President Barack Obama touched on themes of religion, divine grace, racism, and guns in a powerful speech at the funeral of pastor Clementa Pinckney, one of nine black Americans killed inside a Charleston church in an alleged race-motivated shooting last week.
The president mentioned the alleged gunman, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, saying “blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood: the power of God’s grace,” which he said the families of victims showed when they said they would forgive the killer.
But Obama said the tragedy should call Americans to introspection on thorny issues of racism and guns, and ask themselves tough questions.
“Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate,” he said. “For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation .”
The president said no one can expect a transformation of race relations overnight.
“We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk,” said Obama, but at the same time warned against ignoring the issue.
“To avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudices that still infect our society” is “how we lose our way again,” the U.S. leader said.
The eulogy had been much anticipated by observers who said they hoped the president would present a way forward to unite all Americans following the shootings in Charleston, which come not long after race-related disturbances in Baltimore and in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.
“This president has been thoughtful about race. I think he’s been cautious. I think he’s aware of perceptions and wanting to make sure that he’s being the president of the entire United States of America,” said Daniella Gibbs-Leger, a former Obama aide and analyst at the Center for American Progress.
Obama has in the past been criticized by some African-American civic leaders who accuse him of not being forceful enough on matters of race, while others claim his statements on the issue have served to inflame tensions.
The theme of grace dominated the president’s eulogy, which commentators described as one of his most powerful ever. Obama sought to convey a powerful message in a non-inflammatory way.
He ended his 35-minute eulogy by leading the congregation in singing what he said is his favorite church hymn, "Amazing Grace."
Watch the full eulogy: