noting Biden sat beside church founder Ernest C. Morris Sr., who is 91 years old.

“So Mr. President, you are only an octogenarian, sitting next to a nonagenarian, so don’t let anyone talk about your age,” Felton said. “You’re a young whippersnapper.”

President Biden at the Church of God in Christ (Carmen Russell-Sluchansky/WHYY News)

Lively gospel music punctuated the speeches as applause erupted during Fenton’s sermon. He “preached” his key message, stressing the “president is a man of vision and integrity.”

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“Let the record show the election of 2020 was not stolen; it was a fair, free, fraughtless election,” he added.

Fenton also addressed the separation of church and state, stating, “We are separated but not divorced. And since we are not divorced, we still have visitation rights. The president has a right to be here.”

Later, Biden took the podium and said, “It’s good to be home,” before quipping about his age.

“I know I only look like I’m 40 years old, but I’ve been around longer,” Biden said. “I’ve always felt the power of my faith, in good times and tough times,” he said. “And I, honest to God, have never been more optimistic about America’s future if we stick together.”

Biden did not address the debate in his own address but touted his administration’s accomplishments, talking for around 10 minutes, after which the congregation chanted, “Four more years!”

‘We thank God’

Morris founded Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ in 1966. It has since grown in size and influence, becoming an important and iconic place of worship for the region. Fenton, who watched Martin Luther King Jr. give his famous “Mountaintop” speech when he was 11 years old, now runs the congregation and often invokes King in his sermons, including Sunday’s.

Parishioner Handsome Newton called the event “an amazing experience.”

“It’s something that’s surreal and something that some people have never gotten to experience in their lifetime,” he told WHYY News. “This is something I’m going to tell my grandkids and great-grandkids about one day.”

Newton downplayed Biden’s age, adding, “I don’t care what people said about the debate. He actually spoke extremely well today and I was blessed to be here.”

Zetta Butler, another parishioner, called Biden’s visit “God’s given gift to the church.”

“We’re seeing so much evil that goes on in the world,” she said. “This is a man of integrity and we are so proud to have him here with us today of all days, any day. I know the election is coming up and we’re going to vote for him. He’s going to be a second-term president, and so we thank God for him and everyone.”

Down in Pennsylvania

While Biden has made Pennsylvania a regular stop in his drive for a second term, this was his first visit since the debate for which his performance has given many Democrats — including prominent elected officials — cause for concern about his ability to win the election.

Earlier in the day, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, a Democrat, told MSNBC that Biden’s TV appearance did not assuage those concerns.

The first major post-debate poll, by Bloomberg, shows Biden moved up in every swing state except Pennsylvania, where he is now down seven points — well outside the margin of polling error. With 19 electoral votes, the Keystone State may be essential to any hope for victory.

In particular, polling suggests Biden is down among Black voters in Pennsylvania and around the country. Whereas he received 92% of the Black vote in 2020, only 50% of Black voters in Pennsylvania say they would vote for him today.

Therefore, the trip to the Church of God in Christ appears to be a strategy to try to win some of those votes back.

“Black history is American history,” the president said at the church.

Fenton noted that Biden’s visit would be reported as such an attempt, saying, “I know the media says President Biden is visiting a Black church. There’s nothing on our program that says a Black church.”

The picket line

Biden was originally supposed to address the annual conference of the National Education Association (NEA). However, the staff of the NEA is on strike and picketing the conference, leaving the campaign to scramble for an alternative schedule.

Fenton mentioned the situation in his sermon, saying that it was God’s will that the president visited the church.

“God knew Biden needs some love,” he said.

After the services, Biden stopped at a Biden-Harris campaign office in North Philly, where he encouraged supporters and volunteers and was joined by prominent local Democrats, including Fetterman and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.

The president then returned to the airport to board Air Force One on his way to Harrisburg.

Editor’s note: This copy was updated from an earlier version to reflect the Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ is located in Philadelphia’s West Oak Lane section. 

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