Praying in (and for) a Prayer Shaming Culture
December 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
An increasingly secular culture is growing increasingly intolerant of a reflex of prayer in the midst of tragedy, which is expected. But we should all be intolerant of prayers offered as “meaningless platitudes,” a popular sentiment that arose on social media following the horrible attack at the San Bernadino Center for the Developmentally Disabled.
What makes the tweeting or posting of “thoughts and prayers” meaningless? To secularists, prayer itself is meaningless because they’re inclined to think no one is listening on the other end. Even the prayers of victims and their coworkers are just reactions to fear. But for the rest of us, “meaningless” comes in the form of saying you will pray and not actually doing it.
In politics, there is probably a lot of truth to such “prayer shaming” sentiment as the NY Daily News’ recent editorial condemnation of prayers as “meaningless platitudes,” which was aimed exclusively at GOP presidential candidates.
Of course, President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, and other democrats have offered and encouraged prayer in response to the San Bernadino killings and other tragedies, while they have almost in the same breath insisted that “thoughts and prayers are not enough.” But publicly offering prayers in tragic times is not unique to Republicans or conservatives or even Christians.
Whether it’s sincere is another question. And we could perhaps gauge the sincerity of “thoughts and prayers” by whether they are coming from someone who lives thoughtfully and prayerfully, but that’s really not ours to judge.
Jesus had things to say about those who “do not practice what they preach.” (Matt. 23:3) In Matthew 6, He warned about prayer for public recognition of piety: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. … And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matt. 6:1,5)
A Christian’s concern, first, is that when we say we will pray for someone, that we do actually pray for them, and never offer it solely as a public relations move. That’s not to say a political candidate shouldn’t offer sentiments of prayer in times like these. But his or her lifestyle should also be that of one who prays.
Secondly, in a culture of “prayer shaming” secularism, Christians should pray without shame, both for those who are suffering and those who shame us for praying for them.
Finally, prayer shouldn’t be the end of our responsibility. Prayer changes us, reminds us of who God is, and opens our eyes to what we should then do. We should pray not as a substitute for action, but as a precursor to it.