Thoughts and prayers

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The phrase "thoughts and prayers" is often used by public officials offering condolences after any publicly notable event such as a deadly natural disaster.[1] The phrase has received criticism for its repeated usage in the context of gun violence or terrorism,[2][3][4][5][6] with critics claiming "thoughts and prayers" are offered as substitutes for actions they believe would be corrective, like gun control or counterterrorism.[7][8]

Usage history[edit]

White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders using the term "thoughts and prayers" in reference to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting and the victims of Hurricane Maria.
After the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting, Nancy Pelosi sends "thoughts and prayers" for Steve Scalise

The phrase thoughts and prayers is frequently used as an expression of condolences for victims of natural disasters (eg. the 2010 Canterbury earthquake[9] and 2011 Christchurch earthquake[10][11][12]).

The phrase has been deployed in the wake of numerous mass shootings, including the Columbine High School massacre (1999),[13] the November 2015 Paris attacks,[14] the Orlando nightclub shooting,[15] and the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.[16] In addition, "thoughts and prayers" are also offered to victims of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina (2005),[17][18] the 2017 Central Mexico earthquake, and Hurricane Maria (2017).[1]

President Donald Trump has been known to use the phrase. In 2016, he used it following the St. Joseph courthouse shooting, the Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, and the shooting of Nykea Aldridge.[19][20][21] In 2017 he used it following the Congressional baseball shooting in June[22] and the Southern California wildfires in December.[23] In 2018, Trump used the phrase following the Marshall County High School shooting in January, the Carcassonne and Trèbes attack in March,[24] the YouTube headquarters shooting in April, and the Capital Gazette shooting in June.[25][26] Following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February, Slate noted that several Republican politicians who had previously used the idiom (including Trump and senators Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey) avoided using the specific phrase "thoughts and prayers" in response to the shooting.[27] Trump, for example, instead offered "prayers and condolences" via Twitter.[27][28]


After a natural or human-caused disaster, people may be urged to "go beyond thoughts and prayers," by donating blood or sending aid or money to help the victims. After the Las Vegas shooting, authorities said that although thoughts and prayers are appreciated, the most effective way to help was to give blood.[29]


As "thoughts and prayers" became associated with post-tragedy condolences, commentators have criticized the phrase as a form of civilian or political slacktivism.[30]

After the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, called on politicians to "move beyond thoughts and prayers".[31] In her post, vanden Heuvel referred to a press release by Paul Helmke, then-president of the Brady Campaign, who offered his thoughts and prayers but also stated "it is long overdue for us to take some common-sense actions to prevent tragedies like this from continuing to occur."[32]

Video of President Obama delivering a statement on a 2015 shooting and criticizing "thoughts and prayers"[a]

In October 2015, following the Umpqua Community College shooting, President Barack Obama said that "thoughts and prayers [do] not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted some place else in America next week or a couple months from now."[a] The White House subsequently announced that Obama would continue to take more executive action on the subject of gun control.[33]

On December 2, 2015, in the wake of the San Bernardino mass shooting, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted his frustration with the phrase "thoughts and prayers", a sentiment echoed by the cover of the New York Daily News, which included tweets from senators and representatives the newspaper characterized as "meaningless platitudes".[34]

Following the Orlando nightclub shooting, Phil Plait wrote that while it was "natural and very human" to "send their thoughts and express their grief ... it's cynically hypocritical when politicians do it and nothing else", later noting it was "particularly galling" to see "all the NRA-funded lawmakers tweeting their 'thoughts and prayers'".[35] An accompanying Slate post provided a selected list of members of Congress who had tweeted "thoughts and prayers" along with the amount of campaign contributions they had received from gun rights groups, based on research provided by Igor Volsky of the Center for American Progress.[36]

Some critics of the phrase "thoughts and prayers" point to the Epistle of James in the Christian New Testament to argue that action is needed in addition to expressions of faith. Verses commonly cited to back up this argument include:[37][38]

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?[39]


Laura Coward, a writer for The Huffington Post, defended the use of the phrase "thoughts and prayers", acknowledging the inadequacy of not taking actions, but arguing that prayer "jolts us and disrupts us, removing us from our comfort zones [... it] takes us to uncomfortable places – spiritually, physically and emotionally – and asks us to do the hard work of accepting more than one perspective."[40] Kimberly Ross, a writer for RedState, asks that victims should "not [be] used as pawns in another political debate about guns" since "[w]e shouldn't blame anyone but the perpetrator for crimes committed, [...] that means we can do nothing on our own – in that moment – apart from submitting thoughts and prayers."[41]

In media[edit]

In his third stand up special "Thoughts and Prayers", comedian Anthony Jeselnik skewers people who tweet out "thoughts and prayers" on the day of a tragedy, calling it a way for those people to garner attention in the face of a tragedy and saying that tweeting thoughts and prayers is so useless that it achieves "less than nothing".[42]

In 2016, a web-based video game, Thoughts and Prayers: The Game,[43] was published to argue that thoughts and prayers have had no effect on saving lives in the context of mass shootings.[44]

The fifth episode of the fourth season of animated series BoJack Horseman, titled "Thoughts and Prayers", presents a real-life shooting that delays the opening of a new movie featuring gun violence.[5]

In June 2017, the air date for an episode of The Carmichael Show entitled "Shoot-up-able", which showed the main character surviving a mass shooting, was postponed by two weeks so that it did not air 14 June, the same night as the shooting at which Representative Scalise and three others were shot, or the UPS shooting in San Francisco, where three were killed by a shooter who later committed suicide.[45][46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b See:
    • "Statement by the President on the Shootings at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon". White House Office of the Press Secretary. October 1, 2015.


