Jeb Bush and Chris Christie weigh in on Charleston shootings at religious conservative conference

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Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush walks on stage to speak at the Road to Majority 2015 convention in Washington on Friday, June 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential 2016 contender, both spoke at length Friday morning about the killing of nine worshippers at a church in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday evening.

Speaking to religious conservatives at the annual Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington, Bush and Christie lamented the shootings and called for Americans to pray for the families of the victims. Bush came under some criticism on Twitter for saying he did not “know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes.”

“But I do know what was in the heart of the victims,” Bush said. “They were meeting in brotherhood and sisterhood in that church. … They were praying. They were learning and studying the word of the Lord, to find grace in his kingdom, to fill his house with love.”

Bush spokesman Tim Miller responded to the criticism by saying Bush was focused on giving “tribute to the victims” and said that “of course” he thinks the shooting was racially motivated, as the alleged gunman Dylann Roof reportedly said.

Christie said of the shooting, “Laws can’t change this.”

“This type of conduct is something that only our display of our own love and good faith that’s in our heart can change,” he said.

Here are the full remarks by Bush and Christie.

Bush:

Before I start my remarks, I’d like to pause — and I know many of you are concerned with what happened in Charleston.

In fact, I was traveling to campaign in Charleston the day before yesterday; got in at 11 o'clock at night. And we saw the tragic story and our hotel was literally a block away from the AME Church. And it was not appropriate to continue to campaign.

But it is appropriate to mourn, because we know that a house of God is a house of peace and brotherhood, and the violence that took place in that church just breaks our heart. And this was an evil act of aggression.

I don’t know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes, but I do know — I do know what was in the heart of the victims.

They were meeting in brotherhood and sisterhood in that church.

They were — it was Wednesday evening. They were praying. They were learning and studying the word of the Lord, to find grace in his kingdom, to fill his house with love. And in times like these, in times of great national mourning, people of faith, all of us must come together and at least reflect on this, and fortify our strength and love of Christ, love of God, to be able to continue to go forth.

I don’t know about you, but this has had a big impact on me, and I’m sure it has with you.

We need to support each other. We must continue to bear witness to the truth that God acts through us. And that even in crisis, even in desperate times, we can always walk upright as brothers and sisters and look to the heavens and know that we’re children of God.

That gives us all strength. And I know that your hearts and prayers are with the families and with the pastor who lost their life. And let’s hope it never, ever, ever happens again.

Christie:

Life is precious. And we learned that again in South Carolina.

The idea that anyone, that any human being, would walk into a church and sit there for an hour and pray with people that he intended to murder is depraved, unthinkable.

We can’t put our minds around conduct like that, can we?

And so, I want to conclude with this. … There’s nothing more important today than taking as many moments as you can to pray for the families of those victims: good, decent people who care about their church, who love God and their families, who work for their communities, who served in public life, and were cut down by someone who was depraved and disturbed and who seemingly has now confessed to the crime.

In fact, he has said he spared one of his victims and told her, “I’m not going to kill you because I want you to be alive to tell people what happened here.” This type of conduct is something that only our display of our own love and good faith that’s in our heart can change.

Laws can’t change this.

Only the good will and the love of the American people can let those folks know that that act was unacceptable, disgraceful and that we need to do more to show each other that we love each other.

Open our chest, open our hearts, and show love to each other — that’s what leadership is about, too.

And so I pray for those families today, and I suspect you will too. And if we can have the power of our prayers and the power of our conduct, be an example to those who have hate in their hearts, then we’ll do what we need to do to make our communities, states and our country a better place.

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