"Well, that was weird."
Several hundred faith and community leaders gathered at Western Middle School this morning at the request of Governor Matt Bevin to discuss the problem of violence in Louisville's West End. Bevin showed graphs that indicated 80% of the city's homicides taking place in this area, and poignantly introduced the grieving mother of Daqaunte Hobbs, a child who was shot to death just last week while having a bedtime snack and playing on his tablet. Before I go on, a little background is in order.
There was vigorous debate among area clergy about whether to attend this meeting, and the TED Talk group at church informed my decision to go. I feared a photo-op rather than a discussion, and did not want to be window dressing for a political maneuver. I was also peeved that the press was to be barred from the room.
Partly because of the press ban, Empower West and other organizations had a news conference outside the venue to suggest policies and strategies to quell the violence. These statements, including one from UCC clergy, made note of the historic roots of the violence as well as policy approaches which might help. Face it, we are all terribly grieved and frustrated by this problem, which has every appearance of being a gang war. I was glad to stand with long-time colleagues from around to city to ask for more serious intervention in this problem by both Democratic and Republican leaders. (Yes, both were mentioned.) As we presented our statements to the press, another group called the Kentucky Prayer Coalition waved banners and handed out flyers saying they were "Praying for kings and all in authority" (I Timothy 2:2) and expressing their commitment to "raise up godly leaders to possess the gates in all 120 counties across Kentucky."
Inside the 1920s-style auditorium we sat or stood shoulder to shoulder - Christian leaders of many denominations, different ethnic groups, and clearly a few Jewish and Muslim representatives. The meeting began with two contemporary Christian singers performing a praise song and praying for unity. Then the Lt. Governor, Jenean Hampton, took the podium and gave her Christian testimony. She pointedly said she was put in office "for such a time as this" and that her great desire was to drive Satan out of the city. Next came Governor Bevin, who prayed a long extemporaneous prayer for unity and an end to the violence. He asked how many people were there from outside Jefferson County, and about a third of the people raised their hands. These folks treated the assembly like a revival meeting, raising their hands as the governor prayed, and providing a ready-made applause block. Bevin then engaged in a meandering talk about faith, asserting that the violence problem had "no political solution, no government solution, and no law enforcement solution," only a spiritual one. He went on so long without mentioning any proposals that some in the audience began to call out for a more serious dialogue. One woman just baldly called him a hypocrite. As other verbal objections began to rise, he got to his proposal. He called on us to choose a city block, and do a prayer walk around it each evening.
I left after an hour, but texted a friend to ask if anything else was proposed, and the answer was no. Bevin did apparently ask people to come up afterward and give him suggestions. He and the Lt. Governor were scheduled to hold a noon press conference saying what they had learned in the meeting.
Grace Immanuel people will know that am loath to mention politicians by name, preferring to stick to issues. That said, there is no way to report this event - to which I was invited - without including the one who invited us, the governor.
I have many reflections bouncing around in my head, but the predominant one is "Well, that was weird." Regardless of your political stripe, I would love to hear your opinion about what happened today, and even more importantly, what you think can be done to lessen the violence in our city.
Christ's Peace, Greg