After Charleston, Questioning The Power of Prayer » VSB

Featured, Theory & Essay

After Charleston, Questioning The Power of Prayer

Lookin’ down on my soul now

Tell me I’m in control now

Tell me I can live long and I can live wrong and I can live right

And I can sing songs and I can unite with you that I love, you that I like

Look at my life and tell me I fight.”

— Kendrick Lamar from Flying Lotus’s “Never Catch Me”

On the evening of Wednesday, June 17, faith was disrupted.

As common as it has become to see Black life treated with such disregard, this attack hurts the most and cuts the deepest. My eyes see very clearly the racial dynamics at play here, how yet again someone deemed Black bodies a threat and took it upon themselves to perform an act of terrorism on them. This has handicapped my faith in humanity. But my heart is not looking at the news, it is looking up in the sky, where I’m told Heaven is.

For those of us who go to church, part of the reason we do so is because we want to believe we will be inspired to be better people who contribute to a better world. We also go to strengthen our faith in the power of God’s love and ask that it keep us safe. But now I wonder where his power WAS that night. I may never know the answer, so instead I’ve been asking him a different question:

What do we do now?

From the moment we heard the news about nine people being shot during bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, we have been told to pray for them, for Mother’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where the shooting took place, for the families of the victims, and for the survivors. The tweegrams with scripture, the Facebook statuses and Tweets telling us to pray. I’ve seen them and never have they felt so hollow, so worthless. The sad irony of the “pray for Charleston” message is those folks were already praying, and they were killed while doing so.

“I’ll pray for you” is a common phrase we hear and say whenever we’re confronted with tragedy. Sometimes, we ask people to do the same for us. I say these things and I ask for them too because all my life I have been told to believe in the power of prayer. All my life I have believed in that power. The nine people who were killed in their home of worship, they believed in the power of prayer too, probably more than most. After all, that’s why they were there on a Wednesday, probably just getting off of work. That kind of dedication usually comes from people who have a deep desire to connect with Christ through prayer. They’re either there to study the good book or because they just needed their spiritual batteries recharged. I too have been to many mid-week services simply because I needed to call on God to help me make it to Sunday.

Those nine people did not make it to Sunday.

It’s a nice sentiment to tell people we will pray for them. I encourage anyone who feels compelled to do so to go ahead and say as much out loud, but do not be surprised if some people question its worth because they are thinking about the nine people who were killed while praying. I will not stop praying either. But, if I’m being honest, it’s getting harder to do so these days. I am not afraid to go to church on Sunday, but if I’m being honest, I wonder what good it will do. In the book of James, chapter 2, verse 17 it says: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…” And yet, people who were doing the work to strengthen their faith on a Wednesday evening, were killed.

Believe me, these thoughts are not a damnation on God’s power. Rather, they stem from the mind of someone whose belief in God and his power has always been innate. But my relationship with God is not immune to the ups and downs of any relationship I have with my loved ones here on Earth. I don’t think anyone can go through life and see all its ills without wondering if the devil is sometimes winning the war between good and evil. That is why I will never tell anyone to stop praying, but after what happened this week, I have two questions for all of us who do: How do we keep our faith and how do we keep praying?

Jozen Cummings

Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called the Empire Afterparty and he works at Twitter as an editorial associate. He lives in Harlem, graduated from Howard University, and grew up in Seaside, California. He cannot get you a blue check.

  • I’m not a church goer/religious person but I will never stop praying. I pray before meals, before I go to bed, when I get in my ride in the morning, and even before my first bench press rep. It steadies me and I can’t imagine not doing. Telling someone not to do would just seem wrong.

  • Regina Clemons

    Prayer is not to be questioned, God is still God, his ways are not like man!
    You can question the issue of security in God’s house, but even that issue is just speculation at best because the church was and always is a place where all sinners are welcome. Prayer is our lifeline, our personal connection to the Holy one, I encourage you to hold on because even tho the world is changing, the only thing that’s constant is God ?? much love

    • Beauty In Truth

      Everything in this world is to be questioned. Especially if it was forced onto your ancestors. The reason most people are so easily abused and pushed around (speaking mentally here) is because they never take the time to really question why they believe what they do, and the history behind things.

      Brainwashing is real. An open mind is freedom to work on things from a real perspective with real objectives. And that is what black people need. Not false hopes and fairy tales from a religion that has never been there’s, nor benefits them in modern times. I would encourage people to do very through research about the things they involve themselves in. Even if “traditionally” we have not. With all of this media out there and research tools at our disposable, there is really no excuse to not educate yourself about the truths and realities of the world we live in.

  • Wild Cougar

    The only thing that keeps the world turning is hope and prayer is hope in motion. If everyone stopped praying and hoping, time and reality as we know it would literally stop. In the beginning was the word, the hope and the prayer, the faith that “something” would be. It is the precursor to any “thing”, it is the pre-existing condition that you can trace backwards but not forwards because all things that will happen have already happened.

    • Nick Peters

      Money makes the world turn….

      • Wild Cougar

        And this is why you are a pathetic troll.

