Prayer Shaming and the Church Shooting
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.