Rise & Shine - October 08
‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Have Become Fighting Words
Keep your “thoughts and prayers” to yourself.
It’s a growing sentiment online as the now-familiar well wishes flood in following a deadly mass shooting Sunday at a Las Vegas concert. A long-simmering backlash against the phrase condemns it as a useless – or worse – platitude intended to mute calls for action on stronger gun laws.
A man shooting at a Jason Aldean concert from a 32nd-story room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino killed at least 58 people and wounded at least 515 late Sunday night in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, killed himself as police stormed his hotel room. Authorities said he had at least 10 rifles in the hotel room.
President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and others quickly took to Twitter to offer their best wishes to the victims.
Hillary Clinton also posted her condolences, and a call for action, to Twitter.
“Las Vegas, we are grieving with you—the victims, those who lost loved ones, the responders, & all affected by this cold-blooded massacre,” she wrote in a series of tweets. “The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get. Our grief isn't enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.”
Many gun control advocates are becoming increasingly impatient with congress, who are quick to offer thoughts and prayers but slow to offer solutions. Death by gunfire is a tragically American hallmark. U.S. citizens are 21 times more likely to be killed with a firearm than Australians, 16 times more likely than Germans, and six times more likely than Canadians. And Americans are far more prone to being gunned down in groups. This year, through the end of August, there was more than one mass shooting (defined as an incident where at least four people are killed or wounded) per day in the USA.
The National Rifle Association has come under fire as a big part of the problem, contributing money to the campaigns of 54 of the 55 Senators that voted against a recent bill to keep individuals on the government’s terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms. The gun rights organization spent a stupendous $54.4 million in the 2016 election cycle, almost all of it in spending for or against a candidate, but not a direct contribution to a campaign. The money went almost entirely to Republicans to a degree that almost looks like a misprint (but isn’t): Of independent expenditures totaling $52.6 million, Democrats received $265.
Following the Las Vegas shooting, the Trump Whitehouse and members of Congress haven’t been keen on discussing gun control policies. In his address to the nation on Monday, instead of offering specific action, President Trump and his White House team avoided any discussion of policy, as though it were only a spiritual matter. “We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace, and we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.”
Clergy from various religions have been entering the debate. The Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III of the Azusa Christian Community Center near Boston, MA was quoted saying, “If we profess to follow Jesus, all of our talk must be indivisibly connected to all of our deeds. If there are no deeds, then the talk is meaningless. The contrived, empty platitudes [from these politicians] are a public relations gimmick to avoid confronting this ideologically captive religion which bears no fruit.” Jesuit priest James Martin summed it up this way: “If your thoughts and prayers are truly with somebody, it means you are going to do something to help them. Jesus prayed. But he prays and then he acts. We also have to act.”
Kirsten Powers of the “Acts of Faith” blog on the Washington Post wrote of the debate: “It’s not that there is anything wrong with praying for those who are suffering. In fact, if you are a religious believer, it’s an imperative. I’m not in the camp that dismisses prayer as superstitious mumbo-jumbo embraced only by the unenlightened. I’m a person who prays and who has been prayed for and knows its power.” However, she laments, that “Politicians have managed to make a once benign, if not comforting, phrase sound almost profane.”
Regardless of your stance on gun control it is obvious that what happened in Vegas can’t stay in Vegas. So, how can Christians respond to violence?
More on the story can be found at these links:
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (For context, read 2:8-26.)
In this passage James is drawing an inextricable connection between believing and acting. He does not denounce believing, per se, but believing without acting on that belief.
Questions: What belief do you see in the world today that is often unaccompanied by action? What belief without action do you see in your own community? In your own life?
From the Book of Common Prayer Confession of Sin
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
(For context, read BCP p.359.)
Though not a scriptural passage, it is telling that the confession of sin used in our Liturgy of the Eucharistic as well as in our Daily Office specifically asks for forgiveness for the sins we have committed ‘by what we have left undone.’
Questions: Is there a difference in gravity between things we have done and things we have left undone? Who, ultimately, do we seek to place blame on for things left undone after events like that which happened in Las Vegas?
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for
in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same
(For context, read 2:1-6.)
In this passage Paul is imploring the Romans to look first at their own faults before they seek to pass judgment. One could imagine that, though everyone sins and everyone has done something wrong, in Paul’s time there were many seeking their own righteousness by blaming others.
Questions: What do you find yourself judging others for which, perhaps, you can find some form of culpability in yourself? What kind of blame is there to pass around for gun violence? How are Christians specifically culpable?
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (For context, read 8:18-27.)
This passage is taken from a chapter in Romans where Paul is recognizing the difficulty that the people are going through. Paul is instructing the Romans to continue to hope and pray, even if they are unaware of what hope exists or for what they are praying.
Questions: What hope do you see in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting that might seem hidden? Is it fair to take the thoughts and prayers offered by others and prescribe the idea that they do not know that for which they pray?
Prayer for Congress (BCP p.821)
O God, the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and
gracious, and whose law is truth: We ask you so to guide
and bless our Senators and Representatives in Congress
assembled, that they may enact such laws as shall please you,
to the glory of your Name and the welfare of this people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.