Obama’s Grace

When Barack Obama finishes his second term at the end of next year, he will no doubt be criticized for being too cautious in managing certain conflicts in the Middle East or elsewhere. He will also surely face criticism for a lack of audacity in fighting forecasted environmental disasters or financial excesses. However, there is one thing that will not be forgotten: the exceptional moments of grace created by his eloquence of speech and personal character.

On Friday, June 26, at Charleston Methodist Church in South Carolina, the U.S. president gave a speech paying homage to Pastor Clementa Pinckney, who was assassinated along with eight other black churchgoers by a young white man, drunk on racist hatred. Standing at a platform in front of 5,000 people and surrounded by the local clergy who were wearing violet chasubles for mourning, the president spoke the last words of his speech, waited for a few seconds in silence, then, in a fine, deep voice launched into the famous “Amazing Grace,” which was popularized by Mahalia Jackson and later Arlo Guthrie at the Woodstock festival. After a stunned pause in reaction to the president’s initiative, hesitating between happiness and tears, the public joined him to complete the chorus.

Such a scene is clearly impossible in France, where the principle of secularism prevents public officials from expressing their faith. But then why did this scene move us so much? For two reasons, perhaps. First because being secular doesn’t mean being indifferent to the force of sacredness, and the president of the U.S. paying homage in this way to a pastor killed by a fanatic touches the most sacred feelings of the human community. And of course, we must add that this president is the first black president, and in the grace that he sang, we suddenly saw the emergence of an immense cortege of an enslaved people, fighting so long for their dignity. Communism also wanted to emancipate those who were oppressed, but only thought about bread and electricity. Obama remembers the symbols, psalms and songs, which were all the blacks had to share in the cotton fields in the South. Still today, this story moves us to tears.

See video here.

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