Our thoughts and prayers are extended to those affected by the shootings in Las Vegas…
Our thoughts and prayers with the victims of the New York City terrorist attack…
Our thoughts and prayers are with the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Texas and the entire community of Sutherland …
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The familiar “our thoughts and prayers” has long been a safe statement issued in response to tragedies that don’t often lend themselves to words. It’s a gesture of recognition. It’s a phrase that is a token of sympathy.
It’s now a statement that, like so many other items that once united us as a people, is currently used to divide. Yes, now even extending “thoughts and prayers” is viewed as an insult to some.
As has become the custom of too many who believe in tolerance up until the point they aren’t getting their way, the phrase is now routinely mocked on social media — and often is combined with ridicule of the entire concept of faith. These are the times we live in.
If you’re expecting this column to be a full frontal defense of the evangelical right and a takedown of the intolerant left, you should now look elsewhere. This one is directly for members of the faith community.
Instead of stoking the anger of my fellow believers with extra verses of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” I’d suggest other scriptural references are more on point. Facebook and Twitter have become a real-time example of those seeking an eye for an eye. Sometimes, it’s important to understand the power in turning the other cheek.
I would also surmise that people of faith need to understand that these statements appear to be filled with anger and other raw emotion. Many often feel that the community of faith has specifically targeted them as being less than worthy of a place in society. Many of our ambassadors have been more than willing to feed and perpetuate their anxieties.
Before we can remove the speck from their eye, we need to remove this plank from ours. The anger and resentment projected at people of faith has roots in our own failings to walk our talk. We don’t win over non-believers at the tip of a sword, but by bending the knee in service to those less fortunate or less powerful than ourselves.
For centuries we have used political power combined with public shaming to enforce religious custom. We’ve too often failed to win hearts and minds with our own acts and deeds. Now that the winds of power have shifted, we are reaping a bit of what we have sown.
We now are where we are. Moving forward in a positive and constructive way that seeks to bring people together is what is of paramount of importance.
The importance to us of our thoughts and prayers isn’t in creating or extending conflict. It is to get quiet. It’s one of personal reflection and asking for guidance. Above all, it’s a time whose outcome relies more on listening than of talking.
When I see someone reply to a message of thoughts and prayers with “I don’t want your thoughts and prayers” I generally smile. A few folks will take the opportunity to engage in an argument. That’s a mistake, and is what the person thinks they want.
I know that that person is generally going to get more thoughts and prayers for themselves than they’re going to get arguments. Most won’t be articulated directly to the person. Hopefully, they will still be felt.
They may be seeking conflict. Hopefully the end result can be that they instead find compassion and understanding.
At the end of the day, this minor issue that exists mostly in the universe of social media should pass. We should give it little direct engagement, and need to continue to offer sincere thoughts and prayers. And then, we must hold our own selves accountable on the sincerity of both our thoughts, and our actions.
Charlie Harper, executive director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank, is also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to state & local politics of Georgia.