When it comes to gun violence, there's a lot of talk these days about thoughts and prayers and how they simply are not enough. I agree, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't pray for victims.
To the contrary, for Christians—and particularly for ministers—like me, prayer is the beginning of everything. Spiritual intercession for others can be the deepest form of human bonding, the most meaningful way of expressing concern, and the means for identifying and empathizing with those who suffer. Of course, we must go beyond simply praying, but, in my opinion, it's the best start.
In the New Testament Letter of James the Apostle, we read, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." Our intentions, even as they are expressed in spiritual exercises, must be matched to practical action.
This October 14, Christian churches and ministries all over the United States will join together in observing Survivor Sunday, an annual day of prayer and remembrance for the victims of gun violence and the families, friends, and communities connected to them. I invite you and your church to join us by signing up at www.survivorsunday.org. The sad fact is that gun violence is so prevalent that hardly a congregation exists that doesn't have a direct connection to someone affected by a gun injury or death.
While the emphasis of Survivor Sunday is this first step of prayer, it is the hope of Survivor Sunday organizers that these prayer times will awaken the consciousness and concern of congregants toward curbing such tragedy through every means, including personal behavior, creating ministries to support gun violence survivors and those suffering from trauma, public policy and even legislation to keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers and people with dangerous mental illnesses.
As a preacher, I have long reminded my listeners in the pew that prayer is not the least we can do for others, but, in fact, the most we can do. Still, it is not the only thing we should do. As James instructed, faith and works don't substitute for each other; they complement each other.
Praying for gun-violence victims and for an end to this scourge is the first step in a long walk toward safety, security and peace in our homes, neighborhoods and nation. As we all know, though, prayer is not simply talking at God; it is also listening to God. This Survivor Sunday, as we talk to God about those we deeply care about—the victims and survivors of gun violence—we must also listen to what God wants us to do next. Then, we must do it.
About Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck
The Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck is an ordained evangelical minister and president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, located in Washington, DC. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Faith Evangelical Seminary in Tacoma, Washington and is a senior fellow of The Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy at Oxford. Rev. Schenck is the subject of the Emmy Award-winning documentary, The Armor of Light, and a member of the leadership team for Survivor Sunday, a nationwide day of remembrance for the 30,000 lives lost annually to gun violence sponsored by Prayers & Action. He is also the author of Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love.