  1. ^ a b Scribner, Herb (21 September 2017). "Celebrities share thoughts and prayers for Mexico and Puerto Rico victims". Deseret News. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  2. ^ "Mark Kelly: 'Thoughts and prayers' from politicians 'aren't going to stop the next shooting'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  3. ^ Carter, Brandon (2 October 2017). "Dem rips colleagues for offering 'thoughts and prayers': 'Your cowardice to act cannot be whitewashed'". TheHill. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  4. ^ Telnaes, Ann (2 October 2017). "Opinion | Thoughts and prayers, again". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  5. ^ a b Martinelli, Marissa (2 October 2017). "BoJack Horseman's Mass Shooting Episode Reminds Us That "Thoughts and Prayers" Won't Stop Gun Violence". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  6. ^ Murray, Douglas (23 March 2017). "Pray for London, for Antwerp, for Nice: this is Europe's new normal". The Spectator. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  7. ^ Brigham, Bob (2 October 2017). "'Enough BS': Ex-Bush ethics lawyer derides politicians offering 'thoughts and prayers' after Las Vegas massacre". RawStory. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  8. ^ Bort, Ryan (2 October 2017). "Thoughts and prayers and not much more: Politicians react to Las Vegas shooting". Newsweek. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  9. ^ "Thoughts, prayers and love". Stuff.
  10. ^ "Our Thoughts & Prayers Go Out to the People of New Zealand -".
  11. ^ "Archdiocese of Wellington – Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Christchurch".
  12. ^ "Stars send prayers to Christchurch quake victims". 22 February 2011 – via
  13. ^ Robinson, Marilyn; Obmascik, Mark; Lowe, Peggy (24 April 1999). "Official: Bombs planted during prom party?". The Denver Post. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  14. ^ S.Res. 313 at
  15. ^ Chan, Melissa (12 June 2016). "U.S. Political Leaders React to Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando". Time. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  16. ^ Levitz, Eric (2 October 2017). "Trump Sticks to Thoughts and Prayers in Speech on Las Vegas Shooting". New York. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  17. ^ "A Message to Individuals Impacted by Hurricane Katrina" (Press release). Walmart. 2 September 2005. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  18. ^ Clinton, Bill (2 September 2005). "Statement: Hurricane Katrina Relief" (Press release). Clinton Foundation. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  19. ^ "Donald Trump offers 'thoughts and prayers' to victims in Michigan courthouse shooting". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  20. ^ Searles, Kaylin. "President-elect Donald Trump's 'thoughts and prayers' with TN amid wildfires". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  21. ^ "Don Cheadle unleashes Twitter storm on Donald Trump". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  22. ^ Wigglesworth, Alex. "Trump's message for the Congressional Baseball Game". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  23. ^ Serna, Joseph. "Trump tweets 'thoughts and prayers' to Californians affected by wildfire". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  24. ^ "Trump tweets 'thoughts and prayers' for victims of attack in France". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  25. ^ "Trump tweets 'thoughts and prayers' for YouTube shooting victims". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  26. ^ "Trump: "My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families"". 28 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  27. ^ a b Graham, Ruth (15 February 2018). "Republicans Have Finally Stopped Using the Phrase 'Thoughts and Prayers'". Slate. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  28. ^ Trump, Donald J. (14 February 2018). "My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school". @realDonaldTrump. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  29. ^ Rigby, Sam (2 October 2017). "Beyond thoughts and prayers: People line up at blood banks to help the victims of the Las Vegas shooting". Quartz. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  30. ^ Willingham, AJ (20 February 2018). "How 'thoughts and prayers' went from common condolence to cynical meme". CNN. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  31. ^ vanden Heuvel, Katrina (16 April 2007). "Beyond Thoughts and Prayers". The Nation. Archived from the original on 28 April 2007. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  32. ^ Helmke, Paul (16 April 2007). "Nation Again Grieves Over A Tragedy "Of Monumental Proportions" (Press release). Brady Campaign. Archived from the original on 2 May 2007. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  33. ^ "Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/5/2015". The White House. October 5, 2015. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  34. ^ Diamond, Jeremy (3 December 2015). "Connecticut senator has had enough of 'thoughts' and 'prayers'". CNN. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  35. ^ Plait, Phil (13 June 2016). "Orlando: What can you do in the Face of Another Senseless Gun Tragedy". Slate. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  36. ^ Wickman, Forrest (12 June 2016). "GOP Congressmen Offer "Thoughts and Prayers." Here's How Much the NRA Gave Them to Offer Nothing More". Slate. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  37. ^ Powers, Kirsten (3 October 2017). "Acts of Faith: Why 'thoughts and prayers' is starting to sound so profane". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  38. ^ DeBerry, Jarvis (2 October 2017). "Opinion: Your thoughts and prayers haven't stopped mass shootings". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans, Louisiana. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  39. ^ James 2:14–2:16
  40. ^ Coward, Laura (9 July 2016). "In Defense of Offering Our 'Thoughts and Prayers'". Huffpost. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  41. ^ Ross, Kimberly (13 June 2016). ""Thoughts And Prayers" Are Always Needed After Terror Strikes". RedState. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  42. ^ "Anthny Jeselnik Thoughts and Prayers".
  43. ^ "Thoughts & Prayers: The Game". GOP Arcade. 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  44. ^ Kircher, Madison Malone (17 June 2016). "This Is Not Your Average Shooting Game". New York. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  45. ^ Adams, Sam (15 June 2017). "NBC Decides It's Too Soon for a Carmichael Show Episode About Mass Shootings". Slate. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  46. ^ Stanhope, Kate (26 June 2017). "NBC Reschedules 'Carmichael Show' Mass Shooting Episode". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 3 October 2017.

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