When deranged gunman Devin Kelly walked into a small community church in a tiny rural Texas town a Sunday ago and killed 28 innocent people, including an 18-month old baby, our hearts cried out in anguish. No one should have to suffer such evil, and no family should have to experience the anguish of loved ones dying so violently, so senselessly.

The people who died during that church service deserve our prayers. But even more importantly, all of us who are praying for them need to feel like we are doing something to help. None of the people sitting comfortably and observing from a distance were the first responders, nor are we the valiant heroes who chased the gunman from the church and risked their own lives defending their community. There is nothing we can do to prevent the tragedy that unfolded at Southerland Springs. But as people of faith, we can pray.

As prayers went out on social media, some from politicians and other well-wishers, the issue of guns and their regulation rose predictably to the forefront of the debate, especially on social media. Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu was widely and vociferously attacked by his own constituents for merely “praying” for the victims, but failing to pass gun regulations through Congress. Republican senators and members of Congress such as Tom McCain who sent out prayers for the victims via Twitter were roundly mocked with memes depicting contributions their political campaigns have received from the gun lobby. The implication was clear – that by praying for the victims while at the same time advocating gun rights, they were exhibiting some unpardonable hypocrisy.

And yet the very same people who widely critiqued pro-gun politicians called Donald Trump despicable names for inferring that a terrorist attack carried out in New York City could have been prevented if the Diversity Visa immigration program had been halted. In one act of violence, people blamed the most proximate instrument used by the criminal – guns. But with regard to the other act of violence, others blamed immigration policy.

The political debate over whether one policy or another will mitigate the ravages wrought by the acts of evil humans will continue to rage. Prayers could not have prevented either tragedy. But prayers do work. They work in affirming our belief in a higher power. They work in that we offer up to God the way to salvation – a solution that we, as human beings, despite our laws, policies and technologies, often cannot fathom.

The media are quick to pounce on salient political themes whenever a sensationalized tragedy grabs our attention, however fleetingly. Politicians are all too eager to grandstand on one political platform or another whenever the ensuing controversy begins to roil. We tend to lose sight of the facts amid the media-enabled din, and give in to senseless blaming and shaming.

The fact is that mass gun violence is exceedingly rare in America. Contrast our nation to our immediate southern neighbor, Mexico. In Mexico, the ownership and use of assault rifles and other automatic weapons face strict regulation, and yet the nation experiences mass gun violence on a scale that the average American could scarcely imagine.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also issued his prayers and condolences to the families affected by this senseless tragedy. He said, “We ask for God’s comfort, for God’s guidance and for God’s healing for all those who are suffering.” Abbott did not resort to grandstanding in the middle of a tragedy. Instead, he asked God for help.

While there is some irony in the fact that the alleged shooter was an atheist – that does not mean that atheists are murderers or that people who profess Christian faith are free from evil in their hearts. It does register for some that the local heroes who chased the gunman and may have wounded him with their own weapons used guns for their intended purpose, to defend the lives and property of law-abiding folks. Those acts of heroism, however well intended, did not prevent the senseless deaths of those parishioners.

There really is no dilemma here. Praying is not a substitute for doing something, for as we know from the Bible, “faith without works” is both spiritually and practically useless. On the other hand, praying for guidance and healing, and then going out and trying to work to prevent future tragedies make sense. When it comes to human beings committing evil acts on their own people, the instruments they employ, whether they be guns, trucks, explosives, knives, poisons, or any of the endless manner of murder and mayhem, are not the core of the problem.

No law or policy can make us completely safe. Prayer and seeking understanding and working diligently to purify our souls through moral education – much like the parishioners in First Baptist Church – is clearly a better path for seeking salvation.

Armstrong Williams is owner of Howard Stirk Holdings, which owns TV stations in Charleston, Myrtle Beach and other cities. He was the SGA president from 1979 to 1981 at South Carolina State University.


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