"What a good man," President Barack Obama said of South Carolina State Sen. and Rev. Clementa Pinckney during his eulogy of the slain pastor Friday afternoon.
"Sometimes I think that's the best thing to hope for when you're eulogized," Obama said. "After all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man. You don't have to be of high station to be a good man. A preacher by 13, pastor by 18, public service by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith."
The president spoke at the funeral service at the TD Arena on the College of Charleston campus, which filled to capacity, leaving thousands outside the arena to be turned away to find alternate locations to view the service.
"The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere, and have faith in things not seen," Obama said. He quoted Hebrews 11:13, saying, "'They were still living in faith when they died,' Scripture tells us. 'They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting they were foreigners and strangers on earth.'"
Obama called Pinckney "a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance; a man of service who persevered, knowing full well he would not receive all those things he was promised because he believed those efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed."
"Rev. Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean nor small," the president said. "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 someone else's shoes and see through their eyes."
Listing the names of the nine people slain on June 17 inside the Emanuel AME Church following a Bible study, Obama called them good, decent, God-fearing people.
"Each were at different stations of life, but bound together by a common commitment to God," he said. "People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, who persevered. People of great faith.
Obama said the nation shares the grief of the families of the victims of the shooting.
"God has visited grace upon us," he said, "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."
Obama said for too long, we have been blind to the pain the flag caused to some of our citizens.
"It's true a flag didn't cause these murders, but as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats now acknowledge, including Gov. Haley, whose recent elloquence on the subject is worthy of praise, as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride."
Obama said removing the flag from the capitol grounds would not be an act of political correctness or an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers.
"It would simply be an acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong," he said to cheers from the crowd. "By taking down that flag, we express God's grace. But I don't think God wants us to stop there."
Obama said we should ask tough questions about how past injustices have shaped the present, citing issues like children languishing in povery and attending dilapidated schools, and what we're doing to cause of some children to hate; injustices in the criminal justice system, the training of police officers and gun violence.
"Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don't realize it, 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. "So that we search our hearts when we consider laws that make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote, by recognizing our common humanity, by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what's necessary to make opportunity real for every American. By doing that, we express God's grace."
"None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight," Obama said. "Every time something like this happens, somebody says, 'We have to have a conversation on race.' We talk a lot about race. There's no shortcut. And we don't need more talk."
"None of us should believe a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy; it will not," he said. "People of good will will continue to debate the merits of various policies as our democracy requires. It 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 Rev. Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again."
Obama ended the eulogy by an impromptu chrous of "Amazing Grace," and the entire audience joined in. He listed each of the victims, saying each one had found that grace through the example of their lives.
"They've now passed it onto us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift as long as our lives endure," the president said. "May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed his grace on the United States of America."
Emanuel AME Church Interim Pastor Norvel Goff recognized some of the dignitaries present, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Charleston Major Joe Riley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and Former Sec. of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Goff then turned his attention to Pinckney's widow and children.
"I want you to know the world has come to you and to South Carolina for the poise and dignity...the family has demonstrated in how we handle our grief," Goff said. "But we hold on to our faith. No weapon formed against us, no evil can separate us from the love of God," he added, paraphrasing portions of Isaiah 54 and Romans 8.
South Carolina Senate Chaplain James I. St. John offered a prayer in honor of Pinckney and the other eight victims of the June 17 shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church.
"As we gather here in this arena in Charleston today with hearts still bruised and hurting by the horrific events of Wednesday night a week ago at Mother Emanuel Church, we know that we absolutely must turn to you, that you, Dear God, are our source of consolation," St. John said.
South Carolina state Sen. Gerald Malloy called Pinckney "a prodigy walking amongst us."
"We will always miss our friend," Malloy said. "But know this: Sen. Pinckney, without a doubt, loved you. He loved people. He loved serving people. He answered life's most pervasive question, and that is, 'What are you doing for others?' He loved helping people. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from. He extended a helping hand to all walks of life. That's just the kind of man he was."
Malloy said because of Pinckney's death, the state would see the Confederate flag come down, a statement that brought cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.
"You're the one that did it," he said. "It's coming down."
Malloy said Pinckney's service included championing greater access of health care for the poor by Medicaid expansion, rallied against predatory lending practices and access to the voting booth for all citizens and pushed for body cameras for law enforcement officers.
"It seemed his voice always had the greatest impact when it was used for the voiceless," Malloy said. "Perhaps that's why it resonates with us."
"Sen. Pinckney's last act as a Christian and as a senator was to open his doors to someone who he did not know, who he did not understand, and who did not look like him. So in the days and weeks ahead, let us not close the doors that Sen. Pinckney gave his life for us to open. Do not give into temptation and let anger and resentment close those doors that Sen. Pinckney opened. Do not let race, religion or politics close the doors to dialog that Sen. Pinckney opened to help make us a better people. And do not close the doors to the word that Clem insisted we hear: to love each other, to forgive, even when it's hard to do, and to care for the least of these," Malloy said.
"Clemtenta was more than a friend, he was like a son to me," South Carolina state Rep. and Rev. Joseph Neal said. "I want you to understand that when hate abruptly ends the life of someone special, it seems we quickly respond. It's our nature to come together, ignoring all that divides, and to repudiate hate. In times like these, we mourn the life that was so devalued in these senseless killings, but we make a point to affirm that all lives matter."