Obama eulogy focuses on God's grace, race relations & gun control

by Kimberly Pennington, National Correspondent |
U.S. President Barack Obama leads mourners in singing the song "Amazing Grace" as he delivers a eulogy in honor of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney during funeral services for Pinckney in Charleston, South Carolina June 26, 2015. Pinckney is one of nine victims of a mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. | REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Christian Examiner) -- Hours after praising the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, President Barack Obama touched on the themes of God's grace, prejudice, gun control, and history while eulogizing slain Mother Emanuel AME pastor Clementa Pinckney on Friday (June 26).

Pinckney, 41, and eight other church members died June 17 when a gunman opened fire in their church following Bible study.

Obama commended Pinckney's work as a state senator and the manner in which he conducted himself as a politician.

"As a senator, he represented . . . a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America," said Obama who heralded Pinckney as a team player.

"Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean, nor small. He conducted himself quietly, and kindly, and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone, but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes," the President remarked.

Obama said as a pastor, Pinckney set an example of the relationship between faith and works.

"He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words; that the 'sweet hour of prayer' actually lasts the whole week long – that to put our faith in action is more than individual salvation, it's about our collective salvation; that to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society," he said.

The President turned to the topic of God's grace – something he said the alleged shooter likely never expected to receive from families of those who died.

"This whole week, I've been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals – the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found; was blind but now I see," Obama said.

"According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It's not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God – as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings," the President continued.

"As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we've been blind. He has given us the chance, where we've been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other – but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He's once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift," Obama said.

Obama explained this blindness was displayed in lack of understanding of the pain the Confederate flag causes African Americans: "By taking down that flag, we express God's grace," he said.

He also named poverty, gun violence, race relations in general, and racial prejudice in the job market and criminal justice system as other areas of blindness to which God's grace needed to be applied.

"People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies, as our democracy requires – this is a big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates. Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete.

"But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again," the President said.

He closed by singing Amazing Grace with the congregation joining him. "May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America," the President concluded.

Obama's speech drew praise from some media personnel but mixed reaction from others for not including concerns of GLBT activists with his words on race relations.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told ABC News on Sunday that while parts of the eulogy were "brilliant," it was too political.

"There were times when I think he strayed into more of a political agenda rather than a true eulogy," Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, said. "I presided at a lot of funerals 30 years ago and before, and I never used it as an occasion to do anything other than to focus on the person and the qualities of that person who was deceased -- and not to make it a time of cause."