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CNN Reporter Returns from Syria; Sermons Focus on Same Sex Marriage; Three Boston University Students Killed in New Zealand; Three Wildfires Burning across North Arizona; Unrest in Syria
Aired May 13, 2012 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We begin in Syria, where there are reports of more gunfire and terror gripping much of the country. Information is limited because most foreign journalists are not allowed to enter Syria.
CNN's Ivan Watson has just returned to turkey after being in Syria. Ivan, what did you see?
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, we just got back from Syria a couple of hours ago. And what is striking is that it's 15 months now that Syrian have said protesting and conducting this uprising against their government.
We have seen incredible amounts of violence, by conservative estimates, more than 9,000 -- people killed, with artillery and tanks and helicopters against opposition demonstrators. And they have grown increasingly armed.
And despite that incredible loss of life, there is no sign in sight that the population is willing to give up this rebellion. You have people proudly flying the flag of the opposition. We met rebels that are -- that look to be better armed than we've seen in months past.
They have better uniform than they've had in the past. They seem to be better mobilized as well, to preparing for what they think may be the next phase in the fighting there.
And we also talked to some of the civilians who have suffered. I talked to a mother who had lost three of her sons. Three of her sons who tried to defend their village from two subsequent Syrian military attacks on their village, and she described how her house was destroyed, how her livestock was even killed.
The conflict there is far from over, despite the fact that there's been a ceasefire that the Syrian government and the rebels have nominally agreed to for weeks now.
And there are no signs that the population that is protesting against the government are going to give up their rebellion, even after 15 months -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: So, Ivan, clearly, the president, Al Assad, still digging in his heels. Is there any indication, whatsoever, even any, I guess, new sentiment being expressed from him and his government about how to move forward?
WATSON: Well, you know, the Syrian government has proposed for months now a number of reforms that are led by the Syrian government. There's a lot of skepticism about it, certainly from the population, the opposition who have suffered so much as a result of the government crackdown, and also from the international community.
Even the United Nations secretary general who basically discounted a Syrian attempt at parliamentary elections within the last two weeks. The Syrian government has promised reforms, while also carrying out massive attacks on Syrian population centers at the same time, which is why it's credibility is so questioned.
What's been interesting is that even the government has started to admit that there are different kinds of protesters in opposition to it. There are those that are peaceful protesters, and those that are armed and those that may be affiliated with groups like al Qaeda. And that's a big shift from a year and three months ago --
WATSON: -- when it claimed that any protester was a member of al Qaeda and Israel at the same time if you can imagine.
WHITFIELD: All right, Ivan Watson, thanks so much, reporting from Turkey after spending some time in Syria. Thanks so much.
All right, Monday night, Anderson Cooper reporting live from the Syrian region as well. Watch "AC 360" live from the Syrian border with Turkey CNN, Monday night, 8:00 Eastern Time. We'll also be talking to Anderson later on this half hour by phone.
All right, churches across the U.S. are packed this mother's day and many pastors are focusing on one theme in particular, President Obama's decision to support gay marriage.
And while the pastor's sermons are on the same subject, their messages are not all the same at all. We'll hear from some in less than 5 minutes from now.
All right, Boston University is in mourning today after a crash in New Zealand leaves three students dead, five others injured. A group of study abroad students was visiting locations where "The Lord Of Rings" movies were filmed. The van they were traveling in swerved off a road and rolled over on Saturday.
Right now, fire crews in Northern Arizona are battling three wildfires. One fire came so close to Prescott, the residents were forced to flee, but have since been allowed to return to their homes. Another fire, which is spreading across 2,000 acres can be seen from Phoenix.
Strong views on gay marriage delivered from the pulpit.
WHITFIELD: President Obama's decision to support gay marriage is a major focus of church sermons all across the country this mother's day.
In African-American churches, congregations are divided over the issue. Some Obama supporters now say they won't vote for the president.
Others are rallying behind him, and the message is the pastors are delivering today are equally as diverse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REVEREND RAPHAEL WARNOCK, PASTOR, EBENEEZER BAPTIST CHURCH: No matter how you teal about this particular issue. We always have to protect the rights of the minority.
(END VIDEO CLIP0
WHITFIELD: But other pastors are not supporting the president on this issue. Joining us now, two prominent church leaders in Chicago, Bishop Carlton Pearson with New Dimensions Church, and in Washington, Bishop Harry Jackson, a senior pastor at Hope Christian Church.
Good to see both of you this Sunday. All right, Bishop Jackson, let me begin with you, you say you're opposed to gay marriage and you think that President Obama may lose support for his announced decision. So what did you tell our congregation today?
