President Obama’s Amazing Grace Eulogy, and the Power of Love at Emanuel AME Church

  President Obama’s “Amazing Grace” eulogy (from ABC News coverage)
It’s been a long time since you could say it was a good week for President Obama.
And for good measure, this was also one for the history books.

In addition to two sweeping Supreme Court decisions on Obamacare and same-sex marriage, the President scored a crucial win in Congress, thanks mostly to well-organized support by Republicans.  He gained full authority to negotiate a sweeping Asia free-trade agreement.  After all the gloom and gridlock of late it was enough to make your head turn.

At the end of the week Obama flew to Charleston, South Carolina to deliver a moving, rousing and eloquent eulogy to Rev. Clementa  Pinckney, who was murdered nine days before at the historic church he led.

The President is very good at this: much better at giving speeches and presiding over somber public ceremonies than the daily grind of governance.  But his even partisan critics cannot deny that Barack Obama’s heartfelt and at times profound remarks on race come from his own lived experience.

During his long address, Mr. Obama evoked the history of black America, through slavery, discrimination and violence. The crowd responded warmly with many “amens”, “yes sirs”, and standing ovations.  There were strains of the church organ and electric guitar.

To the surprise of the congregation and those watching on TV (the three legacy broadcast networks broke into their daytime programing), the President launched forth with a rousing chorus of “Amazing Grace.” His singing may be much better remembered than what he said!

But what moves me the most about what happened in Charleston and elsewhere in recent days has nothing to do with the President words or the  fuss over that blighted Confederate Flag.

It has been the stunning response of the good people of the Emanuel AME Church. After a young white man seized by racial hatred murdered their pastor and eight others in the church basement and devastated their community, they responded with words of love and even forgiveness.

Somewhat incredible you may think.  The increasingly noisy critics of organized Christian religion might stop to ponder that.

This church still stands strong and proud in the belief that love is more powerful than hate. Its open-doors policy to strangers and newcomers remains in place.  As one AME pastor in New Haven, Connecticut told a news reporter, he prefers God’s protection to security guards or surveillance cameras at his church.

One member of the congregation who stood in line for hours before the President’s eulogy said: “I want to be here to show love. You can feel the love, and see the love.”

And love was also front and center at The Supreme Court this week.  The hashtag #lovewins was tweeted more than five million times in the hours after the court’s decision was released.

Writing for the majority in same-sex marriage case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that “no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, devotion, sacrifice and family.”

Every year in late June the major decisions of the Supreme Court are a time for passionate debate about moral and ethical concerns raised in the U.S. Constitution.  This year the  practical importance of love is part of our national conversation. Amen to that.

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