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Putting Faith Over Politics after Tucson Tragedy


Speaking at a nationally televised memorial service Wednesday, President Obama focused on the legacies of those killed and wounded during the shooting Saturday in Tucson, Arizona. The President offered hope while acknowledging the reality of evil.

"Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding," Obama said. "In the words of Job, 'When I looked for light, then came darkness.' Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath."

Obama quoted from Psalm 46 when referring to Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), who was meeting with her constituents when she was shot. "God is within her, she will not fall," Obama said. "God will help her at the break of day."

Obama referred to heaven when he spoke of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed in the shooting. "If there are rain puddles in heaven," Obama said, "Christina is jumping in them today." Green attended St. Odilia Catholic Church in Tucson.

Obama's speech was praised by many—including conservatives and Republicans—as hitting the right tone and message for the event (see here for a list of comments by leading conservatives). American Family Association's Elijah Friedeman said, "It's rare that conservative pundits will give Obama kudos for a speech, but the consensus is virtually unanimous: Obama did a great job." Daniel Burke of Religion News Service looked at how previous presidents have used Scripture in speeches after national tragedies.

Obama's words echoed sentiments expressed by other political leaders. Amidst chattering between pundits, most leaders have taken a break from politics as usual.

CitizenLink's vice president for external relations Tim Goeglin said, "Since the assassination attempt and the other killings, there has been a remarkable unity that has happened. It's as if politics, and maybe temporarily, has been transcended."

Sojourners president Jim Wallis was with Giffords and her husband a week ago at the New Years Renaissance Weekend in South Carolina. She spoke on her contentious campaign fight last November. She is currently the only Democratic woman representing a Republican-leaning district.

"Gabby is always engaging, but never polarizing, and was the least likely person to be targeted by an angry and unhinged man. But she was," said Wallis.

Wallis joined over 50 other faith leaders to sign an open letter to Members of Congress expressing their support for elected officials. The letter also called for a more civil political dialogue. Other signatories included and Joel Hunter (Northland church), Samuel Rodriguez (National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference), and David Gushee and Steven Martin (New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good).

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pushed off a vote on repealing last year's health care law until next week. The business of this week became a resolution on the tragedy in Tucson.

Speaking to the House of Representatives, Boehner said, "The needs of this institution have always risen above partisanship. And what this institution needs right now is strength – holy, uplifting strength. The strength to grieve with the families of the fallen, to pray for the wounded, and to chart a way forward, no matter how painful and difficult it may be."

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