Barack Obama was equal parts president, preacher, and mourner on Friday (June 26) when he eulogized his late friend Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims of last week's Charleston church massacre.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 5,000 at the College of Charleston’s TD Arena — just a block away from the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Rev. Pinckney and eight other victims were killed on June 17 — Obama delivered an impassioned eulogy that paid tribute to the reverend’s life and work, while also touching on issues of racism and gun control.
Here are 8 of the most important and moving parts of the president’s eulogy:
He remembered Rev. Pinckney as a faithful, empathetic man.
First and foremost, Obama spoke highly of Rev. Pinckney, a 41-year-old state lawmaker and pastor of the church, as well as a father of two.
"We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith," Obama began his 40-minute eulogy. “Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for… to just say somebody was a good man.”
He went on to praise the reverend’s empathy as well as “his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor — all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation. […] Preacher by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set.”
He also honored the other eight victims of the shooting.
Obama highlighted all nine victims’ devotion to their faith, saying they were "each at different stations in life but bound together by a common commitment to God.”
"Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people," Obama added. "People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race and persevered, people of great faith. To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief.”
He spoke about alleged killer Dylann Roof, saying he couldn’t have comprehended the grace shown to him by the victims.
The 21-year-old was supposedly motivated by racial hatred, and Obama said Roof had hoped to “terrorize and oppress” — but “God has different ideas.”
“Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group,” the president said. “The light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court, in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.”
He addressed the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag.
The confederate flag — a traditional symbol of the Confederacy that still flies at the South Carolina State House — has come under heavy debate recently, and Obama passionately called for its removal.
"By taking down that flag we express God's grace," he said. “For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag has caused.”
He spoke candidly about the country’s racial injustices.
The president received a standing ovation when he asked us to recognize our common humanity, regardless of skin color.
“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can affect us even when we don’t realize it,” he said. “So that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview, but not Jamal.”
He said America has been “blind” to gun violence.
Obama also took the opportunity to renew the call for gun safety measures, saying Americans have a “moral choice” to change gun laws.
"By making the moral choice to change if it will save even one precious life, we express God’s grace,” he said. "The vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners, want to do something about this.”
He beautifully sang “Amazing Grace.”
In perhaps the most moving moment of his eulogy, the president finished by breaking into song, leading the crowd in a rendition of the gospel hymn “Amazing Grace.”
"If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything could change. Amazing grace," he said before beginning to sing. He concluded, “May God continue to shed his grace on the Unites States of America.”
Lastly, he called for further action.
Obama said the Charleston massacre "has allowed us to see where we've been blind,” and that we can’t just go back to “business as usual” after such a tragedy — rather, things need to change.
"It would be a betrayal of everything Rev. Pinckney stood for if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again," Obama said. "[God has] once more given us grace, but it's up to us now to make the most of it.”