Historic Day in America

A reflection on events from last week by Thornton Kirby.

If you're like me, you've been captivated by the recent news coverage of three major stories. And for good reason.

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. Because we work in healthcare, we've been focused almost exclusively on the King v. Burwell case. But the same-sex decision is a landmark ruling, and decades from now it will stand out as one of the Supreme Court's most profound rulings ever. We're witnessing history in the making.

That evening, we also watched the closing chapters of one of the most dramatic prison escapes in American history. The ensuing manhunt has been unprecedented in scope, and it seems likely this three-week crisis will change the way our nation manages its prison populations. Another profound news story.

But the one I personally found most significant was President Obama's eulogy for our own Senator Clementa Pinckney in Charleston.

I'm 50 years old, and I've seen a lot of presidential speeches. Perhaps it's because this speech took place in South Carolina. Perhaps it's because I was less than six blocks away from the scene when the shooting happened. Perhaps it's because I was blessed to know Sen. Pinckney.

Most likely it's because of the extraordinary response we saw from the victims' families and the residents of Charleston. Whatever the reason, I was profoundly moved as I listened to the President of the United States speak of the grace shown by our fellow South Carolinians.

Presidents don't talk about their religious beliefs very often. And even when they do, they almost never reveal the depth of their beliefs as the President did today. The eulogy he delivered would have been significant for this reason alone. But he went further. The President called for all Americans to show the same grace to each other that the families of the Charleston nine showed the killer of their loved ones.

Our fellow South Carolinians have been raised up as the model for how all Americans should treat each other, and there's an irony here that cannot be overlooked.

South Carolina was heavily invested in the slave trade; ours was one of the wealthiest states prior to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. But with emancipation—the long overdue end to slavery—South Carolina lost much of its wealth. We have been one of the poorest states ever since, and we are often the convenient stereotype for racism in America.

It is this Charleston, and this South Carolina, that was raised up by our nation's highest leader as the model for how the American people should treat each other. I didn't miss the significance of the President's comments, and I want to be sure you didn't either. Our state—often the subject of ridicule and racial stereotypes—transcended its own history this week. And the entire world knows it.

The funerals in Charleston are closing one chapter of this terrible ordeal in our nation's history. But it's important that we not let the significance of these events escape us.

We're witnessing God at work in the world around us. The Bible is full of parables and lessons about mercy and grace. Last week in Charleston these two scriptural principles came to life. We learned that a hate-filled killer had shown no mercy to the members of Mother Emanuel church. And then, less than 48 hours later, we saw the victims' families demonstrate God's grace by offering the killer their forgiveness.

And nine days later the President of the United States told the world that the people of Charleston and the state of South Carolina were the model for how we should all embrace each other with love and a spirit of unity.

Last week was truly remarkable, and it's one I will never forget. I pray you found joy and meaning in it as well.

Thornton Kirby

President & CEO, South Carolina Hospital Association