My Prayer to Mr. Stitt: An Open Letter

Dear Governor Stitt,

I sit on the eve of your proclaimed Day of Prayer and Fasting,’ neither praying nor fasting. Instead, I am penning you this letter to ask whether prayer is not at its best when paired with action.

At the time of this writing, COVID-19 has taken 1,812 lives in Oklahoma alone. That is over ten times the number that were killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing. I cite that horrific event not to compare domestic terrorism to a virus. Rather, I want to remind us what tragedy is, and tragedy is happening now. 

This tragedy, while not entirely avoidable, can be mitigated by very real steps: mask mandates, restaurant and bar closures, supplemental incomes for non-essential workers. Because of this, Mr. Stitt, your proclamation reads as a statement of gross inaction—a dangerous admission of powerlessness when it is in your power to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

From former Tulsa mayoral candidate, Greg Robinson

Now, I am a Jew as much as I am an Oklahoman, so when reading your proclamation I was reminded of Pikuach Nefesh. This Jewish principle comes from a Talmudic commentary on Leviticus 18:5 “You shall therefore keep my statutes...which if a man do, he shall live by them," and as the Rabbis add, “not that he shall die by them.” In short, the principle dictates that when a life is on the line, the preservation of said life takes precedence over Jewish law.

In the Jewish faith a minyan (a group of 10 or more Jewish adults) is required for public prayer. But, at a time when a gathering of this size means increased risk, we must refrain. Human life takes precedence, always

But this is not a Jewish idea alone. Late last month Christian healthcare professionals urged congregants to stay home, reminding us of the ‘Golden Rule:’ “Do to others what you want them to do to you” (Matthew 7:12). 

From the Proclamation

All of this is to say that while prayer (done safely, not at large gatherings) has a place in this pandemic, so too does action. Now is a time to care for one another, to listen to scientists and medical experts, and to postpone the joys of gathering in worship until doing so does not mean risking lives.

Lastly, I must emphasize that science and faith needn't be at odds. This is an appeal to you, Mr. Stitt, as a Christian who knows well that just as God made the Earth and Sky, He also made His children capable of reason; He made the world a thing that can be examined, studied, and learned from. With the help of God’s gift of reason, we can make wise decisions to reduce suffering in this pandemic.

I hope you pray well tomorrow and that in your prayers you find a way to act; to be decisive; to listen to God, yes, but also to listen to reason. 

If prayers sent heavenward are a way to make God listen, then surely letters to public officials are the equivalent of making our wishes known down here on earth.

Consider this my prayer to you, Mr. Stitt.


               Elizabeth J. Wenger