Prayer isn’t Everything (A response to Charleston)

My heart is shredded over the events in Charleston last week, events which have been rumbling and building, sometimes screaming, in the news for months. Charleston, however, leaves us without the convenient labels we have used to legitimize race related violence: thugs, entitled, criminals. Labels which, perhaps, make someone seem more deserving of what they receive.

Maybe labels are how we sleep at night.

But I’m not sleeping anymore, and here’s why: A group of praying people welcomed a stranger into their midst. He walked into their church, and sat among them. and then he murdered them, coldly, calculatedly, hatefully.

Because they are black.
No labels.
No controversy, no riots, no reason but one.
Because they are black.

Prayer isn't everything...A response to Charleston

I am not black. I am a white woman of great privilege. I have never felt hatred simply for being white. I have never been terrified that my children would be in the wrong place at the wrong time only to be killed because they fit a profile. I have never wondered if someone thought I was up to no good by my mere presence. I have never been pressed into the dirt by fear or another human being.

I am not black. Instead, I am a woman of many prejudices. When I honestly examine who I am, what thoughts and beliefs hide inside me, I know this to be true. Racial, sexual, religious, political, socio-economic, educational, lifestyle, I know the labels, and I have used them to place myself above other human beings.

I am guilty. I recognize this.
God-in-me can change this.

The most common response I see to the events in Charleston is a call to prayer. I am for this. I believe in prayer, in its power to generate change, revival, revolution and transformation. Yes. Yes, do pray. But if you hear nothing else in all the thoughts I share with you today hear this:

Friends, people are dying. They are dying because their skin is dark. They are dying because they love someone of the same sex. They are dying because of their religion (and I’m not just talking about white, Christian missionaries here). People are dying. And if we dare sit in our safe, white suburbs and our safe, white churches praying and say we have done all we can do, we are guilty.

We are guilty.

Prayer is necessary, but so is action. We are the Church, a people called by Jesus Christ to live as Jesus Christ, which means we cannot see another’s suffering and turn a blind eye. We cannot hear their desperate cries for help and simply walk by. We cannot wait for them to clean up their act and get life right before we enter into their pain. We cannot because Jesus did not.

Jesus was a man of prayer, absolutely. He drew away often to pray, but He did not only pray. If prayer were the solution to saving the world, the story of Christ would have reached its culmination in the Garden of Gethsemane, for surely, God Himself praying until His sweat ran like blood would be enough to save His people. Except it wasn’t.  Jesus followed His prayer with action, hanging on a cross until He died in shame, absorbing the pain and sin of the very people who drove the nails which held Him there.

This is Love.
This is Christ.
This should be the Church.

So yes, please pray. Pray daily. Pray fervently. Pray until sweat runs like blood.

But don’t stop there.
Let us weep with our hurting brothers and sisters.
Let’s examine ourselves for the very prejudices and belief systems which generate hatred and violence. Recognize them, and repent.
Let us change our hearts and our actions.
Let’s look for injustice in our communities and speak out.
We will work with those who seek justice, side by side, hand in hand.
We will enter into situations which make us uncomfortable.
Let us each see the humanity in every person, the humanity which we all share.
We will speak to those who are different from us; hear their story; respect their experience.
We will listen without an agenda.
We must stop waiting for people to be like us to affirm their value and to offer them a seat at the table.

We don’t have to accept the world as it is. We can change, and when we change, the world will change with us.

His Kingdom come.
His will be done through my life as it is in Heaven.

 Dear brothers, what’s the use of saying that you have faith and are Christians if you aren’t proving it by helping others? Will that kind of faith save anyone?  If you have a friend who is in need of food and clothing, and you say to him, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat hearty,” and then don’t give him clothes or food, what good does that do?

 So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. You must also do good to prove that you have it. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good works is no faith at all—it is dead and useless. James 2:14-17


Dana Portwood
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Dana Portwood

Dana is a writer, book-a-holic, lover of dogs, tattoo addict, wanna be beach bum, hair color-er, a survivor of cancer, over the moon about being 40, and a sold out minimalist. She's madly in love with her husband of twenty years and crazy about (or maybe just crazy) raising three teenage daughters.She believes in the power of Love, the miracle of grace, and the strength of community.
Dana Portwood
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About Dana Portwood

Dana is a pastor’s wife and home schooling mom of three beautiful teens in middle Georgia. She’s passionate about women’s friendships, minimalism and being in the Word. You can find her on the MoJoy Blog (

  • AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Heather

    Action is always necessary! I love your heart here. We have to be the change. And it starts with our friends. Use you sphere of influence.

    • YES! If everyone worked for change right where they are, we wouldn’t need to “change the world” The world would already be changed.

  • Oh Dana. This mirrors what I have struggled with sharing. That deep down, as a white privileged woman I have harbored racist stereotypes, thoughts. When I look at them, I realize the sin. And I choose to stop. To stand with my brothers and sisters in Christ, to stand with PEOPLE, no matter their differences. But until we take the time to stop. To recognize our own sin, nothing will change. We have to see our sin, repent of it, and then choose to live differently. To love differently. Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly. Thank you for choosing to say, this is not enough.

  • Dana,

    Thanks so much for these honest words of wisdom. Earnest pray is never passive but should always move us to action. May God bring out blind spots into view so we can deal with them so to help our brothers and sisters no matter how different they may be.

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