Religious Minorities

Here’s The Problem With The ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ Response

  Rob Boston

The nation is once again reeling from another mass shooting, this one in Allen, Texas, where a heavily armed man murdered eight people and wounded seven others at a shopping mall.

In the wake of events like this, it’s common for politicians to call for thoughts and prayers for the families of the victims. That’s to be expected, and for religious people, prayer can be a natural reaction to any tragedy.

But there are signs that growing numbers of Americans are getting fed up with the “thoughts and prayers” line spouted by some political leaders because it has become an excuse to not do anything about gun violence.

An Excuse For Doing Nothing

During a CNN interview, U.S. Rep. Keith Self (R-Texas) called for prayer and was asked by the anchor how he’d respond to those people who say “prayers aren’t cutting it.” Self replied, “Well, those are people that don’t believe in an almighty God who is absolutely in control of our lives. I’m a Christian. I believe that he is.”

Let’s put aside the theological questions here. Many Americans – including plenty of religious ones – aren’t angry because politicians are advising us to pray (although that’s not really their job); they are angry because that’s all they’re offering.

Americans United opposes religion being used as the basis for our laws. When state legislators try to ban abortion, strip LGBTQ people of their rights and ban books and justify it by citing biblical passages and quotes from religious leaders, AU is quick to stand up to that.

Religion As A Basis For Inaction

But we also oppose religion being used as a basis for inaction. Although Americans United is not a gun control group, we acknowledge that in this issue, religion and prayer are too often dragged in by Christian Nationalists as a substitute for even talking about doing anything else. (And we should note that this occurs in other issues as well. For example, Christian Nationalists have opposed some social spending programs for the poor, arguing that God will take of people in need or citing Matthew 26:11, and opposed action on the climate crisis because God gave humans dominion over the earth and promised never to flood it again.)

Imagine politicians responding to a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado or earthquake that killed dozens of people by calling for thoughts and prayers, and then doing nothing else. They don’t mobilize FEMA. They don’t send federal aid. They don’t provide food or temporary housing.

Americans would rightfully be furious. This situation is no different. So, yes, some Americans are indeed fed up with politicians’ calls for “thoughts and prayers” as the country deals with the trauma of yet another mass shooting.

Many of those people are not opposed to prayer. They are just weary of it being used as an excuse for our leaders to continue sitting on their hands while the bodies pile up.

Photo: Residents express grief outside a shopping mall in Allen, Texas. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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