Mass shootings: Prayers and policy changes are not mutually exclusive

You need the prayers because you need the prayerful.

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are overrun — with good reason — by commentary about the Orlando shooting massacre. This is neither surprising nor troubling. What did take me by surprise is the outrage and exasperation aimed at those who wish to #prayforOrlando. “Keep your prayers” they say “we need policy change, not magical thinking.” The sentiment was clearly expressed by this illustration by Wendy MacNaughton, posted by the Brain Pickings Twitter feed:

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Prayer and policy change are mutually exclusive, or so it seems. I don’t know how to segue gracefully into what I have to say so let me lumber into it: Isn’t it “interesting” that the people who are quick to tell believers to shove their prayers where the sun don’t shine are the same ones who are pleading through hashtags and social media posts to “stay strong” , “stand up with” and sending equally magical “healing vibes” and “positive thoughts” to the latest site of terrorist horror as if those could patch-up bullet holes and solve hatred any better than prayers could. We’re content to wring our hands over Trump’s tweets and telling Republican politicians to stuff their prayers where they keep their broomsticks and feel like we’ve done something for the cause when really, all we’ve done is dig ourselves deeper into the silos of intolerance where hatred is hatched.

You know what? Telling believers to shove it with their magical thinking is on the same spectrum of bigotry as religious fanaticism. Different ends, same spectrum. Whether you hate believers or unbelievers, you still hate. You still show an unwillingness to understand, to empathize, to hold hands and find common ground. Across the spectrum we prefer seeing things in the isolation that leaves room for feeling good and justified about our own biases and inconsistencies. To this one it’s about Islamic extremism; to this one it’s about homophobia; to this one it’s about mental illness; to this one it’s about gun control; to this one it’s about Western imperialism; religious right, intolerant left; to everyone it’s about something else than whichever hand they have in maintaining the status quo. This is why we can’t affect the policy change we so dearly need. Policy change requires common ground and common ground is hard to find around the navel area.

We’re all mad here Alice.


7 thoughts on “Mass shootings: Prayers and policy changes are not mutually exclusive

  1. Asking for healing vibes, woo, energy and other such phrases are how queer and otherwise alienated agnostics ask for prayer and support without asking for association with the structures that that have oppressed them. Many GLBTQ people have been spiritually abused by religion or at least made to feel not welcome. Not abused by Christ, but by religious people twisting his Word into hate. It’s not fair of someone outside the GLBTQ community to tell them how to grieve and how to speak in their time of pain and fear.

    1. I agree! But my post is not about people who ask for agnostic signs of support, it’s about people who offer prayer. My point was not to tell the GLBTQ how to feel about prayer, it was addressed to the wider community who will be needed to affect policy change.

    2. Thank you for your message: after I replied it occurred to me that my title was misleading and could be interpreted as an intimation to people grieving to take the prayers whether they believed or not. I can see how this would be hurtful so I’m going to change it to something that reflects my intentions better.

  2. You’ve criticized agnostic displays and focused on those who are critical of prayer. You called those who grief and ask for healing energy as bring hypocritical. What I’m saying, is that prayer has been used to hurt GLBTQ people. Prayer isn’t always trusted. Prayer has been a weapon. It’s natural to want to guard oneself against it. Not all GLBTQ people feel that way, but some certainly do. And the other part of it is that it feels empty. Don’t just pray for society to heal – make society change. Change the gun laws. Make hate crime legislation include GLBTQ people. Make churches include GLBTQ people as leaders. Make a generation of men who don’t fear man on man love to the point of them being poisoned by their fear. Make masculinity exclude violence.
    Prayer seems like an insult when it is all that is offered. Change is needed.
    Faith without works is dead.

    1. I think that my understanding of prayer is very innocent in that I have never experienced it as you describe. Either at the sending level or the receiving level. I can see your point about prayer seeming like an insult. I’m just scared that things will never change if this is how we view our neighbour.

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