Over a week ago a family member from Michigan traveled with her church to pray in Flint, Michigan where a social injustice tragedy has been playing out for year concerning contaminated drinking water. During the conversation I mentioned that I hoped the church did more than just pray and ask God to intervene in the situation and to alleviate the pain of the community. The family member I was talking to asked me what I would do in a similar situation instead of just praying. I responded that I would it into a trip that is beneficial for the church visiting Flint and for the locals living there in a way that brings awareness of the situation, the needs of the locals or the members of a local church, and how to further help those who are being affected.
Prayer is kind of like protesting: they both bring awareness of problems in society not necessarily to God who already knows about them but to the public. But both actions can be seen as actions that bring awareness to societal problems but don’t do much to achieve change. Both prayer and protest need to be backed up by actions that either relieve the suffering of people or work towards changing the attitudes and social-political norms allowing the suffering and social injustice to continue.
Too often prayer is being used by both politicians and churches as a passive aggressive action that gives a nod to human suffering but doesn’t require one to take action that works towards change. The reality: prayer is being used as a cop out to creating social change. We see this with gun violence in the U.S. and the debate concerning gun regulations. A shooting happens and politicians say they pray for the victims but the same politicians refuse to support gun laws that could create a safer society.
At the end of the day prayer is good and helps build a relationship with God and to ask for God’s intervention for various problems. But we also have to remember that Christ asks Christians to walk with the suffering and social outcasts and to help alleviate their suffering and make their suffering our suffering.