Jesus is a prayer-shamer

Dec 9, 2015 by

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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:

NYDNcover

Immediately, pro-gun partisans cried foul. 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.” (Isaiah 29:13)

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.” (Matthew 23:4) 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. (Jeremiah 6:14)

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.” (James 1:27) 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?

Micah Bales is a writer, teacher, and grassroots Christian leader based in Washington, D.C. He is a founding member of Friends of Jesus, a new Quaker community, and has been an organizer with the Occupy movement. You can read more of his work at www.micahbales.com or follow him on Twitter.


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