Pray for Whom?

As I stood at the vigil today, I carried with me thoughts from the morning’s meeting for worship. On my way to Central Philadelphia Meeting, I happened to glance at the front page of the Sunday paper. There was an article that began with the headline, "Should we pray for Timothy McVeigh?" I carried this thought into meeting, and it kept going around in my head. I felt I had to speak and was about to rise, intending to preface my remarks by saying that I had often heard it was not appropriate to base messages on what you read in the morning newspaper. But as often happens in meetings, just before I rose a woman across the room stood and began her message by saying, "I have often heard it is not appropriate to base messages on the morning newspaper." She too had been struck by the same article, and it led her to reflect on the nature of prayer, on the need to pray for those whose opinions are different from our own, and a reminder that whatever else prayer does, it changes us.

As the meeting progressed, there were several other unrelated messages, but I found that my leading to speak had not gone away. And so I rose to say something like the following:

I too was moved by the article asking whether we should pray for Timothy McVeigh. When I first thought about it the answer seemed simple and obvious: of course we should pray for him. There is that of God in him just as much as in me, his spirit will go to God at his death just as mine will. Of course we should pray for him and hold him in the Light. But as I think further I realize that I am not called to pray for Timothy McVeigh this morning. I am called to pray for myself, and perhaps for others in the room and in this country.

For the past 11 years, every day of every week, the United States has bombed Iraq. Over that period of time, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children—civilians, just as innocent as the 168 people who died in Oklahoma City—have been killed in my name and I have remained silent. I have let it go on; I have not even written a letter to the president expressing my opposition. Timothy McVeigh has merely held up a mirror to my face and let me see what I have been doing. So this morning I pray for my own forgiveness. Dear God, please forgive me. Forgive me for my silence. Give me the strength and resolve to be silent and complicit no more.

John Andrew Gallery

John Andrew Gallery is a member of Chestnut Hill (Pa.) Meeting. Weekly prayer vigils for peace are held in Philadelphia every Sunday at 4 p.m.