Gov. Bevin unveils prayer initiative to combat violence in Louisville
The governor's challenge for churches to take ownership of troubled neighborhoods brought a mixed reaction.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Gov. Matt Bevin said he wants people of faith to take ownership of Louisville's troubled neighborhoods, one block at a time.
Bevin unveiled his much-anticipated anti-violence initiative Thursday during a meeting with several hundred pastors at Western Middle School.
The meeting at times resembled a church service, as Bevin prayed for unity and understanding as they addressed the issue of rising violence in Louisville.
He challenged people of faith to put feet to their prayers. His plan to curb violence is for small groups of three to 10 people to begin a ritual of quietly walking one block, in one troubled neighborhood, at 7 p.m., several days a week for one year, praying as they walk.
“That's it. Pretty unsophisticated. Pretty uncomplicated. Pretty basic," Bevin said. "But 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."
Bevin called it a simple, cost-free way for people of faith to reclaim violent neighborhoods. The gathering was occasionally punctuated by both shouts of "amen" and of anger. Most of those attending seemed to embrace Bevin’s idea.
“Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you: Those principles is what this governor is trying to bring back into the faith community, to get out and touch the communities the way we ought to,” said Pastor Jerry Stephenson of Midwest Church of Christ.
But some pastors walked out of meeting, saying Bevin's plan does nothing to address the root causes of violence: economic injustice and racism.
“The only thing I wish was present was a barf bag in front of my seat so I could throw up," said Rev. Clay Calloway, of the West Louisville Ministers Coalition. "Otherwise, I might have stayed a little bit longer."
“To pray and to read scriptures is fine. Make that a commitment in legislation,” added Rev. Frank Smith, pastor of Christ’s Church for our Community.
But Bevin said his plan is not designed to replace political and economic solutions to crime and violence.
“This isn't in any way, shape or form trying to take the place of other things that have got to be done," he said. "But this is something that we firmly believe will make difference in our community."
Even those pastors who agree with Bevin said prayer-walking cannot be the only solution.
“His initiative is workable," said Bishop Michael Ford of Christ Temple Christian Life Center. "I think it's an important piece, but it's not the only piece."
“This issue is not going to be solved by us walking the neighborhoods," Stephenson said. "But it will begin there."
Bevin said there is no central organization for the prayer walks. He is counting on the initiative to grow as a grass-roots, organic movement. Both Bevin and Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton said they plan to participate.
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