Rand Blames Charleston Shooting on ‘People Not Understanding Where Salvation Comes From’

In a speech to evangelicals on Thursday, Rand Paul said the murders in Charleston had to do with a lack of faith.

06.18.15 8:10 PM ET

Rand Paul believes the South Carolina church shooting was caused by  "people not understanding where salvation comes from.”

During a Thursday afternoon speech to evangelical conservatives at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority Conference,” in Washington, D.C., Paul clumsily slipped a remark about the Wednesday night massacre in Charleston, which is being treated as a hate crime by law enforcement, into his comments about poverty and the role of government in society.

“What’s the number one linkage of a problem to poverty in our country?” Paul asked, standing next to the lectern while luncheon attendees picked at salads and pastries beneath the ballroom chandeliers.

The Kentucky Senator and Republican presidential candidate answered his own question, to applause: “The number one link is having kids without being married—but I can’t make you get married.” The solution, Paul offered, would be for “a combination of our religious people, people in government who are religious [and] pastors,” to enforce the notion that marriage is important for society.

Paul then made a sudden pivot to the tragedy in Charleston, offering a strange explanation for what he had referred to earlier in the day as a “senseless tragedy.”

“We had a shooting this morning in South Carolina,” Paul said (the shooting happened last night). “What kind of person goes into church and shoots nine people? There’s a sickness in our country, there’s something terribly wrong, but it isn’t going to be fixed by your government. It’s people straying away, it’s people not understanding where salvation comes from. And I think that if we understand that, we’ll understand and have better expectations of what we get from our government.”

Clarity has never been Paul’s greatest strength. His campaign has not yet responded to a request for clarification of his comment about the shooting, but it seemed like an effort to pander to the religious right by convincing them that he thinks the country’s ills could be fixed if everyone would just believe.

Poverty would vanish if people got married and had families in the way that evangelical conservatives are comfortable with; “Senseless tragedy” would not occur if people understood where salvation comes from as evangelical conservatives do. Paul took 15 minutes to tell the Faith and Freedom crowd something he could have summed up in a single statement: “You’re doing great.”

UPDATE, 6:43: A spokesman for Paul, Sergio Gor, emailed his resposne to a request for clarificaiton: "The government obviously has a necessary role in capturing and punishing murderers - the underlying pathology is not fixable but it is punishable." A request for further clarification has not yet been answered.