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The hypocrisy of ‘prayer shaming’ after San Bernardino

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Just a few weeks ago, in the wake of Islamic State terrorist attacks on Paris, New York Daily News writers scolded Republicans for attempting to keep Syrian refugees out of the United States. “This is not who we are,” conservative commentator S.E. Cupp wrote in one column, arguing — like many others — that America should not abandon a long and noble tradition (helping asylum seekers) just because it cannot completely insure against future danger.

Today, the front page of the Daily News looks like this:

Between the headline and the dismissal of Republicans’ prayers as “meaningless platitudes,” the implication is clear: We shouldn’t waste time on prayer, because it obviously can’t prevent mass shootings.

Or, put another way: We should abandon a long and noble tradition (praying) because it cannot completely insure against future danger.

The hypocrisy is striking — and not only because some who are now "prayer shaming" have in the past offered the same "thoughts and prayers" themselves.

The Daily News isn’t alone here. The Huffington Post rounded up the tweeted prayers of (mostly) Republican lawmakers and suggested they are “useless.” A subhead on the story declared that praying in the aftermath of mass shootings “seems to have been an ineffective strategy so far.”

At ThinkProgress, LGBT editor Zack Ford (with whom I went to college and for whom I have great respect) posted a series of tweets about the futility of prayer.

Both HuffPo and ThinkProgress also published stories that argued against blocking Syrian refugees.

Perhaps the No. 1 problem with prayer shaming is that it is misunderstands the purpose of prayer. As any prayerful person will tell you, God isn’t a wish-granting genie. People don’t pray because they expect God to make their lives — or the world — perfect. They make requests, sure, but they understand that God might have different plans. Mostly they pray for God to influence them, not the other way around.

So, it makes little sense to stop praying because the results aren’t always good; that’s not the point.

But it makes even less sense to tell people to stop praying if you’re also telling them to keep accepting refugees. If you believe it is right to help the huddled masses, you keep doing it even knowing that some small percentage of them could be evildoers -- as even the White House has flatly acknowledged. And if you believe it is right to pray, you keep doing it even knowing there is probably more violence to come.

[What we lose when we prayer shame politicians after a mass shooting]

Now, heavenly prayer without Earthly action is just as illogical as welcoming refugees without thorough vetting. Both situations call for principle and practice. After San Bernardino, many are echoing what President Obama said in October, following a different mass shooting: “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

He’s right, of course. When Noah knew the flood was coming, he didn’t just pray for the rain to stop. He built the ark. In the same way, lawmakers shouldn't hide behind prayer, using it as an excuse to do nothing else.

But the fact that prayer alone won’t stop mass shootings doesn’t mean it has no place in times of tragedy.

Note: I reached out to Ford while writing this post and received this thoughtful response:

Thanks for using my tweets and for the note!

I can’t agree with your premise. Taking refugees is a good thing because it can tangibly be assessed as a good thing. The effect on someone’s life is immediately measurable.

Prayer is the opposite. It literally does nothing. You might believe it does something, but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Studies on intercessory prayer have largely found that it has zero effect or only a placebo effect.

The result of prayer isn’t bad. It’s just nothing (and thus wasted time). I’m always going to criticize it as such. If you want change, advocate for change. Look for solutions like the many successful gun violence prevention measures that other countries like Australia and the UK have passed and demand your lawmaker support them. We’ve had a lot of tragedies and a lot of prayer, and the prayer just ain’t changing a damn thing.