There is no war on prayer: Stop hand-wringing over "prayer shaming" and confront the hypocrisy of empty gestures

Conservatives offering only platitudes like "thoughts and prayers" after San Bernardino need to be called out

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 3, 2015 4:07PM (EST)

  (New York Daily News/<a href=''>KieferPix</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(New York Daily News/KieferPix via Shutterstock/Salon)

We're getting in a real habit of this. We know the drill. In the wake of yet another unfathomable tragedy, another mass murder and more gun violence, there is shock and outrage and an outpouring on social media of expressions of prayer. And then nothing changes. But after Wednesday's deadly rampage in San Bernardino — less than a week after three people were shot and killed at a Colorado Springs, Colorado Planned Parenthood — we have now managed to add a new dimension to the routine. Apparently it's called prayer shaming.

The Atlantic appears to have been the first to discover the phenomenon, exposing it in a Wednesday piece by Emma Green. In it, she pointed out that this time around, political spectators have been taking note of which leaders have called for prayer and which have called for action. "These two reactions, policy-making and praying, are portrayed as mutually exclusive, coming from totally contrasting worldviews," she declared, adding, "Elsewhere on Twitter, full-on prayer shaming set in: Anger about the shooting was turned not toward the perpetrator or perpetrators... but at those who offered their prayers." As evidence, Green cited ThinkProgress' Igor Volsky's detailed series of tweets revealing which politicians were offering prayers — and how much money they've received from the NRA.

But the war on prayer or whatever you want it to call it heated up even further when the Daily News boldly sent out an image of its Thursday cover — screenshots of conservative tweets offering prayers for the San Bernardino victims, accompanied by the headline "GOD ISN'T FIXING THIS: As latest batch of innocent americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes." (In contrast, the New York Post religious take on the tragedy was to splash the words "MUSLIM KILLERS" on its Thursday front page.)

In response, there's been shock at this newfound exasperation at the old "thoughts and prayers" hokey pokey. The Weekly Standard offered a headline that blared, "Liberal Outrage Over Prayers for Shooting Victims." And the American Conservative predictably complained that "We have reached the point in our culture in which leading voices on the Left feel compelled to shout from the rooftops condemnation on Christians for offering something as ordinary and decent as prayers for atrocity victims as a first response to news of the killings. Think about that for a moment. When the simple offering of prayers for the dead and wounded are grounds for spiteful attack, it is hard to avoid wondering just what commonalities bind us as Americans anymore." And Fox & Friends First tweeted out "Prayer Shaming After Mass Shooting: While GOP Calls For Prayers, Mainstream Media Mocks Them."

In her Atlantic piece, Green wrote, "There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence." To which I, as a practicing Christian, would like to retort: No. Nope. Not even close.

After the Paris attacks, the Dalai Lama noted, "Humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it." That's the point here. You want to pray? Knock yourself out. I pray too. But there comes a moment — and by the way, we are long, long past it — when it is reasonable to point the hypocrisy of empty gestures. You know why? Because it's actually offensive for public figures who could take action to curtail gun violence to foist the burden of healing the broken lives that violence leaves behind on God.

It's offensive, after a record breaking Black Friday for gun sales, to go around making shows of piety as if mass shootings are an unavoidable act of nature and not an outgrowth of our revolting, destructive, child murdering national obsession with unrestrained access to killing machines. It's not prayer shaming to say that a lot of us — a lot of us who find comfort in prayer — are sick of the very people whose rhetoric and policies are helping perpetuate a culture of death hiding helplessly behind God whenever blood is shed. Which happens to occur quite often.

And if in the aftermath of the latest mass killing of the week, you're busy being indignant over challenges to how the people who claim to be religious are practicing the values they allegedly espouse, check your empathy levels, because they're looking pretty depleted from here. This is not prayer shaming. What you're witnessing is tragedy exhaustion. It's some long overdue accountability questioning. And until your prayers are backed up with action, until mass murder isn't a daily American occurrence, get used to it. And God help you.

Watch to learn about the correlation between gun sales and mass shootings:
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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Christians Mass Shootings New York Daily News New York Post San Bernadino Shooting Video