BISHOP HARRY JACKSON, SENIOR PASTOR, HOPE CHRISTIAN CHURCH: Today, I commended our congregation, the mothers specifically, it's Mother's Day, but then I also mention that we're going to have to come to Washington and find out exactly what the president means.
Is he going to use his office as a bully pulpit, his personal announcement really was very public. And we felt that most people don't know where the president stands in terms of what will he do from here on?
And so I'm calling for pastors to come, talk, get an audience with the White House, and find out what the GOP is up to concerning this important issue.
WHITFIELD: But on that issue, are you encouraging your congregation or did you have that dialogue saying that while you don't necessarily agree with same-sex marriage, you are encouraging people to allow that to influence their decision about whether they should support the president?
JACKSON: I felt we need to hear what he's got to say further, first.
WHITFIELD: What more does he need to say on it?
JACKSON: Well, for example, there another realm, like don't ask, don't tell, that he's going to push into? We're going to have a Supreme Court decision on marriage, probably in a year and a half or two.
So how's he going to stand on that? Is this a line drawn in the sand, where he says war on those who don't agree with him? I think there's a lot to be said.
And I believe that where we are, though, is that we need to be a voice of conscience, the Christian church, to both Democrats and Republicans, so we're going to come together, we're going to ask the president to be more specific, talk to the other side.
But at the end of the day, if 8 percent of the voters shifted in Ohio in 2004 for Bush and 9 in Florida, they turned the presidential election. If black voters don't come out, just 8 percent less, 9 percent less, across the country, the president will lose. He's got high stakes poker.
WHITFIELD: Is it a concern to you that this is an issue that will so divide particularly black voters, that it might turn off some of those black voters that you talk of, that would have supported the president. That perhaps now they won't?
JACKSON: Yes, I believe it's that big a deal. If there's messaging on the other side, the Republican side, if there's clear leadership of people who have a moral alternative.
I hope to be one of those people that is a moral alternative and say to our folks, let's protect marriage, or we have to look at the entire political system now, in terms of neither side seems to be straight down the line of where black Americans, especially, want to be.
WHITFIELD: All right, Bishop Pearson, you called President Obama's decision a bold step. So what message did you deliver on this Mother's Day Sunday?
BISHOP CARLTON PEARSON, NEW DIMENSIONS CHICAGO: Well, the scripture says that marriage is honorable and undefiled. It also says it's better to marry than to burn with lust, the Apostle Paul said. President Obama is president of the United States, not pastor of the United States, and he's president of all of America.
And I'm an inclusionist so I believe that when you're Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, gay, straight, bi, or try -- trying to have sex -- whoever you are, you are entitled to the normal pursuit of happiness and prosperity that we believe that we should have justice for all.
That is constitutional, that is the president's responsibility. Whether -- and I've talked to many, many pastors, in fact, a Pentecostal bishop said a couple nights ago, President Obama's decision between same-sex marriage or marriage equality is between him and job, but I want my Social Security check, so I'm voting for him.
WHITFIELD: So your message seems very much in concert with the open letter that came out yesterday, Reverends Larry and Sharpton were urging people to support the president, particularly in black churches, saying, quote, "As civil rights leaders, we cannot fight to gain rights for some people and not for others." However, you know, Bishop Pearson, it seems as though there is a real difficult balance that some churches, some church leaders are trying to strike here.
And we just heard it, you know, from Bishop Jackson, to Bishop Jackson, you mentioned you're worried about the sanctity of marriage as a result of opening marriage to gay people.
JACKSON: And I don't think that genuine -- if they really wanted sanctity or everyone to have rights, what about polygamy? What about bigamy? What about my Muslim brothers? It's a very narrow group that's getting theirs, perhaps at the expense of everyone else's.
WHITFIELD: But -- so then the argument is, you know, why is it that, you know, gay people who may be wanting to do the most conservative thing, which is to get married, how would that jeopardize the sanctity of the marriage between a man and a woman, just because gay people want to marry?
JACKSON: It's all an redefinition. Why doesn't a civil union work and other things? What I'm looking at right now is the community all across the board, where marriage has been trashed, look at the Kardashians, look at all kinds of people around the culture.
And you'll find that what we're having is a lack of definition about roles in marriage, men, with women, husband and wife, the responsibilities in marriage, the role of a mother, and it's broiling down to the fact that we're devolving as a culture at a rapid pace.
So why experiment with this foundational institution, because we change families and marriages, you've got to also change education. And in the classrooms, kids are going to be taught, you're gay, tri, or bisexual, rather, or you're in some particular category.
Why encourage all these changes when we can weep things as they are, give another category, not change the name to definition, and outcomes.
