The brutal shooting deaths of 49 gay men and women at an Orlando bar yesterday prompted the usual combination of justifiable outrage at the brokenness of the American political system and obnoxious comments from political figures (and others) whose words really shouldn’t be dignified by repeating.
It also brought hundreds of thousands of well-intentioned tweets offering prayers and best wishes—“praying for all those affected by the deaths in Orlando” and the like. I’ve tweeted things like this in the past, I’m sure we all have. It’s a way of expressing support, of saying those who are suffering right now are not alone.
But—and I admit this may sound bizarre coming from a priest—when it comes to gun violence I’ve had it with “I’m praying for you.” It’s a beautiful and well-intentioned sentiment; it also allows us to wash our hands of these events. The victims are people “over there,” far from us, for whose suffering we bear no blame.
But that is not at all the case. What is happening throughout our country is not a series of sad and unexpected natural disasters, but utterly predictable acts of violence predicated on the easy accessibility of guns in our country. And while we might blame the big bad NRA or our incredibly-weak-kneed politicians for this reality (we’ve had children murdered, a congresswoman shot, hundreds of mass shootings every year and still our Congress can’t pass even the slightest change) in fact we are all responsible.
Ask yourself—and to be clear I am first and foremost talking to myself—since Newtown (just to pick one of the most horrific of this series of catastrophic events), what have I done to help change the situation in our country? How have I used my gifts, my time, my network of friends to actually try and make a difference?
I fear most of us will have nothing to show but a series of tweets. And frankly, this is probably worse than doing nothing because it makes us feel like we’ve done something when in fact we have not. We changed no one’s mind with our “thoughtful” series of 140-character posts, nor by arguing with gun advocates who have at this point completely disconnected from reality.
No, years of gun related violence followed by outrage followed by political pronouncements that things have to change, followed by no change and further violence should make it quite clear: Our outrage alone makes no difference at all.
The fact is, Gandhi was right. We have to be the change we want to see in the world. We can’t just tweet it or throw at it “I feel for you” sentiment.
And if we’re not willing to actually do anything, to pressure our politicians, to bring up the issue at our PTAs and union meetings and board meetings (like for instance this week’s national bishops’ meeting), to bring to bear any and all of the incredible talents that we each have, then it’s abundantly clear, nothing is going to change.
If we want to pray about something, maybe we should pray about that.
Jim McDermott, S.J., is America's Los Angeles correspondent.