It was 2008, and Hope and Change were in the air. I was a college kid, doing what college kids do: drinking overpriced lattes and broadening my horizons. Much to the dismay of my Southern family, my horizons broadened the most politically. That sweet, churchy girl they once knew? She now resembled something more like the hippie liberal elite.
It was seven years after 9/11, and I was war-weary. Too many loved ones enlisted in the War on Terror, never to return. The economy was in shambles. The housing market crashed. Student loans were soaring, but the job market wasn’t.
To say the least, Hope was overdue.
I read up on the politics of a young senator and joined his campaign. We were young, informed, and loud. We organized canvassing projects, participated in Get Out the Vote, and at one point, I was interviewed on MTV for protesting local voter suppression. When that interview aired, holy crap. The amount of phone calls I received was obscene. Family, friends, long-lost relatives, all calling to express “concern” that I had gone full-blown Prodigal Son.
It turns out *looks around and leans in to whisper* good little Christians aren’t supposed to be political activists.
In more than one conversation, I was advised that when it came to politics, it was best to be quietly involved. That I should learn to “let go and let God.” Get my knees dirty. Speak with my hands folded.
Pray more. Shout less.
Clearly my gay friends didn’t need marital rights; they needed prayer. Women didn’t need access to free birth control; they needed prayer. Unborn children deserved a right to life, but their mothers? Well, they may be suffering and scared and desperately seeking medical advice, but what they really needed was — you guessed it — prayer!
Look, don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of prayer. I pray. I pray a lot. And the idea of quietly voting and “praying the problem away” is appealing. A lot of stress could be saved trading campaign hours for prayer time, but that’s not how it works. A lot of grief, too, could be saved if I would hold my tongue on matters of injustice, avoiding confrontation entirely (especially with family). I’d love to practice “I’ll Pray for You” politics. It sounds easy.
The problem is, being easy and being right are rarely the same thing.
So, I have to lovingly call all of you “shut up and pray” people out.
People of faith, I need you to hear me on this one: We can no longer afford to be the “Pray It Away People.” We can’t simply pray, then feel like we’ve done enough and fulfilled our duty. With Trump’s administration systematically dismantling protections for the marginalized, the poor, the sick, and the needy, all eyes are on us. How will we respond to human beings’ pleas for help? Aren’t these the people Jesus cared most about? Aren’t these the people he called us to help, to love?
And yet so many of us sit on our butts, flicking prayers at the suffering like coins into a wishing pool.
“I’ll pray for you, LGBT community.” *plunk*
“I’ll pray for you, Syrians.” *plunk*
“I’ll pray for you, poverty-stricken families.” *plunk*
Prayer is great, but my obligation to serve this world doesn’t stop with simple spoken prayer. God gave me an able body and a bleeding heart, and I intend to honor Him with everything I was given. This concept shouldn’t be complicated:
Prayer + Action = More Results
Look at Jesus. Every single time He encountered someone in the Bible, He met their immediate need before ministering to them. He healed. He fed. He comforted. Did the suffering come to Him, begging for help, only to receive an “I’ll pray for you”?
Grab your Bibles, I’ll wait.
When there are children drowning at sea, searching for safe harbor, your answer should never be just prayer.
When there are entire cities of humans being wiped off the map, your answer should never be just prayer.
When a woman reports domestic abuse, and instead of getting help, gets arrested for her documentation status — offerings of prayer from a distance feel rather cold.
With all of my heart, I believe prayer can work miracles. But the intent must be genuine, and I guess that’s what I question in all of this: Has prayer become a political cop-out? An excuse for inaction? A way for evangelicals to hide from their responsibility to those who suffer in this world?
You should pray for refugees. But you should also care enough to let them in. You should pray for the poor, but you should also be willing to give them your bread. You should pray for your president, but you should also be willing to speak out against unjust legislation.
By all means, people, pray. Pray your hearts out.
Then get off your butt, find a place to serve, and give your prayer some legs.
Get involved. Politically. This is where you’re needed. Don’t be silent.
You might be amazed at the miracles you encounter along the way.