- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Gun-control advocates scoffed at the faithful this week in the wake of the Texas church massacre, insisting that prayer is at best unhelpful and at worst distracting from the important political work still to be done.

Greg Jao, director of external relations for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, said those criticisms misunderstand what prayer is and why Christians pray. He said prayer is “an authentic human reaction” to incomprehensible tragedy, a “cry to God to do something you cannot do yourself” and a way to express “solidarity with people who have been affected.”

“If you believe, as I believe, that prayer is ultimately a conversation with a God who is all-powerful, loving and engaged, then absolutely prayer works,” Mr. Jao said. “Do I believe prayer works in the way my computer works when I turn it on? No. I cannot command Him through prayer to do what I want. I think people who define prayer that way miss what we mean.”

Twenty-six people were killed and 20 wounded Sunday morning when a shooter opened fire on the congregation at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The gunman, Devin Patrick Kelly, was shot twice by a civilian upon fleeing the church, and later was found dead in his vehicle after shooting himself in the head.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott typified the Republican response to the shooting, asking his constituents to pray for those affected. “May God comfort those who’ve lost a loved one, and may God heal the hurt in our communities,” the governor said in a statement.

House Speaker Paul Ryan echoed those sentiments. “The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now,” the Wisconsin Republican said on Twitter.

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, asked on Twitter, “How many kids must die of gun violence on playgrounds & streets every day with no attention at all before we wake up to what’s happening?”

“Thoughts & prayers are not enough, GOP,” Ms. Warren said in another tweet. “We must end this violence. We must stop these tragedies. People are dying while you wait.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said his colleagues’ “cowardice to act cannot be whitewashed by thoughts and prayers.”

Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, walked out of a moment of silence in Congress on Monday, saying he “will not be silent” about the need for “gun safety legislation.”

CNN anchor Don Lemon said the victims of the massacre “were already praying” when they were killed, to no avail.

“Thoughts and prayers did not stop an oversight from the justice system, which enabled a guy who attacked his stepson and assaulted his wife from getting a gun,” Mr. Lemon said Monday. “Thoughts and prayers did not stop a troubled person from buying assault-grade weapons that took the lives of 26 people in an instant.”

On Twitter, former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann told Mr. Ryan to “shove your prayers up your a–- AND DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE BESIDES PLATITUDES AND POWER GRABS.”

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro took issue with Mr. Olbermann’s remark, arguing that the progressive response to mass shootings is “purely platitudinous and is clearly also a power grab.”

He encouraged leaders to continue to call for prayer in response to tragedy, arguing prayer is a natural human reaction to grief and encourages civic virtue.

“We actually believe that prayers do something, they’re not just spewing empty words,” Mr. Shapiro said. “And there is a great irony with all of these people spewing empty words on Twitter and saying, ‘How dare you talk to God? There you are, talking to your imaginary sky being, but here I am on Twitter, tweeting to no one, but I’m doing something because I tweeted.’ I promise you, my prayer did more than your tweet.”

Mr. Jao said prayer and political action are not mutually exclusive. He said Christians have a long track record of activism in the political arena.

“People who say your prayers are worthless unless it manifests politically don’t understand prayer and what it is,” he said. “It’s the most human, instinctive response we have to reach out to an all-powerful God. But I think it actually is appropriate for Christians who are committed to a broad, robust, pro-life ethic, that we would hope our country would reflect that in its laws and behaviors.”

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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