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Politicians who pray only for show deserve criticism

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By Ernesto Tinajero

Another day in America, and another gun mass shooting. Earlier this month a gunman in California went on a deadly rampage, even trying to get into an elementary school. With only (ONLY) five dead and 18 wounded it hardly move the media needle, though. Mass shootings in American being so common that a death has to be much higher to get any attention. As a follower of Jesus, I pray that we act to stop this violence.

Many politicians who did register the shooting, again sent their thoughts and prayer. As a writer here at SpokaneFāVS puts it, that’s what Christians do. He took issue with the criticism of politicians proudly proclaiming their thoughts and prayer for the victims as a substitution for any action to stop the gun madness of our county. So any criticism, he argued, of politicians sending prayers is a direct attack on Christianity. Christians pray he said, so deal with it was the point of his post. His post in turn angered and then sadden me. 

What saddens me was the misunderstanding of the criticism of the public prayer of politicians. The author took it as an attack on Christianity and Christian prayer, but the criticism is aimed at the politicians who sit down and beat their chest for the world to see  publicly sending prayers and then do nothing to stem the violence. As it has been shown so many times, the U.S. is the only developed country that suffers from so many frequent mass shootings. There are strategies to stem that tide like closing the gun show loophole, stronger background checks and so on. Becoming more critical of the politicians who proclaim public prayer and do little is not fundamentally an attack on Christian prayer. Far from, in fact. 

The whole controversy brought back to me what a wise rabbi wrote about the topic. Though, to be fair, many conservatives in his day have called him far too radical to be taken seriously. And his writings, unfortunately also include the harsh name calling of his opponents that the FāVS’ found so offensive. His point was that those who pray so publicly do so more to show their community they are pious and less to actually engage God. They get their reward in approval from their target audience and that is the purpose of their public prayer. Actually engaging God does not enter into their so-called act of prayer. Though the rabbi’s words are far more powerful and I hope we listen to them:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  – Matt 6:5-7

Join SpokaneFāVS for a Coffee Talk on the “Role of Prayer” on 10 a.m., Dec. 2 in the Jepson Center at Gonzaga University. 

Ernesto Tinajero
Ernesto Tinajero
Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.

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