This headline has captured attention not only in America, but also the major Australian newspapers, and because the local media are engrossed I am picking up the story. I don’t like the headline, but I understand it, and I have sympathy for those who had the audacity to write it.
Next week it will have been three years since the Sandy Hook massacre, when 20 children and 6 adults were shot dead in an Elementary School. The act left us shocked and horrified, even in Australia, and I remember thinking, surely this will change the minds of Americans about their guns laws. Three years on, and there is a mass shooting almost every day of the year in the United States, with latest being the appalling shooting murders of 14 people in San Bernadino, California. It is little wonder that gaskets are blowing and voices screaming for action. In this way, I understand the front page of the New York Daily News.
No one likes platitudes but we all use them. Perhaps a reason for this dependance on blah phrases is because of the politically correct prison that we have erected around society, both in America and in Australia. We fall back to language that is deemed acceptable and palatable. This also partially explains why the New York Daily News headline is so shocking, because they’re torn up book of etiquette.
And then there is the hypocrisy of tweeting about praying. I don’t have access into the hearts of those men and women whose tweets have been published, but I wouldn’t be surprised should much of it be sanctimonious public talk, although some of it genuine and sincere. Apart from the hypocrisy of “praying” to God when you know that for the other 99% of life, you couldn’t care less about God, there is also a hypocrisy when people who are in position to effect change, won’t. I am no expert in American cultural studies, and so I want to resist throwing around more platitudes about guns and violence. What is obvious, is that the gunmen are to blame. From where I stand, it seems to me that having such easy access to firearms, including assault weapons, borders on insanity. Given that, one can understand the frustration and even anger of many Americans: don’t pray, take action.
But can’t we do both?
There are times when the only thing we can do is pray. I’m not suggesting that this is the case for those in the sights of the Daily News, but for many people it will be. And prayer is not a useless activity, that is, if we are praying to the God who made and continues to oversee this astonishing universe, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. The way prayer works is less to do with convincing God about what we want and need, as it is about having our hearts so that our lives increasingly conform to God’s heart. That means, prayer is more needed than we realise. If we pray, ‘your kingdom come and your will be done’, then surely we will seek more deeply and intently the things that conform to God’s character. That will have enormous implications for how we ‘love our neighbour’. Pray more and more will be done, that is, when our prayers are not simply platitudes or hypocrisy, for which Jesus himself warns about repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount.
“prayer is not a useless activity”
From our distance here in Australia, the picture we are seeing is one where cultural Christianity is unravelling in the United States, and the public (as in Australia) don’t have the framework for distinguishing between biblical and civic religion. The headline, for example, assumes that God is on the side of particular politicians, or at least that politicians believe that God is on their side!
“God isn’t fixing this”?
There is a problem in the United States but it isn’t God, it’s people and money and politics. If America is anything like Australia, then the issue is our unwillingness to listen to the God of the Bible, and I don’t mean taking out pithy verses and misapplying them to our own ends, but deeply engaging in the teaching and significance of Jesus Christ. What does it mean to ‘love our neighbour’, as Jesus taught? What does it mean to ‘weep with those who are weeping?’ What does it mean to forgive our enemies? What does Jesus mean when he says, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’?