A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Prayer is powerful, good and comforting, but actions are required to stop gun violence

WASHINGTON – It is becoming quite apparent that St. Matt the Divine has little or no interest in serving as the governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

No, what Gov. Bevin really aspires to do is serve as prayer leader of a 4.4 million-member congregation that, collectively, will chant all of the Bluegrass State’s worldly cares away.

Mad Matt was at it once again this week at the 52nd Annual Governors Prayer Breakfast in Lexington. By all indication s the Divine One would gladly trade in his first floor office in the State Capitol for a Chautauqua tent. 

“People turn to prayer, not because it’s insignificant or a cultural crutch, but because it truly changes things,” he told the 1,200 in attendance. “People earnestly, instinctively, and collectively turn to prayer because when, at a time when everything else fades by comparison, the only tangible thing is prayer.”

St. Matt is a big proponent of prayer and, in case you haven’t noticed, he broaches the subject a lot — nearly every time a sticky wicket presents itself to his administration, thus providing him with an opportunity to address an issue without actually doing anything about it.

The murder rate in the West End of Louisville? Take to the streets, brothers and sisters, magically make the violence disappear through prayer, as if the neighborhoods’ pastors and true believers hadn’t already been doing that with little apparent effect.

Two innocent students murdered at Marshall County High School? Thoughts and prayers, of course. And, for good measure, a declaration for a Day of Prayer for the victims, their loved ones and the community, although St. Matt couldn’t be bothered to attend himself, seeings how he was appearing at a retreat out in godless California – Palm Springs, no less — nuzzling up to the Koch Brothers, praising them for their efforts to “protect our culture,’’ which he characterized as “crumbling.’’

And for those of you who carry doubts that prayer alone will adequately address pressing issues? Oh, ye of little faith!

“While the mockers want to belittle the significance of prayer, I am reminded: be not deceived. . .God is not mocked,’’ he said.

Perhaps, but self-righteous governors are.

Listen, before anyone takes offense, let’s agree that prayer is a good thing. It provides constant comfort to millions of people, helps them recognize a higher and wiser power and, hopefully, leads them to a better life and makes those who sincerely address the deity of their choice better people.

Those are all good attributes of prayer but the activity itself is rather empty if it fails to lead to good deeds. Praying and then neglecting to do something within one’s capabilities to address the issue that led to the prayer in the first place hardly seems to make the activity worthwhile.

St. Matt made a big splash last June when he offered his proposal to pray the violence away in the West End. What has he done since then, as governor, to address the issue? It doesn’t appear his prayers, and no doubt the prayers of thousands of others, have proven sufficient to end the slaughter. A report issued last November found that Louisville was the 11th deadliest city in the U.S. out of more than 60 cities and metro areas surveyed. The city experienced 10 killings between Jan. 1 and Jan. 28 of this year, a record pace.

What Bevin did do, rather than take some concrete action against the homicides, was attack those who dismissed his prayer proposal. While local leaders sought initiatives to bring jobs to the area, raise wages and enact necessary gun laws, he responded, “Those who hate God and hate this administration were happy to mock that,” adding that proactive efforts to address the crisis are “topics for another day.’’

And when might that day arrive?

Then there’s the Marshall County tragedy. Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, a treasure during his years in the Kentucky General Assembly, has filed legislation requiring the commonwealth’s gun owners who have children living in their homes to disable their firearms while in storage with a trigger lock.

The two students killed in Marshall County were allegedly gunned down by a fellow student, 15 years old.

The legislation appears to be going nowhere and all the prayers apparently have done little to lead St. Matt to hop on board. Rather, in the past he has been quoted as saying “the gun is not the problem,’’ blaming the killings on an out-of-control culture.

So, by the governor’s logic, prayers will stop killings but laws restricting firearms, even a proposal as simple as placing locks on guns around children, won’t. Yet the killings continue, despite the efforts of parents and friends who pray for it to end.

There are so many other issues laying around that St. Matt seems determined to lay at the deity’s doorstep – St. Peter’s gate if you prefer — and then ignore as quickly as possible. While the poor pray for good health, the administration is seeking to charge individuals who seek Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

At the prayer breakfast, Bevin said, “A prayer is something that, truth be told, requires both humility and faith – the humility to understand at times there is nothing we can do by our own power and the faith to know our creator is listening.’’

The funny thing is humility has never proved to be St. Matt’s bread and butter – not if you’re familiar with the rhetoric he breaks out when dealing with someone who points out his many failings.

And what about those instances where there is something you can do under your own power to address a problem but refuse to do so? The gov said the deity is listening. Do you suppose he/she will be pleased with what he/she is hearing? .

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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