OWAAT February 18: On the Wisdom of Thoughts, Prayers, and Actions

One of the reasons why “think, pray, act” came to me as the right name for this site is because people of faith – Christians in particular, in my experience – tend to say, when something terrible happens, “You are in my thoughts and prayers,” or “I’ll pray for you.” Now I would never denigrate prayer as a response to something terrible happening. People of faith should connect with God often in life, through all of life’s seasons and experiences. But when our response to most of life, including the terrible things that happen in life, is limited to keeping someone in our thoughts and prayers, or thinking and praying about a situation, we are missing something in the Christian experience: mission – our purpose, and action, doing something about a situation that reflects our purpose. I hope to inspire people beyond a solely “thoughts and prayers” type of faith to live thoughtful, prayerful, active lives of faith and understand how powerful we are, especially when we work together for God’s good. While I don’t make an exclusive claim to know what God’s good is, I can point it out where I see it and help people consider ways to see it for themselves. In the same manner, I think it’s also important to point out evils where I see them and note what I have found as helpful faith-based ways of framing them.

I write this shortly after the 17th mass shooting in the United States in 2018.  We need to talk about these “unspeakable tragedies” because if it’s never “the right time,” then what we are agreeing to on a societal level is to give those who believe it is their right to violently vent their rage upon innocent people a pass to do that. I find it incredibly fascinating at how readily politicians beholden to the pro-gun lobby offer up “thoughts and prayers” to the most recent round of gun violence victims and their families, invoking the sentiment of deep sympathy without taking any meaningful action toward reconciliation with those who are wronged by our current gun policies.

While I am neither an expert on guns or gun violence, what I can do is present thoughtful theological perspectives and resources on gun violence that provide Christians with things to consider as we continue a long and messy conversation about gun violence in the US. I post this not to convert those who believe that the Second Amendment right to bear arms (in conjunction with “a well regulated militia”) trumps United States citizens’ unalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but to help people of faith who find our current societal narrative about gun violence unacceptable respond to it in God-honoring ways.

Daily Bible readings:

February 18 – Proverbs 26
February 19  – Proverbs 27
February 20 – Proverbs 28
February 21 – Proverbs 29
February 22 – Proverbs 30-31
February 23 – Ecclesiastes 1
February 24 – Ecclesiastes 2

Think:

I think that those of us who would make meaningful change in gun legislation would do well to understand why people who love guns and the 2nd Amendment love them so much. While we may not agree with their reasons, it is helpful for us to be able to engage with people on issues that matter to them. Some may see this as a kind of defeat, but I see it as a third way forward. For instance, if we consider that the point of the 2nd Amendment is for US citizens to be able to defend ourselves from a tyrannical government, what are all the ways in which we can do that? What does tyranny look like in our government today? And the question that plagues me, how many killings of innocent people with lives and dreams are we willing to accept as collateral damage for our right to bear arms?

I also wonder how well-regulated our militia of US gun owners is when some who join by becoming a gun owner use their guns not to protect the US population against tyranny, but instead subject Americans to the tyranny of their violent, lethal rage and the tyranny of not knowing when the next violent attack will come. How much of this tyranny is acceptable as gun owners seek to defend themselves from governmental tyranny?

Christians have a moral obligation to be intentional in their perspectives on guns and other weaponry to wrestle with the ambiguities that exist between the human inclination toward self-defense and Jesus. John Piper, Chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, states, “…no book of the Bible wrestles with this more directly than 1 Peter, and the overwhelming thrust of that book is this: ‘As you suffer patiently and even joyfully for your faith, do so much good that people will ask a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).’ I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket.”

Pray: 

One of the weakest arguments for why gun violence happens in schools is that “we’ve kicked God out of schools.” It is also blatantly untrue. Students may legally pray in public schools, but schools may not sponsor prayer or other religious events. Students may form prayer or other religious groups that meet after school, but teachers and other staff may not. This rule recognizes and respects American students’ right to religious freedom.

As we continue on in our February prayer practice of praying according to Martin Luther’s Four-Stranded Garland, we understand the importance of daily prayer to open our whole selves to God’s will at the same time we understand that prayer is one part of this opening. How does prayer prepare you to act on God’s will for your life, and to resist the powers of evil?

Act:

While some Christians who own guns believe that not owning them causes those who don’t to be subject to the mercy of government and/or submit to criminal acts, Christians who arm themselves with guns may find themselves jumping through exegetical hoops in seeking harmony with Jesus. What I love about faith-based community organizing is that it gives Christians biblically, theologically consistent ways to resist oppression and tyranny.  Dennis Jacobsen discusses power as we understand it in FBCO. “Organizers teach strategic principles of power. … But we must not sacrifice the power of our principles. We seek healing, shared power, shared wealth, nonviolence, and radical community. Our tactics must exert power in ways that will bring both physical and spiritual liberation. We need both: the principles of power and the power of principles. To exercise the principles of power without the power of principles leads to tyranny. To live out the power of principles without the principles of power leads to sentimentality. Together the principles of power and the power of principles can lead us to justice.” (p. 89)

In what ways do your beliefs help you to resist tyranny and oppression?

Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for ideas and things to do.

Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working to live out their dreams of a more just world!

What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.

Resources:

“Faith vs. Fear: A Faith Response to Gun Violence; A 5-Part Bible Study.” United Church of Christ, n.d. http://www.uccfiles.com/pdf/faith-vs-fear-bible-study.pdf.

“God Not Guns Sabbath: Worship Guide.” Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2007. https://www.greatplainsumc.org/files/mercy_justice/gunviolence/sabathguide_08.pdf.

“Religion In Public Schools.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State, n.d. https://www.au.org/resources/publications/religion-in-public-schools.

Jacobsen, Dennis A. Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing, 2nd Edition. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017.

Leithart, Peter. “Luther on Lent.” Leithart at Patheos, 23 February 2012. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/leithart/2012/02/luther-on-lent/.

Luther, Martin. “A Simple Way to Pray (…for Master Peter the Barber).” Pages 193–211 in Luther’s Works: Devotional Writings II. Vol. 43 of. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1535. http://www.lbdsoftware.com/A%20Simple%20Way%20to%20Pray%20-%20Martin%20Luther.pdf.

Piper, John. “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?” Desiring God, 22 December 2015. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/should-christians-be-encouraged-to-arm-themselves.
Washington Theological Consortium. “Religion and Gun Violence,” n.d. https://washtheocon.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Christian-Churches-and-Gun-Violence-3.pdf.

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