The familiarity of yesterday’s breaking news alerts almost muted the shock. Half a church dead, the other half wounded. I’m old enough to remember the Luby’s shooting, which at the time was nearly unimaginable. And we can name the shootings that followed in the next 25 years in a horrific litany: Columbine. Sandy Hook Elementary. Virginia Tech. San Bernardino. Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Las Vegas. And now, hardly before the crime tape was down in Vegas: First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.
The online response comes in three stages and is by this point, sadly, completely predictable:
Stage 1: Thoughts and Prayers
House Speaker Paul Ryan called for prayers.
Stage 2: The Backlash
These range from the political from Senator Elizabeth Warren:
to the full on blast furnace from Wil Wheaton,
(who later tempered his remarks just a bit.)
Stage 3: The Persecution Complex
Christians, offended by the anger against the expression of prayers, start feeling put upon. Such as this example from First Things editor Matthew Schmitz:
And so it goes, back and forth, until the shooting passes from the news cycle either by natural decay or by the violence of yet another tragedy.
I have sympathies on both sides of this one.
I’m a Christian. God tells us to pray. I believe that prayer is effective. I’ve seen it work. Sometimes we pray and God works in direct, miraculous ways. But other times (and in my own limited experience, the majority of the time) we pray, and God works through someone else. Sometimes God even uses us to work out the answer to our own prayers. So I want to be sympathetic with the prayers of Christian political leaders. They go up with my own.
But I’m also sympathetic with the ragers. Wil Wheaton is no Christian. I don’t expect him to believe that prayer is effective. I think he’s angry with Christians like Paul Ryan not because they’re praying, but because they don’t seem to be doing anything else.
I don’t think legislation is the 100% solution to gun violence, but Republican leaders could push for real changes that would help things. To proclaim that you’re praying but then not do whatever else is within your power to address the issue is hypocrisy. And that’s reason enough to anger believers and unbelievers alike.
And to those who immediately start feeling hurt that people are criticizing the church? Maybe it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror. Maybe we deserve that criticism. Maybe we should provide them examples of Christians who are praying and also acting.
As I am finishing up this post, Tyler Huckabee has a twitter thread that captures this a lot more pithily than I have. Here’s how he brings it home: