Sometimes Prayer Hurts

160616_rectorSometimes prayer is not enough.

Sometimes prayer actually causes harm.

On Tuesday I was developing a prayer service for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando on Sunday morning. We will hold this prayer vigil on Thursday night at 7:00PM here at St. Dunstan’s Church. So, I was reading through various articles and FaceBook posts as I was thinking about this vigil, and I kept seeing posts that confused and upset me. Posts from LGBTQ people angry at “allies” for their prayers and condolences in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando. Some of these were written by people I know and respect. Why would anger be turned in this direction? That evening I raised the issue with my son-in-law Michael. Here is what he said:

I think that most people are not frustrated at prayers or Christianity or religion in general; rather, they are frustrated specifically at this language coming from our nation’s religious and conservative policymakers, who offer prayers all the time while simultaneously refusing to enact significant policy change…

There is also frustration because people/policymakers offer their thoughts and prayers to the LGBT community, and then do things like enact legislation restricting restroom use by queer individuals. So people say, which is it? Do folks care about the LGBT community, or fear and hate it? Can you truly feel sorrow at the community’s loss while also suppressing its rights?

James, the brother of Jesus, writes,

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:14-17).

Prayer is beautiful. Prayer is powerful. And yet, prayer that does not change us, change our hearts, change our actions, change the way we live, is dead. Worse. When we pray for someone without offering care, forgiveness, compassion, and love, we can actually do harm. If we pray for someone and leave them vulnerable, hated, hungry, or lost, we may make ourselves feel better, assuaging our own feelings without making a difference for the one who actually is suffering. Prayer that does not lead to action can cause real harm.

Does that mean that we should stop praying? No. But as you pray, ask God to guide you, trust that the Holy Spirit will inspire you to. To paraphrase James, faith and prayer by themselves, if they do not inspire works, are dead.

Yours in Christ,

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