Earlier this month, Kentucky’s Republican Governor Matt Bevin offered a bold solution for solving crime in his state: He wanted people of faith to roam the streets of the most violent communities and get to know everyone who lives there. By forming those personal relationships, he argued, it would help solve the biggest problems they faced.
It wasn’t the only solution he offered, but it was one he felt required a press conference and it received outsized media attention.
It doesn’t matter the age of people. We need young and old people alike who genuinely believe in the power of prayer, who want to restore dignity and hope into these communities, and they want to do that by physically being in those communities and walking around. That’s what we’re looking for.
We asked people of different churches, congregations, synagogues, people who believe in the power of prayer and wanted to put their feet to work along with their convictions and their faith, to come consistently… I truly believe we’re going to see a difference in our city. I personally believe in the power of prayer. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the evidence not only in our communities, but beyond, and this is what we’re asking people to do.
In essence, the headlines said, Bevin wanted to use prayer to stop crime.
David G. McAfee already explained on this site why that was such an awful idea. Besides the fact that prayer doesn’t work, it’s dangerous to ask random citizens to walk in the most violent communities and engage with strangers they meet. It also ignores some of the biggest root causes of crime, including poverty, systemic racism, health care needs, etc. God can’t fix all that. Government, however, can play a big role in addressing all of those problems. Instead, Bevin wanted Jesus to carry the heavy load.
Now, it’s getting worse.
Bevin received a lot of well-deserved backlash from newspaper columnists and even religious leaders in those poverty-stricken communities. Pastor Joe Phelps of Highland Baptist Church minced few words in saying Bevin’s plan was a waste of time.
I’m embarrassed that non-Christians will assume the governor’s plan, couched exclusively in Christian jargon, represents our only response to violence.
As if the only tool at this Christian governor’s disposal was prayer. Talk about hiding the ball.
As if fervent prayers aren’t offered daily by the people in Louisville’s blighted, violent area.
As if a few hours of white prayers will tip the divine scale and resolve a multi-generational inequity that will take generations to undo.
As if transformation can happen without cost, as the governor claimed.
Rev. Kevin Cosby of St. Stephen Church was deeply offended by Bevin’s arguably-unintentional but still-very-real racial blindness:
I believe that Bevins’s actions at Western Middle school set race relations back in Louisville more than any single act in recent years.
His blatant insensitivity simply reinforced stereotypes many have about blacks. His meeting, which amounted to little more than political pandering, took advantage of white ignorance of our recent racist past and how that past has shaped our present. More than anything, his feigned attempt at offering a solution caused severe pain to a community that is already in hurting from being blamed for what their government has done.
What’s Bevin’s response to them? Start watching around the 8:30 mark of the video below. And note how part of his response is to belittle the religious leaders criticizing him by using “air quotes” around the word “leaders.”
… I’m not gonna get into a back and forth with “leaders” of the faith-based community who have come out in opposition to the idea of praying. I’m a little shocked at that. It’s interesting these very same people came to my announcement early and made sure that they held their own press conference… trying to hijack the media for their own self-purposes.
Then they came out and said that the discussion of prayer made them need barf bags. That was from an associate pastor at the largest church in our inner city. The senior pastor of that very same church said this was one of those most divisive things that he’s ever seen, dividing blacks and whites.
I would beg to differ but I’ll leave it to you to decide…
… I don’t know that we’re diving the races as much as we are separating the sheep from the goats. I think they’ll understand what I’m saying on that front.
But the bottom line is this: I stand by everything I said. I still call on the men and women of the faith community to step forward and take ownership…
That reference to sheep and goats is worth explaining, and Joseph Gerth of the Courier-Journal does it very well:
When he’s talking about “separating sheep from goats,” he’s talking about a passage in the Gospel of Matthew describing the second coming of Christ and how at that time Christ will separate the good from the bad, much the same way that a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
In other words, you’re either with Bevin and his buddy Jesus… or you’re doomed to an eternity in Hell. That includes those pastors who dedicate their lives to God.
Bevin spends nearly 12 minutes in that video attacking his critics and blaming the media for his problems. You know what he doesn’t do? He never explains how prayer is one small component in a larger government-led plan to tackle the root causes of violence in the state.
And that’s why people continue to say he’s not effective. He’s going for the photo-ops. He’s appealing to the Religious Right. He’s not doing the things a more intelligent governor would be doing if he actually cared about solving these problems.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)