        • Nick Peters

          I’m a troll?…I just observe the workings of the world and see who gets their needs met first and who is left short…

          Generally, the people with the money are at the front of the line and everbody else finds their spot accordingly….so the best solution is to get into the money game (something black people generally don’t value)

          Live life downstream…

      • PunchDrunkLove

        Your age is showing again

  • TeeChantel

    All things work together for the glory of God.

    Real talk, one thing I could never do is question God and His power. I understand the hurt and pain we’re all feeling, but I get sad that whenever a tragedy happens people’s faith begins to waver. Christ said in John 16:33, “You will have suffering in this world.” That wasn’t an “if” – he said it WILL happen. Our world is filled with evil and hatred and strife; and it is during these times we have to lean on him and pray even more, even when we feel like it is not making an impact.

    Prayer is powerful. It is all that we have. Stay encouraged.

    • rlgreen91

      That’s an interesting thought. I tend toward the opposite (or at least different) view – I think it’s perfectly normal to have doubts from time to time. To me, being faithful is choosing to believe despite those doubts that come along.

      • TeeChantel

        True. We are flawed humans so we are going to question. I feel like we are saying the same thing just in different ways. If you are faithful – meaning have 100 percent faith – then there is no room for doubt. Think about a time when you really put faith into something – whether it is pursuing a degree, a particular job or wanting to achieve another goal. You were determined to accomplish that goal – and because of your determination, there was no room for doubt. That’s what faith is to me. Hebrews 11:1. Knowing that God is almighty and powerful and there is no room for anyone to convince me otherwise.

        • PunchDrunkLove

          And Hebrews 11:6 also says

          6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

          • TeeChantel


  • Sigma_Since 93

    I pray despite my circumstance. I pray despite how I feel. God is worthy of my praise. I’m blessed to have all my needs met as well as some of my wants. How can I not give God praise??

  • Nick Peters

    There is nothing wrong with prayer or with marching…Used correctly, intra-community, they have vital parts into maintaining the spirit of a community….

    The problem that black people have is that they think they can defeat this issue (white supremacy) with prayer and by being heard. By showing people outside of our community our humanity and that we are just like them….

    I might not be the most religious person in the world but I do believe God gave us legs so we could walk, arms and hands so we could manipulate the world around us and create, a heart to give our body power, and a brain so we could have critical thinking skills…In other words, we have everything possible to solve any problem any human being could ever run into and it is our choice if we use them to solve our problems or not…

    • Sigma_Since 93

      You’re selling your people short. Politicians see the black church doing some of what you mentioned and have responded by reducing the “souls to the polls” projects.

      You don’t even consider the Men’s fellowships that mentor young men and keep them off the street

      The 501C3’s being created to tap into grant money to help the community.

      My church back in NY built a daycare center and an elderly housing unit. Don’t be so narrow minded; I expect more from light skinned folks.

  • Uniquely Blushed

    You have to continue to pray and have faith. Everything happens for a reason and you have to know that something good will come out of this.

  • Ger Wil

    So, it doesnt say anywhere in the Bible that “those who pray will never see harm.” Prayer doesnt mean invincibility or invisibility. Prayer is part of one’s connection to the Father.

    Also, as a Christian (which your piece makes me believe that you are) you have a very backwards look at death. Death in this world, for a truly believing Christian, is not something to fear. It is almost celebratory as those people are now with the Father. They don’t have to bear the burdens of this world and of the flesh.

    So no you don’t behave as if prayer suddenly doesn’t work because of the works of evil (shooting 9 people in a church). Doing so is playing right into the hands of the enemy(s). In fact, for those that are Christian, these things should only make you pray harder. Pray more. Pray with scripture to back up your claims that you will bring before God. Pray for guidance. Pray for direction to be sent to our people, to all people. Direction on how to ultimately find the true peace and well-being of blacks and other peoples as well.

    But, don’t expect that God is going to fit in the boxes you have built for Him. Don’t expect that just because you pray that you will never know hurt or pain. Don’t expect that God is going to act out every request you bring before immediately or in [i]your[/i] time frame.

    We have to recognize just who is in control. We have to realize that things happen for a reason. The reason could be that God is really trying to show white people (and any people who turn a blind eye or dismissive mind to the persecution of others OR are the ones carrying it out) that they need to wake up and smell the racism. It could be that we as blacks still, for whatever reason, haven’t reached the point where we are really ready to unite and DEMAND change.

    Keep praying though. That’s something like one of the most important things to do.

    **this message is aimed mostly of those of Christian belief that somehow feel that prayer isn’t working**

    • Nick Peters

      Black people can’t demand anything…

      because we are economically dependent on the people who benefit from white supremacy

  • Tentpole

    Prayer is the fuel that powers man’s soul. Humans are responsible for using that fuel to stand up against evil. Prayer is not the solution, it is the start. Prayer by itself is worthless without action. Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.

    • TeeChantel

      Faith without works is dead.

  • guest

    My heart hurts, i’m tired of hearing about the hate in this country. But if I know one thing I know that my God is real. And just as he gives me the free will to worship and pray. He also gives others the free will to hurt and kill. All I can do is to continue to pray that the lives of these 9 will not go in vain, that their lives will bring the lost closer to Christ and open the minds of those who hate.

    • Nick Peters

      then doesn’t he give you the free will to protect yourself and your loved ones…
      …or are you just supposed to live in a perpetual vulnerable and weak state?

More Like This