State Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney’s life and work, as much as his tragic death, explains why President Barack Obama will speak at his funeral Friday. And why Mrs. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will also be in attendance.
The pastor of Emanuel AME Church as well as a senator, he repeatedly stressed that “I see my public life as an extension of my ministry.”
Members of the Senate saw that just as members of his flock did.
In May he asked his colleagues to support a bill that would require law enforcement officers to wear body cameras. They did.
They knew he was right. Walter Scott’s shooting death by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager had made that clear.
But it was something else he said during those remarks that further defines who Sen. Pinckney was: “Our hearts go out to the Scott family, and our hearts go out to the Slager family, because the Lord teaches us to love all.”
That was why the pastor of Emanuel AME Church welcomed a 21-year-old stranger, to a Bible study eight nights ago. Dylann Roof, that stranger, is charged with the shooting deaths of the Rev. Pinckney and eight others that night.
That might also explain how family members of the victims came to say what they did at a magistrate’s hearing. One after another, in an extraordinary display of grace, they asked God to forgive Dylann Roof. They followed their pastor’s example.
Clementa Pinckney, who came from a long line of ministers, was a teenager when he started in the pulpit. He was 23 when he was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives and 26 when he was elected to the Senate.
As a minister, he came to lead one of the most historic AME churches in the nation. As a legislator, he took on causes to help children and other people without a voice.
A Democrat, he earned bipartisan respect and affection. Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, called him “the most kind, gentle man in the Senate.”
Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, who sat next to him in Senate chambers, said, “He had a core not many of us have. I think of the irony that the most gentle of the 46 of us — the best of the 46 of us in this chamber — is the one who lost his life.”
Steve Skardon, president of the nonprofit Palmetto Project, and the Rev. Pinckney were friends for 18 years.
“To Clem, faith was a way of living every day,” Mr. Skardon said.
He says the Rev. Pinckney was “a quiet giant” at Emanuel. “He always paid attention to who was there, especially those who might appear uncomfortable or lost, and helped them feel at home. Apparently, he died doing exactly that.”
Mr. Skardon says the Rev. Pinckney was a hugger. That was his way of making people feel comfortable with him. “His embrace was more of a monster squeeze. ... If you didn’t feel welcome after that, you’d probably best get your business over with and head for the door.”
The Palmetto Project is administering a special Pinckney Fund for Lowcountry Ministries. Donations will be used to support local initiatives serving his home church, vulnerable populations and youth projects.
In life, Sen. Pinckney worked for social change.
Ironically, it is his death that could lead to a change that people across the Lowcountry and the state are hoping for: Removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.
It would be a fitting tribute — and the right thing for the General Assembly to do — to make sure that he is the last to have lain in state with the Confederate flag flying just outside the Capitol.
Sen. Clementa Pinckney — the Rev. Clementa Pinckney — touched the hearts and minds of people far beyond Charleston and South Carolina.
And he left his world a better place.