Predictably, the widespread offering of “thoughts and prayers” wafted through social media after a gunman massacred nearly 60 people Sunday night in Las Vegas.
In fact, it’s a common refrain of politicians, including President Donald Trump.
But people of faith who are familiar with suffering — and mass shootings — say those sentiments simply don’t go far enough. They say prayer should only be the beginning, not the end, of action. Many are hoping Las Vegas will inspire a conversation toward a rational gun policy in the United States.
It’s a perspective especially strong among those who have witnessed mass murder much closer to home.
“Once again, a person with access to multiple assault weapons rained their fury on an innocent crowd last night in Las Vegas, Nevada,” said Terri Steed Pierce, pastor at Joy Metropolitan Community Church in Orlando, Fla.
Pierce’s LGBTQ church is located a mile from the Pulse gay nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people in 2016. The congregation opened its doors initially to first responders and clubgoers who had escaped the assault rifle-wielding shooter. For days, weeks and months afterward, it served as a hub for family members and friends of the victims and reached out to the Orlando community to address anti-LGBTQ attitudes.
For Pierce, Las Vegas is especially frustrating because it reminds her that the Orlando tragedy did nothing to address the gun violence.
“Once again, one person was able to cause mass casualties because our nation won’t protect us from ourselves,” she told Baptist News Global in an email.
The Vegas shooter embodied hatred trying to have its way, just as the Orlando shooter did, Pierce said. That’s why prayer cannot be the only action called for today.
“It’s time we create legislation that stops this madness,” she said.
Megan Curry, a second-year student at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, had a front-row seat at the Pulse tragedy, as well. She was an intern at Joy MCC when that massacre occurred. Las Vegas took her back to those dark hours.
“I had a similar feeling. It was as if my soul dropped to my feet and I immediately began to weep for all who are impacted,” Currie said, also via email.
“The proximity is different this time, but the pain of a mass shooting remains the same. Lives have been taken, hundreds are left injured, and thousands will never be the same because of the trauma that occurred today.”
Currie said she believes in the power of prayer in these situations, especially for those who feel especially powerless in the moment.
Prayer is needed because the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can provide comfort when everything seems to be falling apart, she said.
“However, prayer also requires action. Sitting back and praying doesn’t stop future violent attacks from occurring.”
People of faith must also recognize that common-sense firearms legislation is needed to protect Americans from such senseless tragedies, she said.
The church must lead the way in these efforts, she added. Failure to do so only contributes to cynicism.
“We can pray all day long, and we should, but ultimately our prayers need to lead us to action.”