Is prayer without action meaningless?

On Tuesday I read an interesting article on the CNN religion blog called “Who Hears #prayersforoklahoma?” It’s worth reading over HERE, but the two second summary is this: After the devastating tornado in Oklahoma, social media responded with the twitter hashtag #prayersforoklahoma which sparked a debate on the usefulness of these sorts of prayers. The White House picked up the hashtag, as did other celebrities and fancy people. In response, other fancy people began to question the usefulness of such prayers, calling them shallow, void of true activism (giving money or aid), and another example of how believers everywhere have our heads in the clouds instead of anchored in reality. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on this, the inaugural post of this new blog.

  • First, and most importantly, I think there are valid points to be made on each side of this issue. On the one hand, writing a simple prayer and labeling it #prayersforoklahoma is a pretty low impact, low cost, “slactivist” way of responding to a national tragedy. It doesn’t provide food to hungry bellies or shelter to those who are now without their homes, it doesn’t do anything. Wouldn’t it be far more useful to donate $100, $10 or even $1 to relief efforts?
  • On the other hand, it seems to me that most of these tweets were sincere attempts to show solidarity, compassion and genuine heartbreak for the loss of life in Oklahoma. Perhaps the desire to share in that suffering, to show support and care and to remind one another to pray is “doing something”. “Pray in all circumstances,” the Bible says.
  • I am reminded of Jesus’s concern for the people of his time who were making loud, eloquent prayers on street corners. “Pray in secret where it’s just between you and God,” Jesus said. Is tweeting #prayersforoklahoma the modern day equivalent of praying loud prayers on a street corner? I think there is a case to be made that, yes, maybe it is — particularly given the reaction we’ve seen from non-believers who seem to be turned off by it. Perhaps they sense insincerity in the gesture. Instead of fighting back and arguing, perhaps the right response would be to close the door and pray pour out our hearts in prayer for Oklahoma. Privately.

What do you think?

  • Susan Leithauser-Yee

    I like the thoughtfulness of your essay above. Thankfully, prayers and action are not mutually exclusive. One of the benefits of prayer is that it causes one to focus on the subject of those prayers and perhaps strategize as to what can be done to impact them. Many events, e.g. national tragedies, are beyond our capacity to significantly impact. In these cases, I think prayer is an especially good response.