During an interview on Laura Ingraham’s new Fox News show that aired Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was asked to respond to criticism of a tweet he posted on Sunday in which he claimed that the victims of the mass shooting that killed 26 and injured 20 others at a church in Sutherland Springs,Texas “need our prayers right now.”
With a ratio of 46,000 replies to just 2,100 retweets, Ryan’s sentiment — which is consistent with the well-established Republican tradition of offering “thoughts and prayers” following mass shootings — was not well received.
Ingraham asked Ryan to respond to people who critics who say “maybe it’s time to do something other than pray.” His response indicated he fundamentally misunderstands why people are upset in the first place.
“It’s disappointing. It’s sad,” Ryan said of the criticism. “And this is what you’ll get from the far-secular left. People who do not have faith don’t understand faith, I guess I’d have to say.”
Ryan went on to defend the power of prayer.
“And it is the right thing to do is to pray in moments like this, because you know what — prayer works, and I know you believe that, and I believe that, and when you hear the secular left doing this thing, no wonder you’ve got so much polarization and disunity in the country, when people think like that,” he said.
But much of the criticism directed at Ryan isn’t a criticism of prayer itself. It’s criticism of the notion that prayers without action are a sufficient response from elected lawmakers to violence like the mass shooting in Texas — a massacre that took place while victims were prayerfully gathered for a church service.
Former President Obama alluded this distinction in a tweet he posted after the Sutherland Springs shooting on Sunday in which he didn’t merely offer prayers, but asked God to “grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.”
May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 6, 2017
Ryan’s sentiment is also at odds with the teachings of Jesus. As ThinkProgress’ Jack Jenkins explained in a post written in December 2015 amid a similar debate following the San Bernardino shooting, the biblical Jesus was a “prayer-shamer” who didn’t think prayers were sufficient either.
Speaking before a crowd of disciples and devotees in Matthew 23, Christ denounced local faith leaders — people that functionally doubled as political leaders for the community — as hypocrites for failing to practice what they preach.
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach,” reads the Bible. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.”
Ryan has secular reasons for downplaying what lawmakers can do to prevent gun violence. He received more than $170,000 from the gun lobby in 2016 — the third-most of any member of Congress.