The “Thoughts and Prayers” Backlash is Deserved

After so many shootings this year, it just feels like nothing is ever going to change. But after the San Bernardino shooting, there was a decent amount of backlash against the many politicians who responded to the news with a very bland, “thoughts and prayers” tweet. Tweeting “thoughts and prayers” is right up there with American politicians’ favorite past time of making excuses for why we can’t have any sensible firearm legislation.

It should be well understood that this backlash isn’t really an indictment of prayer, but rather a necessary reminder of the problem of prayer without action. Most of the politicians who express the empty “thoughts and prayers” platitude are financed by the NRA, an organization that apparently only exists to ensure that nothing is ever done to curb gun violence. Because, as they will always remind you, some two hundred year old document promises us we can band together in little armies, probably to keep fugitive slaves from overthrowing the plantation. Clearly a model of timeless and relevant legal phrasing.

(Coincidentally, the second amendment specifically uses the phrase “well-regulated.” What happened to that part?)

Idol worship.  (Wikimedia Commons, alterations by Cody Ray Shafer)
Idol worship.
(Wikimedia Commons, alterations by Cody Ray Shafer)

But to my larger point, what is prayer when it is unaccompanied by action? In Mormonism, we are often at odds over fellow Christians over our interpretation of James 2:20 when it comes to salvation; but another, more practical interpretation of that scripture is that it condemns faith for faith’s sake. It is not enough to merely pray, or have faith in a providential God, we must work to accomplish the goals we’ve set. Prayer is tool for strength, wisdom, and discernment. Not a replacement for legislation or solution.

I’ve also heard this idea repeated in firesides, conference talks, and Sunday school lessons. It is not foreign to Mormonism or Christianity. Pope Francis has even said, “Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer.” If that’s true, then anyone who is in a position to actually stand up to the NRA and change something about gun violence in America, and refuses to do so while also publically announcing their prayers, deserves every bit of criticism that comes their way. They are cowards, and the NRA are bullying demagogues.

Frankly, it is disgusting when someone offers a prayer during a gun tragedy while also taking money from the NRA. 

I’m not even saying that we should ban anything or restrict anything. But any action on gun issues would be a good place to start, because there has been none. Prior to yesterday’s shooting, as it’s been widely reported, a team of doctors begged congress to lift a ban on government funded studies of gun violence. I didn’t even know that was a thing, but it is. And it’s stupid. If we can’t even study the problem, nobody has any business praying for it. And then there’s this.

I’m not sure I even understand whatever stupid point he’s making. Is he saying liberals treat the government like a magic fix-it machine? Because if that’s how you think people with pro-functioning government views expect the government to work, I can see why you’d spend so much time arguing for less involvement from government on any issue.

But that’s not why people are turning to the government to regulate and limit gun deaths, but rather because it is the fucking government. Their stated purpose is to maintain law, order, justice, and public safety. Nobody, ever, has ever said they believe the government is a magic fix-it machine. Instead, there have been numerous calls for tightening loopholes on gun sales to prevent people with violent criminal history from accessing them, funding research, mandating background checks, yada yada.

But when you pray to God to solve a serious human problem without taking any steps to become part of that solution, you are treating God exactly like a magic fix-it machine.

I don’t know what will work, all I know is the current reality  is what happens when we don’t even try.

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