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Jesus is a Prayer Shamer

These mass shootings are starting to seem routine.

In the wake of the San Bernardino murders, all the politicians and talking heads were behaving predictably. Those who support more gun regulations were using the shooting as another opportunity to press that point home. Friends of the NRA were doing everything they could to avoid touching the question of why it’s so easy for murderers and terrorists to get their hands on assault weapons.

Then The New York Daily News disrupted the whole conversation by publishing this:

God Isn't Fixing This

Immediately, pro-gun partisans cried fowl. This was “prayer shaming“. An assault on faith. Maybe even a new front on the War on Christmas.

It’s interesting how different our interpretations can be sometimes.

I’ll admit, the headline is pretty troubling from a theological perspective: GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS. As a follower of Jesus, I believe exactly the opposite. My faith teaches me that God is the only one who can mend this mess.

But then I keep reading on to the sub heading: “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.” Well, that just sounds a lot like the Bible.

The Bible’s prophetic tradition has no time for cheap expressions of religiosity in the face of suffering and evil. God is fed up with people who “draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote.

Jesus himself quotes this passage from Isaiah when speaking to the Pharisees, the most devout and religious people in his time period. He calls out the religious leaders of his day in ways very similar to last week’s headline in The New York Daily News. He denounces the many ways in which pundits and politicians mouth pious words and humanitarian sentiments but do nothing to address the daily injustices experienced by ordinary people.

These leaders are those who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger.” They’re the ones who say all the right words while failing to act. They say “peace, peace!” where there is no peace. They dress the wound of our people as if it were not serious.

As strange as it may seem, The New York Daily News may have actually gotten this one right, from a Christian perspective. A snowflake or Christmas tree on our coffee cup isn’t going to make our country a more Christian society. Religious words and calculated condolences aren’t going to restore God’s peace to our streets. The religion of Jesus and the prophets is a sincere faith expressed through positive action for change.

In the words of James, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Thoughts and prayers don’t cut it. Neither does self-righteousness.

What would it take for all of us – Red State and Blue State – to seek peace and pursue it? What would it look like for us to practice a public faith that is focused more on compassion and less on being right? How can we become more like Jesus, willing to stand up to the hypocrites who mouth the words of God in order to deceive and distort?

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  • Olivia

    Awesome.
    Biblical too.

  • Kristine Rowland

    DOOD. How awesome. Wow, thank you Micah <3

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Kristine! 🙂

  • Lara

    Thanks for the post Micah, I have been following your blog for a few months now as I learn about Quakerism: theology, history, organizations, values, ect. Sounds like as a practicing Quaker, you place a heavy amount of authority in the scriptures. And you clearly have leading to work in social justice and grassroots organizing. I find your grounding in the bible distinctly different from my views of Quaker theology and peace work. I’m curious about your opinions about centering social justice work in the Quaker peace testimony vs. the scriptures? Is this a strategic move-have you found one more useful than the other? How do the two inform one another? I am curious to learn more.

    • Hi, Lara. Thanks for reading!

      For me, there is no distinction between centering social justice work in the Quaker peace testimony or in the Scriptures. The early Quaker commitment to peace was firmly rooted in their understanding of the Scriptures. There would be no peace testimony without the inspiration of Scripture.

      Early Quakers viewed the Scriptures as being the written testimony of God, and Jesus as being the living Word of God. I find this understanding compelling today, and my experience of God comes alive more and more as I search the Scriptures and invite Christ to teach me.

      So I say “yes” to the peace testimony as an authentic witness of the same Spirit who inspired the authors of the Bible – the early church and the prophets!

  • Dan

    Hi Micah, I wanted to start by thanking you for your
    thoughts. I’ve been talking with several friends recently about what it means
    to live one’s faith and to do so with integrity. You cover a lot about where
    the issue is now and where it ought to go, but I’m curious about your thoughts
    on the why. Why is it so easy for people like this to give these statements
    without any more direct action? It seems like a fairly common reaction to
    tragedies even though we primarily hear about the politicians who do it since
    they’re already in the spotlight. Do you think that the mass coverage offered
    by social media has peoples’ ability or desire to step forward during times of
    crisis?