Thoughts and prayers of a different kind

Politicians need to stop waiting for God and thinking. Now is the time for action

May 26, 2022 4:44 am

Photo illustration by Getty images.

After the school shooting in Texas, I realized that I was about the only columnist in America that didn’t talk to my kids about within 24 hours of event.

Sure, I’ll cop to being a mediocre parent, but not for that reason.

Instead, after years – literally decades – of reporting, editing and reading stories about guns being used against children, I’m completely numb. The trauma barely registers and that’s, at best, tacky to say. But, it’s also an urgent indicator of the necessity to do something. That I check social media to see which blusterpot politician can talk about praying and thinking good thoughts is so cynical, while the thought of losing a child to gun violence should consume my attention.

Quite frankly, I am sick and tired of “thoughts and prayers” response.

To quote kids today: Just stop.

If anyone was sincerely committed to thoughts and prayers, the situation would have been radically changed by now. I say this as a gun owner who supports basic checks on our freedom to own guns. Freedom is anarchy and chaos without some measure of responsibility. And, our unyielding worship of guns borders on pathological.

If politicians were sincere about the “thoughts” part, they’d think through the pain of the parents, the loss of innocent lives and devise reasonable solutions and safeguards. After all, guns are like automobiles, implements that can be used to improve our lives, but without reasonable rules and safeguards, they’re killing machines. And yet, every time some politician urges that ol’ “thoughts and prayers” line, they never oblige us with any kind of meaningful thought, discourse or discussion on what they pondered as families planned funerals for their grade-schoolers.

Count me in when it comes to wanting to hear more about their thoughts in relation to school shootings, and why they seem incapable of even the most basic protections.

As far as the prayers portion of the “thoughts-and-prayer” approach, might I suggest the problem isn’t with the approach, but the technique?

Here’s what I mean: Maybe politicians are so used to using their mouths that even during the personal act of praying, they’re not listening. Maybe instead of talking to God, they should listen more.

As much as I would like for politicians not to implicate God in the bargain every time they talk about praying, maybe the problem is too much talking. And even though it’s dangerous, bordering on blasphemous, to assume to know how God may respond in any situation, I would like to think if all those politicians were really praying so earnestly and fervently that they would hear the unmistakable sound of the holy urging them to take action to protect the little children.

After all, it was Jesus who rebuked his disciples saying, “Let the little children come to me; do not harm them.”

For all the biblical ambiguity that exists, Jesus is repeatedly clear on what happens to those who hurt children.

I cannot imagine that even if, in those half-moments of silence as politicians are catching their breath while feverishly praying, God interjects and says, “Protect the Second Amendment at all costs.” That seems incongruent with the same religion that discuses turning swords into ploughshares.

Using the phrase “thoughts and prayers” is a disservice to both, which are vitally important during this discussion. Yet those clever politicians have figured that it is a magical incantation which thwarts more substantive questions from the public hungry for action. Because, you know, no one would be so brazen as to question a politician’s sincerity during a national tragedy. No one would suggest their words are hypocritical, pandering or insincere.

Well, almost no one.

I am dismissing and rejecting any politician – Democrat or Republican – who offers thoughts and prayers as the antidote to gunning down children.

It’s as meaningless and nonsensical as prescribing meditation and scripture for DUI accidents.

Americans get the government they are willing to tolerate, so after all these thoughts and prayers, it’s time to demand more. Leaving it to God is punting responsibility, shifting the problem of gun violence from humans to the supernatural. It has allowed far too many politicians to embrace religion and killing, two ideas diametrically opposed to each other.

Sadly, I fear God has plenty of other work keeping him occupied right now, like welcoming in nearly two dozen children and people who were cut down early in the wake of the Texas tragedy. And I just hope for them and their families that Jesus’ words about kids are absolutely true: For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.