Yesterday’s Daily News cover is one more instance of a hand being over played. The “prayer shaming” phenomena is so over wrought, so extreme, and so in opposition to the heart and mind of Americans as to disqualify itself almost on its face. Those that have made the play struggled all day yesterday to justify their hyperbolic, misanthropic false equivalence and in doing so ignored the first rule of holes.
As such, it is tempting to simply move on. But we have learned the hard way in the last 7 years or so that what seems too silly to ever really gain traction can in fact gain traction. So, address it directly we must.
The politicians that talked about the people of San Bernardino being in their “thoughts and prayers” were offering comfort to not only the people of San Bernardino, but to themselves and to their supporters. Prayer shamers did not just advocate for their position; they stepped all over the the thing that was helping people in all walks of life from all over the nation deal with such horrific events.
The shamers could argue that legislation is their coping mechanism and they were only returning an eye for an eye as conservative commentators pointed out how distasteful it was to politicize the events in San Bernardino. If so, I can only comment that it is a deeply impersonal, and selfish, coping mechanism. I doubt very seriously that anyone in San Bernardino, or anyone that loves someone in San Bernardino wanted to hear about legislation in the immediate aftermath of those horrific events. As I said after the horrible shootings in Oregon:
All Obama sees in these events is the gun or guns. He pays lip service to other things, but all he sees is the gun.
The idea in the aftermath of something like San Bernardino should be to focus on the injured and loved ones of the dead and injured, not turn them into props in pursuit of agendas, legislation or politics. If gun control, or any other political agenda, is someone’s means of comfort so be it, but to seek comfort when far removed from the events by dehumanizing the immediate and proximate victims of the events is selfish to say the least.
This prayer shaming ignores the long national tradition of American political leadership calling the nation to prayer in times of celebration and crisis. From FDR leading the nation in prayer on D-Day, to Lincoln’s second inaugural to Nixon asking the ship’s chaplain to thank God for the astronauts safe return after Apollo 11 to Obama after the Umpqua shootings who said:
I hope and pray….
Communal prayer has been the response of this nation to the best and the worst news throughout its history. We don’t all necessarily pray in the same way but prayer has been one of the glues that held this nation together. To now try and use it to tear the nation apart is from an historical viewpoint completely unprecedented.
One of my liberal Christian friends argued with me yesterday that she envisioned God in His heaven screaming at us that while He appreciated our prayers we were His agents and we had to do something. She is right There is shame to be felt if ALL we do is pray. But prayer does not exclude action, nor is the liberal’s action prescription the automatic action. I have a friend that rather tastelessly likes to remark, “We will achieve world peace when everybody eats bacon.” I find that remark inconsiderate of our Jewish friends with whom we coexist quite nicely, but there is wisdom in it.
The male shooter in San Bernardino was born and raised in America. Imagine that sometime during his junior high or high school years he had encountered a Young Life Leader who befriended him. Given the ferocity of Islamic belief conversion to Christianity is unlikely. But Young Life is not the kind of Christian organization that dives straight into conversion efforts. They want to build a bridge of relationship across which the Christian message can flow verbally and non-verbally. So in the end what happens is the shooter and the leader would be friends, even if conversion never occurred.
Now let our thought experiment travel ahead in time. Our young Islamic friend is considering radicalizing. In addition to the influences of his local mosque, his family and his online community, he would have the influence of this Christian friend. Again, conversion is unlikely, but might not that friendship be enough to create compassion in the shooter for his Christian neighbors and that compassion then steer him from radicalization. He might even turn to his Christian friend directly who while not converting him might be able to help him see that radicalization is not the best option.
But in modern America that encounter between a Muslim student and a Young Life leader is very unlikely. Schools so carefully limit the Young Life leaders movements through the student body, for fear that the school would be perceived as “spreading the Christian message,” that the chance of the leader and a young man that clings closely to his religious community ever even meeting is virtually nil.
You want to “do something” about San Bernardino? Well maybe the thing to do is to set free the power of the Christian message in this nation rather than seek to limit it to small buildings on Sunday mornings. Heck, maybe that Christmas creche that is no longer allowed to be displayed on a public street might just have lead to a chance meeting that would have again built a relationship between Muslim and Christian, and the natural compassion that would flow from such a relationship might be enough to turn the tide.
The point is this, the best weapon to fight things like San Bernardino is not legislation, it is people and relationships and the power of alternative ideas. Right now the nation cowers in fear that such alternative ideas might offend the other so we build fences around those ideas and attempt to protect people from them. God just might actually fix this problem if we allowed Him off the leash.