BreakPoint: Prayer Shaming and the Church Shooting

Choosing Policy over God

Prayer, it seems, is no longer a politically acceptable response to tragedy. Instead, we’re being told to put our trust in something else.

As I record this, just days after the horrific massacre at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a massacre which claimed 26 lives and wounded 20 others, authorities continue to piece together the motives of the young male who perpetrated this act of terror. Apparently, it was a revenge shooting at the church his mother-in-law attended, though she was not there on that Sunday morning.

The victims ranged in age from a baby in utero to 77 years, and included more than one family that lost multiple members and the pastor’s 14 year-old daughter. Most of the victims were, according to reports, children.

As happens at every mass shooting, there are those committed to superimposing their own narratives on the tragic events. In fact, some, as happens at every mass shooting, have found a way to even implicate Christians.

This time that way is what Emma Green of the Atlantic Monthly dubbed, after the San Bernadino shooting, “prayer shaming.” This refers to comments in both social and conventional media that criticize those who say that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

The epitome of “prayer shaming” was a front page story in the New York Daily News after the San Bernadino shooting, which read “God Isn’t Fixing This,” and called talk of prayer “meaningless platitudes.” As Rod Dreher rightly commented then, these kinds of statements “reveal a total lack of understanding of what religious people believe, and why.”

They also reveal the extent to which, as my “BreakPoint This Week” co-host Ed Stetzer often has put it, Christians have lost “home-field advantage” that we may have had in the culture.

Until last week, saying that you were praying for someone was seen an act of kindness, even if the other person didn’t believe in the efficacy of prayer. For example, the late atheist Christopher Hitchens thanked the people who were praying for him after he was diagnosed with the cancer that would ultimately take his life, and Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” criticized British theaters for refusing to run a Church of England ad about the Lord’s Prayer. He said, “If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.”

While I would never call prayer “trivial,” I can’t help but notice how two of the leading public atheists of recent memory were more gracious about prayer than many American activists who want us to “do something.”

Of course, what they assume in the process is that 1) we know what that “something to do” is, and 2), that this “something” will actually solve the problem.

And it’s precisely here that the technocratic worldview of many activists and critics is revealed for what it is. Their faith, while not in prayer, is in something else. Namely, that all human problems and challenges, such as climate change, gun violence, and even terrorism, are problems that can be solved if only we apply the right techniques, which these days are almost always political steps: i.e., passing the right laws or public policies.

In this worldview, the world and all of its complexities can be reduced to mathematical models, and can thus be controlled by our best ideas and efforts. All of our problems, the logic continues, can be, if not eliminated, at least ameliorated.

But it’s a worldview that consistently fails. In the run-up to the financial crisis of 2008, Wall Street honestly believed it had mathematically solved the problem of risk. But it hadn’t. And there’s no reason to believe that the “something” the critics of prayer are advocating will reduce, much less stop, the kind of carnage we continue to see across our nation.

As the psalmist put it, nations continue to rage and people continue to plot in vain, but it’s the Lord alone, that can “make us dwell in safety.” So Christian, keep praying.

 

 

Prayer Shaming and the Church Shooting: Choosing Policy over God

Join with the Body of Christ as we continue to pray for individuals and families, for our nation and our world. We place our trust in God, and put into practice what the psalmist wrote when he entreated the Lord, “Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry!” Psalm 88:2

Resources

Prayer Shaming: The View From Jesusland
  • Rod Dreher | The American Conservative | December 3, 2015
The Power of Prayer: And the Prayer of Power
  • R. A. Torrey | Zondervan Publishing Company
The Ministry of Intercessory Prayer
  • Andrew Murray | Bethany House Publishers

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  • Just One Voice

    Amen! Thinking of Colossians 4:2-4 right now: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

  • Phoenix1977

    “The epitome of “prayer shaming” was a front page story in the New York Daily News after the San Bernadino shooting, which read “God Isn’t Fixing This,” and called talk of prayer “meaningless platitudes.” As Rod Dreher rightly commented then, these kinds of statements “reveal a total lack of understanding of what religious people believe, and why.””
    Yes, Rod Dreher is absolutely right. No one in his or her right mind can understand why your god, who is supposedly almighty, prefers to let 26 people die in a church (where they were to worship him to begin with) after allowing 56 to die a month before in Las Vegas and 51 a year earlier in Orlando, not to mention all the deaths, injured and loss of pretty much everything in hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters. Let alone why someone experiencing this kind of loss prays to the same god who allowed them to suffer in the first place.

    “Of course, what they assume in the process is that 1) we know what that “something to do” is, and 2), that this “something” will actually solve the problem.”
    Well, when talking about gun violence a growing group of people already knows what to do since Columbine High School: restrict access to firearms. It isn’t rocket science: without guns no gun violence. Without the possibility to legally own a gun everyone owning a gun is automatically a criminal that can be dealt with.
    And no, we don’t know if this “something” with solve the problem. We do know, after almost 20 years of mass shootings in schools, malls, bars, concerts and now churches doing nothing solves absolutely nothing.

    “As the psalmist put it, nations continue to rage and people continue to plot in vain, but it’s the Lord alone, that can “make us dwell in safety.” So Christian, keep praying.”
    And so far your god has such a wonderful track record in keeping his followers safe. So you keep praying. Others prefer to actually, indeed, do something, anything, which at least has the potential to get results.

    • HpO

      “Results”, you say? Yeah, right. US government & corporations won’t touch their $8 billion (circa 2015) firearms industry, no matter what you do with your advocacies. Guns are the American apple pie, donchano. Dream on, buddy. I’d rather pray because I know my God & my Jesus are able to destroy that industry with a snap of Their fingers.

  • gladys1071

    i agree with your statement 100%. I do sometimes struggle with the suffering here in this world and how to reconcile that with God.

    It is a great mystery for sure, and I think God is a great mystery too, his ways are so much higher than ours, we cannot fathom them.

    • “I do sometimes struggle with the suffering here in this world and how to reconcile that with God.”

      Firstly, don’t believe something occurred just because you heard it on television and the police go along with the charade. Recall Serpico? Secondly, God gave man free will, meaning if someone chooses to commit evil, that person does so to satisfy Satan, and there is little God can do in such a case. Why then did God create such a person, one may ask? Because the alternative would have achieved more evil in the world. As omniscient, God does all he can to lessen the degree of evil in the world, while at the same time intervening periodically to fine-tune events, e.g. a person necessary for the completion of God’s will one day be walking across a particular street and suddenly stops for no reason. If that person had taken just another step, the individual would have been struck and killed by a car. That’s how God directly intervenes in our world.