Nothing Wrong With Prayer — But It’s Not Enough.

Nothing Wrong With Prayer — But It’s Not Enough.

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Me having to write this is almost as tragic as you all having to read it. But, things are what they are in 2018.

As a lawyer, when I have argued cases before this state’s appellate and supreme courts, I have had to force myself to think strategically.

That is, when I made an argument, I had to not only consider its implications for the present, but I also had to give considerable thought to its ancillary and collateral implications in the future.

For instance, if I argued that certain laws and statutes of limitations should be applied retroactively to aid marginalized workers in this state, I also had to be aware that my argument could be used in the future to call for the retroactive application of another statute that would harm the marginalized in the future.

Such is the case in the spiritual setting as well.  I can’t very well teach my congregation about self reliance in a sermon series one month, and then turn around and extol the virtues of completely relying on God the next, without reconciling the two.

In our world, particularly in America, we have witnessed enough mass shootings by home grown, good all-American terrorists, to make us numb.

In fact, in 2017, there were 346 mass shootings in this country. And to date, there have been 34 in 2018.

And our response has been predictable. We offer thoughts and prayers to the victims. We hold rallys and prayer vigils. We allow the NRA to tell us that it is too soon to discuss gun control. If the shooter is a white man, we humanize him, call the incident “an isolated incident,” and call for attention to be paid mental health issues.

And honestly, our collective response to mass shootings has become so predictable, that the young activists and leaders calling for action in the wake of the recent mass shooting in Broward County, Florida, assailed it before we could even begin to respond.

Before the current president of this country, and his conservative friends could tweet out “thoughts and prayers” to the families of victims of the mass shooting, these young leaders were eating them alive.

One young leader’s tweet expressed the sentiment of so many: “17 people are dead. 17 of my classmates are dead. I don’t need your thoughts and prayers. I want action.”

And as faithful people, as good people, as Christians, we are as outraged about this formulaic response to mass shootings as every outraged young leader.

We are sickened. We want action. We want the people elected to come up with solutions to, well, come up with solutions.

We are tempted to join in decrying “thoughts and prayers.”  It’s mighty temping.

But, let me offer this word in support of prayer and a caution against condemning prayer.

It is not prayer that is the enemy. Rather, it is the people who are offering the prayers who are the problem.

Let me explain. Where I come from, prayer works just fine. In fact, prayer is swell.

There has been no movement in my community that has been initiated, survived, or thrived without prayer. Before Harriet Tubman would lead groups of slaves to freedom, she would lead them first in prayer.

When Thurgood Marshall was touring the south and building cases against segregation, churches covered him in prayer.

Before Rosa got on the bus, before Martin marched off to meet destiny, they prayed.

Entire households, entire communities, entire nations have been fortified by prayer. Prayer does in fact work.

They prayed and then they acted.

The individuals who are sending “thoughts and prayers” today after each mass shooting are doing no such thing.

They are praying and not acting. They are using prayer as a punchline they can laugh about later in private meetings.  They are using prayer in precisely the manner in which Jesus tells us not to in the Sermon on the Mount.

I don’t blame young leaders for being angry. I’m angry too. But, our beef isn’t with prayer, it’s with the leaders who are offering words and prayer with no action.

So, let’s pray together. And then let’s change the world.

This opinion column reflects the view of its author and not necessarily the views of Madison365, its staff or board of directors.

Written by Rev. David Hart

Rev. David Hart

Rev. David Hart is a pastor, attorney, and author living in Madison.

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