LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) – When Leon Slatter saw the horrific video of the Minnesapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, there was instant sorrow and heartbreak moving through him. But the emotion that raged the most was anger.
The longtime pastor of Cadentown Baptist Church in Lexington said he refused to watch the video at first. But it came around again on a social media feed and he viewed it and quickly was compelled to comment. “This is what I said: Something is wrong. Then I said: Lord Jesus help me.”
Slatter said the second comment was a prayer to God from him. “I’ll tell you why I said that. I got angry. I literally felt anger,” he said. “My prayer was, Lord Jesus, help me, because of the anger. That was for me because of my anger. That’s the reason.”
It was also why Slatter rode his motorcycle to a downtown park in Lexington on a sun-splashed Friday morning not to protest, but to pray for national and state leaders. He went to pray for the president, vice president, congressman, representatives, governors, mayors, the police department and for pastors. He was moved by the spirit to offer heartfelt prayers for these critical leaders and invited viewers on Facebook Live to join him.
“It’s how those of us that know Jesus Christ respond to it,” Slatter said. “It has to be a Christ-centered response. It starts one person at a time, and it has to start in the church house. The one thing I said today, I came to pray, not to protest. There’s a place for protest, but there’s a place for prayer.”
The tragic incident in Minnesota, with the death of George Floyd, spilled over into violent protests across the nation on Thursday with cries of hated and rioting, evil and bloodshed engulfing the land.
The white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck was arrested on murder charges Friday and accused in court papers of ignoring another officer’s concerns about the handcuffed black man who died after pleading that he could not breathe.
“I’m a firm believer if we want healing in our land, it begins with me,” Slatter said. “The way I respond to it, I start to make the difference. I just believe the only thing that’s going to bring about a change in our country and our communities is for those of us who know Jesus Christ to make a commitment. The love of Jesus negates my human way of seeing things.”
The country has been rocked with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. It has stirred hearts to angry levels again in the face of prejudice and racism.
“This whole thing is fueling divisiveness,” Slatter said. “I think, more than anything else, we have to recognize we do have a problem. Honor it by saying yes we have a problem in our land and in our communities.”
Dr. Todd Gray, executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said Proverbs 31:9 calls upon leaders to speak out against injustice.
“The death of George Floyd is an injustice,” he said. “I am praying that George Floyd’s family will receive justice in his wrongful death. We can also listen to our African American brothers and sisters in Christ and offer support. Romans 12:15 calls on all believers to weep with those who weep.”
On Thursday protesters around the country, in cities including Los Angeles, Denver, New York and Memphis, showed up in alliance with demonstrators in Minneapolis where Floyd became the latest black man to die in police custody. Some of the protests turned violent.
“When a black man loses his life through a wrongful death, the African American Christian community grieves,” Gray said. “As a believer, I want to grieve with them. The best way I can grieve is to get on the phone and call and listen to what they are experiencing. The last time I did this, I heard from two black Christian leaders that their wives had shed tears due to their concern over their sons.”
Slatter said the healing starts in the pulpit and comes through the love of Jesus Christ.
“It can conquer what’s going on,” he said. “We are never going to change the entire world. Jesus Christ didn’t do it. Yes, anyone can accept Him or believe and have eternal life, (but) He knew everyone would not receive Him. We’re not going to change everybody.”
Without Jesus working in the midst, nothing will change, Slatter said. “This is what I know: God can change hearts. Hate fuels hate. Hate is a weapon of the enemy. I refuse to be used by the enemy to fight his battle. The enemy is Satan.”
Slatter, who will be 72 in August, has spent nearly half his life as pastor of Cadentown and experienced his share of racism. He says God is at work. “We have to be responsive in a positive way to what God is doing and what He wants to be doing through our churches.”
Praying like he did on Friday morning tops the list of what churches need to be doing, he said.
“We can pray and we should,” Gray said. “We can listen, and we should do that also. We can also try and understand that the root of that anger is that, from the perspective of many in the African American community, this is just one more in a long line of perceived injustices.
“My prayer is for George Floyd’s family to be comforted and to receive justice. We should also pray the gospel will be spread and that God will be glorified even in these situations.”
Cadentown Baptist Church has not returned to in-person services, but Slatter can be heard at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live on the church’s page.