By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — First lady Michelle Obama brought an audience of 10,000 African Methodist Episcopal Church members to their feet Thursday as she exhorted them to get involved in the issues that affect their lives.
Speaking at the AME Church’s 49th General Conference in Nashville, Obama praised the church for its role in fighting slavery, segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks, but she told them the struggle is not over.
It can be difficult to address challenges like childhood obesity, poor schools and unsafe neighborhoods, she said.
“The path forward for the next generation can be far from clear,” she said.
But she told the crowd that laws still matter and still shape our lives.
She said the influence of money in politics can make it “feel like ordinary citizens can’t get a seat at the table.” But “there’s nothing more powerful than ordinary citizens coming together for a just cause.”
“If anyone says the church is no place to talk about these issues, tell them there’s no place better,” she said. “Ultimately these are not just political issues, but moral issues.”
She asked them not to get overwhelmed by today’s problems.
“Doing the impossible is the root of our faith,” she said. Speaking of the apostle Peter, she added, “If a simple fisherman could become the rock upon which Christ built his church, surely we can do our part.”
As she spoke, enthusiastic audience members shouted their agreement, sometimes repeating her words or bursting into applause. Others jostled to find a position where they could snap a picture.
After the speech, church members expressed their admiration for Michelle Obama and her family. Several said they were not bothered by President Barack Obama’s recent expression of support for same-sex marriage, although they still believe homosexuality is a sin.
The Rev. Joseph Williams of Mobile, Ala., said the first lady was “on target” with her speech, and said he feels President Obama’s pronouncement on same-sex marriage has been misrepresented.
“He didn’t say he was in favor of same-sex marriage; he said every person has a right to marry,” Williams said. “We still don’t know how he feels about it personally.”
Rosemary Palmer, of New Orleans, said that the Bible teaches against same-sex marriage, “but he’s president over all Americans — Christians, non-Christians, Jews. And because he is, he has to make some hard decisions.”
Michelle Obama did not mention same-sex marriage during her address.
She also didn’t bring up the U.S. Supreme Court decision — announced less than an hour before her speech — upholding most of the president’s health care overhaul. But after she left the stage, Bishop T. Larry Kirkland announced the ruling to cheers and applause.
“Can I get an ‘Amen?'” he shouted.
The audience obliged with a resounding, “Amen!”