It was about noon Tuesday -- Pacific time -- when news of yet another mass shooting started hitting the news. This time it was in a facility for the disabled in San Bernardino, Calif.
Of course, this produced the same sickening it’s-now-happening-every-week feeling that Americans keep getting in their gut. We followed the sounds of the cop cars racing through the streets, the press conferences by the local police chief and wishes of anger, disbelief and prayers emanating from Twitterland.
Except that something really interesting happened on Twitter that placed the blame for the whole mass-shootings trend not on the shooters but on those who prayed for their victims. I’ll let the Atlantic describe what happened next in a story headlined “Prayer Shaming:”
Directly after a mass shooting, in the minutes or hours or days between the first trickle of news and when police find a suspect or make arrests, it is very difficult to know what to do. Some people demand political action, like greater gun control; others call for prayer. In the aftermath of a violent shooting spree in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday, in which at least 14 victims are reported to have died, people with those differing reactions quickly turned against one another.
The story showed a compilation of reactions from Twitter, contrasting Hillary Clinton’s “I refuse to accept this as normal. We must take action to stop gun violence now. -- H” with vapid comments from GOP presidential candidates offering “thoughts and prayers” for the victims.
No doubt Clinton got the media zeitgeist right on this one. The Atlantic continued:
There’s a clear claim being made here, and one with an edge: Democrats care about doing something and taking action while Republicans waste time offering meaningless prayers. These two reactions, policy-making and praying, are portrayed as mutually exclusive, coming from totally contrasting worldviews. Elsewhere on Twitter, full-on prayer shaming set in: Anger about the shooting was turned not toward the perpetrator or perpetrators, whose identities are still unknown, but at those who offered their prayers…
After Wednesday’s shootings, The Huffington Post quickly rounded up a list of tweets from politicians offering their prayers. “In short, basically anyone with a Twitter account shared thoughts and prayers in the immediate aftermath of the latest shooting,” the reporters wrote. “Which is kind of them to do, of course, but probably not enough to stop the next one.” …
There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence. At one time in American history, liberals and conservatives shared a language of God, but that’s clearly no longer the case; any invocation of faith is taken as implicit advocacy of right-wing political beliefs.
No kidding. You had a U.S. senator from Connecticut tweet the following:
Sensing a hot trend, the New York Daily News took the Atlantic’s idea and ran with it with a headline: “God isn’t fixing this” with the subhead: "As the latest bunch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”
This text was framed with tweets from four GOP politicians and a screen shot of their next day's front page (see above) ricocheted around cyberspace as an iconic emblem of Americans' frustration. The News later ran this story slamming GOP presidential candidates on their reactions.
The actual news story -- it was not labeled a commentary -- praised the Democrats and slammed Republicans for taking a "tired" approach to yet another public crisis. The top of the piece looked like this:
Prayers aren’t working.
White House hopefuls on the Democratic side of the aisle called for stricter gun laws in the wake of the shooting in San Bernardino that left at least 14 dead.
But after yet another mass shooting in America, GOP presidential contenders were conspicuously silent on the issue of gun control.
Instead, the Republicans were preaching about prayer.
Was this actually a news story?
Not everyone thought the Daily News showed much taste. Brit Hume and Ben Shapiro, among many others, were not amused.
But Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten begged to differ:
A ton of others joined the slugfest. Sean Davis, a co-founder of The Federalist, posted on his feed a small army of past tweets from Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, the White House, Huffington Post and of course, Chris Murphy, sending their "thoughts and prayers" to those affected by other tragedies. The Daily Caller took some of Davis' findings and added other tweets from top Democrats offering prayer for victims during other crises.
As people fought it out on Twitter, Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt quickly posted a column “Mass Murder and the Problem with Prayer” to offer his thoughts:
From Senator Lindsey Graham to Governor George Pataki, Twitter and Facebook were peppered with comments from conservatives who promised their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims affected by the shooting. In response, many advocates of gun reform fired back with a round of “prayer shaming,” claiming that their sentiments were hollow because they were not backed up by tangible legislative proposals. The liberal watchdog website “Think Progress” even accused these well wishers of having been bought by the National Rifle Association.
It is impossible to judge these leaders’ true motives or whether they have actually been on bended knee since the news broke. But the problem with prayer is that it cannot be offered in isolation. Not when action is possible and necessary. This idea did not originate on social media. It is a biblical idea sewn throughout the New Testament, and those who oppose even the tiniest reforms to our gun laws must now reckon with it.
I'm still waiting for some sanity to arise out of this mix. What propelled some in the media not to go after the alleged attackers, who have turned out to be Muslims, but to launch a coordinated attack against those who pray?
You decide and let us know in the comments pages.
Here's a bizarre media note, especially for those of us out West. During this sad day, there was one flash of unintentional humor, as some media folks didn’t seem to know where San Bernardino was. The hosts of the Seattle-based “Ron and Don” talk show on KIRO 97.3 FM radio, who were announcing news bulletins from California on their late afternoon show, said that San Bernardino was 60 miles west of LA. That would put it somewhere in the ocean.