“After a mass shooting, politicians ‘shamed’ for offering prayers” read the headline of this BBC article:
“Amidst the news of a mass shooting in California, a lively debate erupted on Twitter over the power and utility of offering “prayers” in the wake of such an event.
It’s political boilerplate to offer “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of violence, and the majority of Republican presidential candidates took this approach after a shooting in California left 14 people dead and more injured.
“Our prayers are with the victims, their families, and the first responders in San Bernardino who willingly go into harm’s way to save others,” wrote Ted Cruz.
Before long, the difference in approach was picked up on social media – and rapidly politicised. What followed was a raging debate, in which Democrat-leaning voices criticised the appropriateness of offering prayers in the face of what many saw as a consequence of “political choice” – the decision not to pass gun reform laws in the US. At the most extreme end, it was dubbed “prayer-shaming“.
“Your “thoughts” should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your “prayers” should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again,” tweeted Senator Chris Murphy representing Connecticut where 28 people, mostly children, were killed in the Sandy Hook shootings…”
Mocking God and Shaming Prayer:
Indeed, to offer prayer without an iota of wanting to follow God’s will is to mock God. The headline “God isn’t fixing this” further shames our feeble engagement with what is on His heart – since He answers prayer for the people by the people of God – those willing to do His will. Thus Ana Marie Cox states on Twitter:
“Don’t mock the sincere offering of prayers. Mock legislative inaction or hypocrisy. But offering a prayer is not offering NOTHING.”
She’s right of course: Offering prayer is not offering NOTHING; but offering prayer instead of taking responsibility, instead of confession, instead of repentance – all this mocks the practice of prayer, and it mocks the God of prayer. All this shames prayer when it is not offered “sincerely”.
To help us with sincerity, there are these old words in the Common Book of Prayer:
We have left undone those things
that we ought to have done;
and we have done those things
that we ought not to have done;
and there is no health in us.
It is a blanket truth of the human condition: “… there is no health in us…” Thus, in this time of unprecedented gun violence, we would do well to offer sincere prayer by exposing true confession:
Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have wandered and strayed from your ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against your holy laws.
We have left undone those things that we ought to have done;
and we have done those things that we ought not to have done;
and there is no health in us.
But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us sinners.
Spare those who confess their faults.
Restore those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that we may live a disciplined, righteous and godly life,
to the glory of your holy name.
For more, see Andy Crouch’s insight on “Thoughts and Prayers.”