Look, I get it.
You’ve been raised and educated in a society that values faith foremost. The stronger your faith the closer you are to God, and there is no better way to demonstrate the strength of that faith than to have all the available evidence stacked up against you. After all, what value is faith if you rely on objective evidence to support it? Faith means believing despite where the evidence points.
First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Kingston, NY. Photo by Cooper Miller.
We build faith through prayer. You read, reflect, listen to the Word, and you pray. You talk to God and open your heart to whatever message in whatever form He might send. Prayer attunes us to the voice of God that comes in whispers, not thunderclaps.
Louis XII of France, immortalized in prayer and in stained glass.
Your faith in God burns bright within you, so much so that you have dedicated your life to public service through elected office. Through God’s grace, you’ve been successful, and you have been gifted with a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to “prepare ye the way of the Lord”. That’s what you see as your role in public service. We are a sinful people living in sinful times and on the strength of your faith God has called you to fight laws He doesn’t like and and introduce bills for laws He would.
I mean, this is why Jesus took every opportunity he could to express his unambiguous support for the written laws of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It’s why when asked by the Pharisees if it is just to pay taxes to the emperor of the occupying Romans, Jesus said “Yes! There is nothing more important to me than to make sure that my disciples get themselves elected to government office where they can enact all these great ideas I have regarding tax policy!” It’s vitally important for you to have been elected to the Senate or to the House of Representatives because, and Jesus could not have been more clear about this, there is no distinction between doing the work of the government and doing the work of The Lord.
“Caesar gets his due, but God gets the important stuff.” ~White Jesus, ca. Bible times. (Also Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1612)
But let’s get real for a minute.
You might pray for all sorts of good fortune in your life, but deep down you know that prayer alone isn’t enough. I mean, you wanted to do well in college so you prayed, but you also went to class and studied, right? You met your future spouse, fell in love, and prayed for happy, healthy children, but you also had sex, right? You didn’t just pray to win your elected office, you raised money and knocked on doors and went to barbecues to campaign for months. You might even have waged a pitched propaganda battle against your opponent, spreading lies and half-truths about them that you justified as brutal means to a more godlike end. Certainly the campaign you ran had more to do with your election than did your praying about it. If not, you could have just stayed home and prayed for your job and presto, you’d have it!
Family Portrait of Pierre de Moucheron, Merchant in Middelburg and Antwerp, his Wife Isabeau de Gerbier, their eighteen Children, their Son-in-Law Allard de la Dale and first Grandchild. Anonymous 1563. Sure, there was a lot of praying going on in that house, but those 18 kids did not appear by magic.
Washington in prayer at Valley Forge. If prayer was all he needed, why bother crossing the Delaware?
This notion of doing something also appears in one of Jesus’ best-known parables, the Good Samaritan. Remember how the good and pious Jews passed the man beaten, robbed, and left for dead along the road? Presumably, those dudes prayed for the man they had passed. But it was the foreigner from Samaria – hated enemy of the Jews – who actually stopped to help, nursed the man’s wounds, brought him to safety, and left a pile of money to provide for his additional care. The Good Samaritan wasn’t only a parable to illustrate how far Jesus wanted us to go to recognize our neighbor in other people, it was also an example of what he wanted us to do in service to others. The Samaritan didn’t pray about the beaten man, The End. He helped, he nursed, he went out of his way, and –– Jesus goes out of his way to include this bit –– he spends money to fix the problem.
The Good Samaritan, Balthasar de Cortbemde, 1647
So, like the Good Samaritan and the pious Jews who encountered the beaten man on the road, you have a choice. We all do, but you really do because your job puts you in a position to make a lot of things happen, for the better or worse of the millions of metaphorically beaten men on our roadsides today. You can offer your prayers or you can offer your prayers reinforced by your actions, just like you’ve done for every big accomplishment you’ve enjoyed in your life.
I conclude then with a simple question for you. When – and that’s an intentional use of when rather than if – the next mass shooting takes place in a school or a church or a business or a nightclub in your state, what will you tell the grieving loved ones, the surviving victims, and your own constituents that you had done to prevent such a thing?
When things really matter you don’t just pray, you also do. What are you doing, today, to save yourself from the shame you will feel when you face that question?
EDIT: As if on cue, thank you Senator Marco Rubio for illustrating the mind-numbing hypocrisy of Christian politicians in 2018 (and John Fugelsang, for sharing this gem).