Your “Thoughts and Prayers” are Doing Nothing

Your prayers are doing nothing, and they are falling on deaf ears.

I do not say those words lightly.

Your prayers are doing nothing, and they are falling on deaf ears.

As a regular attendant of Mass, and near-daily communicant during the academic year, I find prayer profoundly important. Yet, I stand firm in my refrain. 

Your prayers are doing nothing, and they are falling on deaf ears.

For years now, I have heard “thoughts and prayers are needed during this difficult time.” Family members, friends, and reposts from strangers canvas social media saying, “Let’s flood our timeline with prayers. We all could use some more Jesus during this time.”

I’m tired of the “copy and paste this prayer to your wall” bullshit!

There is some truth in those bullshit posts: We do “need some more Jesus during this time.” So let’s take a moment and examine who this Jesus of yours was… 

Jesus supported the oppressed,[1] befriended outcasts,[2] worked with those who society did not support,[3] and praised those who fought for justice.[4] Jesus broke laws,[5] challenged political authority,[6] questioned the love people have for financial dominance,[7] rebuked religious piety for the sake of humanity,[8] and violently looted a marketplace after people failed to listen to his cries for justice.[9]

Jesus Christ was a radical who actively fought for equality. Jesus Christ frequently prayed, yes, but Jesus Christ actively put his faith into action. If you are only offering your “thoughts and prayers,” you are doing nothing, and your faith is dead.[10] If you only offer “thoughts and prayers,” and do not actively work for justice and equality, to put it in the words of your Beloved Jesus Christ: “You are a hypocrite.”[11]

Your prayers are doing nothing, and they are falling on deaf ears.

This has been a painful year. We have seen over 100,000 deaths due to Coronavirus, with higher percentages affecting communities of color.[12] We have seen the highest unemployment rate in history, with the hardest impacted people being Black Americans.[13] We have seen more Black bodies murdered, most recently Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. The protest of the last days and weeks are a culmination of recent and generations worth of pain. The “thoughts and prayers” are a continuation of White silence and, as a result, a continuation of White violence. 

I will say this clearly: I do not condone violence. I do not endorse looting. I do not support rioting. 

I will say, however, that I can certainly empathize with the anger and pain that is fueling these actions. For generations, the United States of America has given more concern to property and financial institutions than they have to Black bodies. For generations Black people have been fighting for opportunities, freedoms, justice, and equalities and have seen little results. 

When Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem to fight against police brutality, the “son of a bitch”[14] was silenced and sanctioned. When the Montgomery Bus Boycotts took place, it was considered an inappropriate affront to the economy. When NBA players wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts after Eric Garner’s death, they broke NBA rules and were instructed to “stick to sports.”[15] When Black people purchased homes in White neighborhoods, it was considered a plight to White-American Liberty.[16] Every time a Black person “peacefully protests,” it is regularly deemed inappropriate and untimely. Would you prefer these Black people to protest in the silence of their homes like Breonna Taylor, who was shot in the middle of the night while sleeping in her bedroom? Even Martin Luther King, whom my White friends and relatives love to post pictures of online as the “correct way to protest,” (while ignoring the fact that he was arrested numerous times), lamented this same timely rhetoric: 

For years now, I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”[17]

Martin Luther King also spoke about rioting in a speech in 1968, and I want to provide the full context of the often shortened quote: 

Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the White community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.[18]

Justice has been delayed and denied for far too long. How can you blame rioters for burning businesses when they know full and well that a business is more valuable than their life? How can you blame rioters for damaging property when their Black bodies were considered the property of American Whites for generations? How can you blame rioters who only stoke the burning flames of an already broken America? 

I do not condone violence and rioting, but in the context of historical and systematic oppression, their actions only seem like a domino effect that began with the Declaration of Independence.

If your White insecurities need some stroking, I will assure you that having now personally participated in hours of protests in Louisville for the last week, I can assure you that the number of “peaceful protesters” far outnumber the “violent looters” by significant margins. Nonetheless, if you are angrier at the burned business, looted shelves, graffitied walls, and broken glass than you are with the dead Black bodies laying in the streets of the United States of America then you have missed the point of the protests and are a member of the systematic racism and historic injustice that has resulted in the killing of all of these Black people.

For too long, my fellow Christians have idly sat back and done nothing by “thoughts and prayers” and often worse used the name of Jesus Christ as an excuse for their condemnation of Black action. We do need prayers, but we also need advocacy, action, and change. We do need Jesus, but we need to know that Jesus Christ was a radical who fought for justice. We need Prayerful and Radical Christians to overturn tables of systemic racism, injustice, and violent oppression. 

Your prayers are doing nothing, and they are falling on deaf ears.

I am tired. My legs are sore from marching. My nose and throat burn from teargas. My eyes and ears ache from flashbangs. But I will not give up. My Catholic faith compels me to action. The life of Jesus Christ inspires me to stand with the marginalized members of our society. I know that my words and recent posts on social media have probably angered some of my friends, family, and former students and colleagues. However, in truth, I no longer care about their white feelings because I am tired of remaining silent to the injustice and killings of my fellow Black Americans. 

If I have pissed you off, upset you, angered you, or offended you, good. Use that emotion for positive change. Read a book. Watch a documentary. Consider how your white privilege is sparking your white rage. It is time to become an anti-racist. It is time to become an ally. It is time to work for justice. It is time to shout Black Lives Matter! 

Your thoughts and prayers are not enough, it is time to take action.

Contact your local, state, and federal representatives and DEMAND change. There are many online resources, but I have found “My Reps” (https://myreps.datamade.us/index.html) to be a quick resource to find the politicians who work for you.

Educate yourself. The following is a list of books, articles, movies, podcasts, and social media accounts that I have read, watched, consumed, or follow and would recommend:

Books:

  • White Rage by Carol Anderson
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
  • A Black Theology of Liberation by James Cone
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Articles and Essays:

Movies/Documentaries:

Podcasts:

Stay Connected:

If you can recommend any further resources please feel free to share them in the comments. I am always here to support further learning and growth.


[1] John 8:1-11.

[2] Luke 15:2.

[3] John 4: 1-26.

[4] Matthew 5:3–12.

[5] Luke 13:10-17.

[6] John 18:33-38.

[7] Mark 12:17.

[8] Matthew 12: 1-14.

[9] John 2:13-16; Matthew 21: 12-13.

[10] James 2:14-26.

[11] Mark 7:6-8

[12] https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race 

[13] https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpsee_e16.htm

[14] From @dcexaminer: Trump wishes NFL owners would tell anthem protesters “get that son of a bitch off the field right now”. https://twitter.com/dcexaminer/status/911391761070731264?s=20.

[15] https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/12010612/nba-stars-making-statement-wearing-breathe-shirts.

[16] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/.

[17] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/letter-birmingham-jail

[18] http://www.gphistorical.org/mlk/mlkspeech/.

5 Comments

  1. After everything that has happened , my perception on things have changed and you’re right. We need action.

    Like

  2. This is not offensive, but brutally honest, which is rare these days. Wonderfully written and eye opening, a true wake up call!
    Thank you.
    ❤️Mom

    Like

  3. Thank you for this well written, insightful article. The information on other articles, books, podcasts, and movies is very helpful for a place to start. This protest is long overdue and I hope that permanent change for the good will come from it. Stay safe out there. Black Lives Matter!

    Like

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