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    Please, No More Prayers as Policy for Gun Control

    By Andrea Shorter

    For my own personal reasons, I am not a particularly religious person. In my own way, I am a person of faith, but not one of organized religion. Like many LGBT people, and in my case as a lesbian, my relationship with religion can be a complex and complicated one. I was born into a religious household and attended a Quaker established college, where I immersed myself in courses on Hinduism as my first foray into any religious experiences beyond the doctrines of my upbringing.

    My life today is predominately one of a secularist, an ardent believer and advocate in the separation of church and state. I am not Baptist, but am a proud member of the historic Third Baptist Church here in San Francisco, where I occasionally attend Sunday services and other activities to stay in touch and commune with more adherent fellow congregants, many of whom are vigilant, wise elders of the civil rights movement.

    Similarly, in a blending of secularism and practice of faith, I attend the annual San Francisco Multicultural Passover Freedom Seder that I helped to start 22 years ago with friends at the Jewish Community Relations Council as well as African American community leaders to regenerate long-standing bonds through which we have together sought to advance civil and human rights.

    Yet, and not necessarily contradictory to the tenants of my preamble, I do pray. Maybe not often enough, but I do pray. I hold no fervent belief in a singular or particular idea of God per se, so much as acknowledging a rather human need for communion with either the idea or perhaps reality of some binding force greater than ourselves, but resides within ourselves. I pray because that’s what Black women do.

    Whether one is deeply religious, atheist, agnostic, or just simply ingrained in a sacred belief that as Africans, we are the descendant mothers of the cradle of civilization, I have rarely met a Black woman who does not take to some form of prayer as meditative, centering, comfort, and to renew our individual and collective strengths to survive, to keep on keeping on in the faith of possible transcendence beyond incomprehensible injustices and inhumanities.

    Prayer has its limits, though. Prayer is not a magical wand that can cast away by spells abject failures to direct our free will, which can prevent gross injury and injustice.

    In the wake of yet another tragic and senseless mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, we are further pained and sickened by the offers of prayer by NRA-bound GOP elected officials to those families whose children were slaughtered at the hands of a severely disaffected young man allowed to purchase and possess an automatic rifle. Offers of prayer are of little to no comfort when prayer serves as the now ritualized substitute for enacting desperately needed gun control policies that could have helped prevent such horrific tragedy in the first place.

    Your tweeted offers of prayers ring gravely hallow, and do not absolve your willful complicity with inaction propped up by fatuous rattling off of rusty talking points like, “We don’t need more laws, we just need to enforce the ones we have,” or sleight of hand diversions proposed to address the mental health needs of those spurred by racism, homophobia or other symptoms of your injurious policies and actions often rooted in the very divisive racist, homophobic, or sexist beliefs that underlie your weary justifications for rendering the Constitutional right to bear arms as the higher value above all else and at any costs.

    The costs are clear of maintaining millions of NRA dollars as beneficiaries and robotic sycophants. The President could not even utter the word “gun” in his painfully lacking remarks on this latest AK-17 related tragedy. He’s a Gold Star $30 Million NRA beneficiary. Within these too often revisited, pain-stricken contexts, the offers of prayer are eerily and dangerously bordering on projecting prayer as policy. Prayer is not policy.

    From the point of view of this devout secularist Black lesbian, prayer as policy is a direct contradiction to the Constitutionally sacred separation of church and state. Prayer as non-secular prescriptive practical response stands to erode that sacred wall erected to dispel assertions of theocracy as democracy. When you confuse theocracy as democracy, it allows for all sorts of misguided justifications for not taking practical action. Faith without works is, as has been said, dead.

    I am keeping faith with those young people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who survived that automatic rifle bullet-riddled slaughter that killed 17 of their friends, brothers, and sisters. Their pain and loss are no different or less than what has been felt time and again at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Pulse, or the 20-plus mass shootings that have already occurred within the first two months of 2018.

    The expressed renewed defiance and resistance to the status quo regarding gun control policies—led by the friends, family members and colleagues of the victims—has been encouraging. I expect that their determination to rally their congressional and local elected officials to take real action beyond prayers will not dissolve into just another in a series of senseless tragedies. My prayers are with them, but so are my calls and emails to congressional members to address these problems with strategic measures—now!

    Andrea Shorter is President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights, and marriage equality. A Co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.