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On Friday, Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, sang “Amazing Grace” during his eulogy for pastor Clementa Pinckney—one of the nine victims in the fatal church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina almost two weeks ago. The clergy members present on stage were shocked. It caught them off guard. It caught us off guard too—seeing the Leader of the Free World keying it up with a black church organist on live national television.

His entire speech on Friday was in the key—and cadence—the black community has longed for since the president’s “A More Perfect Union” speech in 2008. Most notably, in that 2008 speech, Obama spoke fondly of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, even after footage leaked of Wright’s now infamous “Confusing God and Government” speech. Obama noted: “I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown the black community.”

The Prodigal President

For many in the black community, Obama did disown us. For some, he disowned us in Ferguson. For others, he disowned us in Baltimore. For many, he disowned us in Staten Island. But was the black community expecting too much from Obama? Did he owe us anything? In a 2012 interview with Black Enterprise, Obama stated: “I’m not the president of black America.” It was a sucker punch for many blacks—a well-placed punch to the gut for those who shed tears on election night in November 2008. He became the black church prodigal, asking for his inheritance, only to squander it in a political pig pen.

To be fair, over the past two years, Obama has created My Brother’s Keeper, a program designed to benefit black and Latino young men. He’s also decried racially biased voter ID provisions and spoken candidly about sentencing disparities for non-violent drug crimes in minority communities. But for some blacks, that just isn’t enough.

The Deacon Moan and Grace

On Friday, Obama discarded the safe, presidential tone and came back home. He channeled the inner black deacon moan, delivering a speech that, at points, roused the most reserved dignitaries present. For 40 minutes, he spoke to mourners about grace. He used the word thirty-six times. He spoke about the grace extended in removing the Confederate flag from state buildings. He spoke about the grace God has extended our nation as a result of the tragedy in Charleston—a grace to see our racial blind spots. He spoke about grace being undeserved and unmerited. He then sang a stanza of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace. And he closed by proclaiming that each of the Charleston shooting victim had found that grace—calling out each one by name.

Short on Grace, Long on Truth

As I listened, I couldn’t help but reflect on God’s grace. The Reformed community is a community of people who believe it has experienced God’s grace. We’ve done nothing to deserve. We’ve done nothing to earn it. It’s a very Reformed thing to say.

But I wonder if some in the Reformed church have, at times, been guilty of being short on grace and long on truth. The Prologue to John’s Gospel details a towering view of Christ as the incarnate Word of God. John also gives us details about Jesus’ earthly ministry. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus was full of grace and truth.

Jesus was all grace and all truth—all the time. He extended grace when it was needed most. A woman caught in adultery. A centurion’s desperate request. He also offered truth when necessary. He condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He rebuked Peter more times than we can count. Grace and truth beautifully meet at a well in Sychar, as Jesus engages a Samaritan woman in conversation—having two strikes against her as a Samaritan and a woman—and speaks to her about her past relationships. Jesus was never short on grace. He was never long on truth.

The Bride’s Mandate

In the months ahead, the Church, as Christ’s bride should be full of the same grace and truth. We should speak the truth…in love. We should be slow the speak…quick to hear. We should live out the Great Commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our culture is shifting, but our truthful witness and love for others should remain steadfast. The gospel demands it.

Even though he was off key, maybe our Prodigal President reminded the Church of something she needed to hear: “[We] once [were] lost, but now [we’re] found…” Found people, find people. Reconciled people, become reconcilers. May our future conversations about contentious topics, including race, gender, marriage, and justice, be filled with both the grace and truth we’ve received from our God and Redeemer—Jesus Christ.

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