KEVIN LEININGER: Hateful reaction to recent shootings gives believers one more reason to pray

Mourners visit a makeshift memorial to the victims of the shootings at the First Baptist Church in Texas. But do we really need all those crosses? (By The Associated Press)

Mourners visit a makeshift memorial to the victims of the shootings at the First Baptist Church in Texas. But do we really need all those crosses? (By The Associated Press)

As an avowed racist was gunning down nine of her fellow worshipers at an historically black church in Charleston, S.C., two years ago, 72-year-old Polly Sheppard prayed for her life — a plea Dylann Roof granted so she would be “alive to tell the story.” Relatives of some of the victims subsequently said they would ask God to have mercy on the killer’s soul and offered forgiveness despite the evil he had done.

So far as I can recall, no one publicly mocked their faith or suggested the victims deserved to die — the sort of basic human decency that has been so grossly lacking among some who have sought to exploit recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Tex., for political gain.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel once famously warned against allowing a good crisis to go to waste, and opportunists of all political stripes have long done just that. But there has been something uniquely grotesque about some of the reaction to the two most recent massacres, both of which targeted demographic groups that have been subjected to more than their share of mockery from America’s self-proclaimed elites.

“I’m actually not even sympathetic (because) country music fans often are Republican gun-toters,” CBS legal executive Hayley Geftman-Gold tweeted after more than 50 people were slaughtered while attending a concert in Las Vegas last month. But her subsequent firing did not prevent a torrent of equally clueless and distasteful comments following Sunday’s shooting that left 26 people dead at a small Baptist church in Texas.

That such a tragedy would reignite the gun-control debate is neither surprising nor inappropriate, even though it quickly became clear existing laws would have kept shooter Davin Patrick Kelley from legally acquiring weapons had the Air Force simply notified the FBI of his criminal background as it was required to do. But when President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans offered prayers for the victims and suggested others do likewise, the attempted exploitation moved from the political to the personal.

“They were in church. They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else,” suggested actor Michael McKean.

“The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive,” agreed actor Wil Wheaton.

“Enough with the prayin’. Time to start legislatin,’ suggested author Stephen King.

Monday in Congress, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Cal., filmed himself as he walked out of a moment of silence for the victims, insisting they deserved action, not mere thoughts and prayers.

But the benefits and necessity of prayer are not linked to the passage of legislation, nor does God promise faith or prayer will shield believers from all earthly harm. Sheppard clearly found benefit in prayer even as she faced death, just as the faith of the Charleston victims’ relatives gave them the decency and strength necessary to do as the Bible commands: Pray even for those who persecute you. You shouldn’t have to believe in God to respect the faith of people who do, nor should your political beliefs make some innocent victims of crime worthy of sympathy while rendering others worthy of only contempt.

“People who do not have faith don’t understand faith, I guess,” Ryan said in response to criticism of his comments. “(But) it is the right thing to do to pray in moments like this because, you know what? Prayer works.”

Even the prosecutor in the Charleston shooting case seemed to believe it, telling the jury the goodness of the victims had defeated Roof’s message of hate. So, yes, believers will keep on praying — even for the seemingly growing number of people who hate them for doing so, or can’t understand why they even bother.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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