WHITFIELD: So Bishop Pearson, I'm going to allow you to have the last word on this. Do you worry that this very discussion undermines what you call to be, you know, the voice of consciousness in the church, or that it even causes and promotes a kind of tuition?
PEARSON: Well, it will pass. Just like prohibition, at one time, just a few years ago, integrated marriage was said to be threatening to the institution. Same-sex marriage is not infectious. It's not contagious.
It will no more affect the institution of marriage than interracial marriage or people shacking together who live next door to you who are not legally married. I think there's a pair-no paranoia behind this, what you fight, you ignite. What you resist, persist.
There are many, many Christians who said, I don't really care. It's not my issue. I want a good job, I want money. What my neighbor does in the privacy of their bedroom. There's a 50 percent divorce rate plus so marriage itself is not working for so many people. Some of these Christians against same-sex marriage have been married twice.
JACKSON: Not me.
WHITFIELD: Thank you so much, gentleman. We're out of time. Unfortunately, we don't have any more time. This is a very short newscast. Thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.
And happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. We have a surprise gift for you and your family, a mom-themed pop quiz, starting with this. Do you mean how many moms are in the U.S.? There are some of your choices. We'll give you the answer, after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Lance Corporal Steel out of Third Marine Air Wing in Afghanistan. I would like to wish my stepmother, Yvette, a happy Mother's Day. I love you, miss you, and can't wait to come home to see you guys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, did you have your mother's day plan all set, way ahead of time, or wait until the last minute. Fess up. Millions of families are celebrating today. Josh Levs is here with the surprising facts about moms in America. We're both moms here. So we're here to listen.
JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm learning from this. I did not know. I'm putting you on the spot on Mother's Day. How nice is that?
During the break, I did get an -- for the nice things I've done at home for my wife. Let's do these fast, because then I have a little surprise for you guys, a little gift.
How many mothers are there in America? The choices are 50 million, 70 million, or 85 million?
WHITFIELD: I go with the big number, 85 million.
LEVS: You are both correct, very good, according to the census, 85 million moms in America. We'll do one more. In which state do moms have the most babies, on average? You've got Nebraska, Utah, and California?
WHITFIELD: I'll go with Utah.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll go with California, just because it's such a huge state.
LEVS: Well, Fred got that one. It's Utah. And it's on average 2.5 births for each mom in the state, and the lowest is Vermont at 1.6. All right, just a couple questions. I promised you guys a little surprise. I've always got to bring a surprise. We've got two moms on the show here.
Take a look, special video just for mother's day. Here's the first one.
Jib jab going wild for mother's day. Fred's not like this, but some days we all have to be like this as parents, right?
LEVS: And I like that you gave me hips. I never thought that. Now, Jacqui, this one for you.
This one is so ultra cool, I got this one for Fred too. Let's go to this last video and then we'll -- there you are, Fred.
WHITFIELD: My gosh, this is hilarious.
LEVS: Thanks to the folks at jibjab links to everything up on my page.
WHITFIELD: That's a great gift. Love it. Thank you.
LEVS: Happy Mother's Day, moms.
WHITFIELD: Very fun. Now we've got to the groove on out of here, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Go ahead.
WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, guys. We'll see you again in a little bit.
LEVS: You got it.
WHITFIELD: Back now to reports of new waves of violence in Syria. CNN's Anderson Cooper is in the region reporting on the turmoil in Syria and he is joining us right now on the phone.
So Anderson, you have visited Syrian refugee camps along the borders. What can you tell us about your observations?
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN'S "AC 360" (via telephone): Fredricka, I spent the day in two different Syrian refugee camps, and many people feel that they've been forgotten by the international community, that not a lot of interest has been paid to what's happening in Syria.
You go to these refugee camps, and just about everybody, every family has lost some members of their family. They show you pictures and the bodies of their children who were killed in demonstrations or killed in the fighting.
It's obviously a really disturbing and difficult thing to witness. And you know, they're just hoping that attention continues to be paid and attention grows on the situation inside Syria and that something is able to change, to something that will force the regime and Bashar Al Assad to change and frankly to step down from power.
WHITFIELD: All right, Anderson Cooper, thanks so much. We'll be watching to see more of your reporting Monday night, reporting live from the Syrian region.
Watch "AC 360" live from the Syrian border with Turkey, CNN, Monday night, 8:00 Eastern Time. And I'll be back in one hour with a look at the influence of the Mormon faith in D.C.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I grew up in a family of eight children, four girls, four boys. I went to college at Brigham Young University in Utah and after that, I decided to strike my fortune in the world in Washington, D.C.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Whether or not Mitt Romney were to win in November, our nation's capital is a major Mormon stronghold. Stay with CNN. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. "YOUR MONEY" starts right after this.