Jamie D. Aten on the El Paso and Dayton Mass Shootings: Christians Must Act as Well as Pray

Mourners gather at a vigil following a nearby mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Multiple people in Ohio were killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Jamie D. Aten is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College and a founding signer of the Prayers and Action petition. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

On the heels of the California food festival mass shooting in Gilroy, two more senseless shootings occurred within roughly twelve hours of each other over the weekend in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

Collectively, these back-to-back murderous acts of gun violence have left 29 dead and at least 53 injured. Many Americans, grieving across our nation, will want to help but feel helpless to do so in the aftermath of these shocking events.

One doesn’t have to look any further than social media feeds to see countless posts from well-meaning people offering “thoughts and prayers,” a phrase that has become a common condolence used in the public square in the aftermath of a mass shooting. Because we are at a loss for what to say — let alone do — after these tragedies occur, it can be tempting to offer trite platitudes.

But this does more to help ourselves deal with fear and discomfort than it does to help those who have been impacted.

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has been used so commonly that there has been public backlash of late — and for good reason. For many, the phrase has become nothing more than an empty cliché, as oftentimes no further action is taken by the person offering up said “thoughts and prayers,” especially among prominent Christian public figures and influencers who tend to invoke it.

It is understandable that the phrase often triggers a negative reaction and comes across as nothing more than a soothing sound bite. As a Christian, I even find myself quick to judge “thoughts and prayers” sometimes as a shallow statement following the latest mass shooting.

However, it is important to remember that for many Christians, prayer is more than a mere afterthought. Rather, Christianity teaches that praying is one of the most powerful ways people can help. When Christians authentically offer up prayers in the aftermath of a senseless act of gun violence, it’s more than a meaningless gesture.

Within the Christian tradition, prayer is a pathway to God. Throughout the Scriptures, there are examples of the faithful calling out for divine help on behalf of others facing hardship and hurt and of God hearing and responding to their prayers.

As a praying Christian and disaster psychologist who has studied numerous mass shootings and has provided trauma care in the aftermath of the Aurora, Illinois, shooting, I would argue that prayer is not the problem — how we have prayed is the real problem.

Many are quick to offer words but slow to act — if at all — and therein lies the rub.

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Source: Religion News Service