When deranged gunman Devin Kelly walked into a small community church in a tiny rural Texas town on Sunday and killed the pastor's daughter and wife along with 26 other innocent parishioners, including an 18-month old baby, our hearts cried out in anguish. No one should have to suffer such evil, and no family should have to experience the anguish of loved ones dying so violently, so senselessly.
The people who died during that church service deserve our prayers. But even more importantly, all of us who are praying for them need to feel like we are doing something to help. None of the people sitting comfortably and observing from a distance were the first responders, nor are we the valiant heroes who chased the gunman from the church and risked their own lives defending their community. There is nothing we can do to prevent the tragedy that unfolded Sutherland Springs this past Sunday. But as people of faith we can pray.
As prayers went out on social media, some from politicians and other well-wishers, the issue of guns and their regulation rose predictably to the forefront of the debate, especially on social media. Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu was widely and vociferously attacked by his own constituents for merely ‘praying’ for the victims, but failing to pass gun regulations through Congress. Republican senators and members of Congress such as John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE, who sent out prayers for the victim on Twitter, were roundly mocked with "memes" depicting contributions their political campaigns have received from the gun lobby. The implication was clear: That by praying for the victims while at the same time advocating for gun rights, they were exhibiting some unpardonable hypocrisy.
I agree my prior tweet could be better. So here: I pray for the victims in TX. Also, screw the @NRA & can you help Dems take back the House.— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) November 5, 2017
They were in church. They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else.— Michael McKean (@MJMcKean) November 5, 2017
Gun advocates insist: only prayer can mitigate human evil. Policy is futile. Except in every other advanced democracy, where it works— David Frum (@davidfrum) November 6, 2017
And yet the very same people who widely critiqued pro-gun politicians, called President Trump despicable names for inferring that a terrorist attack carried out last week in New York City could have been prevented if the diversity visa immigration program had been halted. In one act of violence, people blamed the most proximate instrument used by the criminal — guns. But with regards to the other act of violence, others blamed immigration policy.
The political debate over whether one policy or another will mitigate the ravages wrought by the acts of evil humans will continue to rage on. Prayers could not have prevented either tragedy, that is true. But prayers do work. They work in affirming our belief in a higher power. They work in that we offer up to God the way to salvation — a solution that we, as human, beings, despite our laws, policies and technologies — often cannot fathom.
The media is quick to pounce on salient political themes whenever a sensationalized tragedy grabs our attention, however fleetingly. Politicians are all too eager to grandstand on one political platform or another whenever the ensuing controversy begins to roil. We tend to lose sight of the facts amidst the media-enabled din, and give in to senseless blaming and shaming. The fact is that mass gun violence is exceedingly rare in America. Contrast our nation to our immediate southern neighbor, Mexico. In Mexico, the ownership and use of assault rifles and other automatic weapons face strict regulation, and yet the nation experiences mass gun violence on a scale that the average American could scarcely imagine.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also issued his prayers and condolences to the families affected by this senseless tragedy. He said, “We ask for God’s comfort, for God’s guidance and for God’s healing for all those who are suffering.” Abbott did not resort to grandstanding in the middle of a tragedy. Instead, he asked god for help. While there is some irony apparently in the fact that the alleged shooter was reportedly an atheist — that does not mean that atheists are murderers, nor that people who profess Christian faith are free from evil in their hearts.
It does register for some that the local heroes who chased the gunman and may have wounded him with their own weapons used guns for their intended purpose: to defend the lives and property of law-abiding folks. Those acts of heroism, however well-intended, did not prevent the senseless deaths of those parishioners.
There really is no dilemma here. Praying is not a substitute for doing nothing, for as we know from the Bible, “faith without works” is both spiritually and practically useless. On the other hand, praying for guidance and healing, and then going out and trying to work to prevent future tragedies makes sense. When it comes to human beings committing evil acts, the instruments they employ to commit murder and mayhem — whether they are guns, trucks, explosives, knives, poisons or anything else — are not the core of the problem.
To paraphrase the Bard: It is not in our guns, but in our souls, that we are knaves. The key to solving issues like gun violence and terrorism does not involve knee-jerk reactions that ultimately reduce our individual freedoms or increase our faith in government policy. The key is to address and root out the sources of evil in the first place. No law or policy can make us completely safe. Prayer and seeking understanding and working diligently to purify our souls through moral education — much like the parishioners in First Baptist Church last Sunday — is clearly a better path for seeking salvation.
Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is author of the brand new book, "Reawakening Virtues." He served as an adviser and spokesman for Dr. Ben Carson's 2016 presidential campaign, and is on Sirius XM126 Urban View nightly from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern.