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This article was written on 13 Jun 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Prayer is NOT a substitute for action

‘All you can do now is pray.’ This is a sentence I’ve heard a lot of since the attack on the gay nightclub in Orlando and it’s also one that I’ve heard a lot of when I’ve been volunteering on the streets. And it never, never ceases to appal me. The German theologian Dorothee Soelle had an idea that we are called to be the hands, eyes and mouths of a God who does not have them, and it’s a belief I subscribe to. This means that ‘all you can do now is pray’ is an absolute and utter abnegation of divine responsibility that is, essentially, cowardice.

The first time I heard it, at least in a way that sticks in my mind, there were two groups of men squaring up to each other at about three in the morning when I was volunteering a couple of years ago. There was a clear imperative there, that we walk over and help to de-escalate the situation, only pulling back when punches started being thrown. I would have done that and I don’t give a rat’s arse about putting myself in harm’s way. I’ll do it in a heartbeat, for all that I’m crapping myself. Instead, the leader decreed that we stand apart from them and said those immortal words: ‘all we can do is pray.’

No, it wasn’t all we could do. We were already outside and on the streets, demonstrating that, or so I thought, we were prepared to get our hands dirty. And I’ve had my hands dirty more times than I care to mention, in a very literal way, with people throwing up over them or grubbing around in the dirt while I try and help them. That’s what I’m there to do and, if I cared about having dirty hands, I’d not put myself in that position. I’d be a bloody rubbish Christian, mind, but that’s by the by.

So once you’ve put yourself in a position where you can help, you need to start providing that help or get out of the way. We should have gone over, even if it would have been pointless, because that, right there, would be where God was. He wouldn’t have had us stand on the other side of the street, talking to ourselves when there was a situation that was crying out for our intervention, and so it proves with legislators, gibbering about ‘standing with Orlando.’

You’re not ‘standing with’ anyone. You’re gibbering vague pieties on the internet and then having a nice breakfast before getting on with your day. If you wanted to do something, actually do something, you’d pass gun control legislation that doesn’t let homophobes and other hateful idiots get hold of firearms and you’d very publicly disavow homophobia. You wouldn’t, say, share Bible verses pulled out of context which suggested that death in a terrorist massacre was a punishment or share a platform with a total and utter barking homophobe, claiming to be a minister of God, who wanted gay people dead. No, you might not do that, because you’d look like a complete and utter hypocrite.

Just as the men being about to fight was a very, very micro situation, this calls for action, of which prayer is a part, but cannot be the main focus. Where does that leave faith? If you break your leg, will someone rush over and, rather than trying to fix it or call an ambulance, simply pray over it, expecting it to mend itself? No, that’d rightly be regarded as bizarre. When people call on legislators to fix a problem and instead they pray, that to me is equally bizarre. You’re walking out on what your responsibilities are in favour of a show of piety.

God does not want us to do that. He wants us to get involved. He wants us to start fixing the problem that is causing His children’s life to be taken from them in an horrific way. When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus had died, He wept, even though he knew that Lazarus had believed in him and would have eternal life in Christ. Jesus didn’t weep, dry his eyes and then have a coffee. He raised him from the dead. We can’t do that, clearly, but if Christians live a Christ-like life, then they’re supposed to act, for pity’s sakes, not mumble pieties.

I have never, ever felt more alienated from Christian thought than I do at present. When people are counselling prayerful inaction rather than active help, I get off the bus. This is something that I cannot get behind. At all. There is is a vigil tonight in Old Compton Street. I will be there. And so, for that matter, will God, who grieves with His children. I have given $20 to the aid fund and, as I’m not a US citizen, I can’t do anything else other than show solidarity with my gay brothers and sisters because that, people, is what I’m supposed to do. In fact, it’s the least of what I’m supposed to do. If I could think of more ways to help, then I would. But this is what presents itself to me, and it’s what I’m going to do.

One Comment

  1. Victoria
    13th June 2016

    Brilliantly written piece.
    To paraphrase Amnesty, it is better to light a candle than pray for a light bulb.
    Thank you for taking action. It may seem like our actions are small and insignificant, but together all our tiny actions add up to something much bigger.

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