Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley stirs debate with Christian comments

Shortly after he was sworn in as Alabama's 53rd governor on Monday, Robert Bentley spoke at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once served as pastor. He told the crowd, on the 25th anniversary of the federal holiday honoring King's birthday, that he is governor of all Alabamians regardless of party affiliation or color.

Then, reports The Birmingham News, he said something that raised eyebrows.

"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit. But if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.

''Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

Birmingham Rabbi Jonathan Miller sent Bentley a note requesting a dialogue and inviting the newly sworn in chief executive to speak at his synagogue, Temple Emanu-El. Other Jewish and Muslim leaders expressed concern about Bentley's personal beliefs tainting his governing.

As an evangelical Christian, I agree with Bentley's statement, but not the way he delivered it.

The perception from those who don't share his and my faith can understandably be one that causes worry. One recent gubernatorial candidate in Alabama, Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore, is among a group who seek to bring Christian rule to government (dominionism).* I don't believe Bentley is in that camp; he just chose to speak his beliefs at an inopportune time and without considering how they'd be heard by non-evangelicals.

The Apostle Paul and Jesus himself didn't say the same thing the same way to everyone. Jesus spoke in parables to crowds, then explained them to his inner circle -- and to us reading his words millennia later. He healed one man and told him not to tell anyone and healed another and told him to tell everyone.

Paul said he tried to be all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some. When you are "governor of all the people," as Bentley had just said in his inauguration address that he is, you should state your beliefs in a method that won't put off large numbers of your constituents. It's easy for me to not fear Bentley wants to make Alabama an "evangelical state," but it isn't easy for non-evangelicals to not fear.

If the shoe were on the other foot, I, too, might fear.

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Photo: Alabama.gov

*Apologies for the Wikipedia reference, but it actually was the only objective piece on the subject I could find.

UPDATE: Bentley apologizes

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Give back to the community?

It's the latest buzz phrase for urging civic responsibility: Giving back to the community.

It sounds good. After all, who is opposed to building a Habitat for Humanity house or volunteering at a shelter? Nobody would knock someone for helping teach an adult struggling with illiteracy to read. Still, something about the phrase has rubbed me the wrong way -- and I couldn't put my finger on why.

There's the shaming aspect of it: The community has given to you; it's you're responsibility to give back, and how dare you not do so? But that's not what bothered me. It was something else, and it was not until I was in church this morning that I figured it out.

"Now let us give back to God our tithes and offerings," the minister said as the collection plate was about to be passed.

And that was it: I wasn't offended to be told to "give back to God," but I was offended at "give back to the community."

It's not that I don't think "the community" has given me anything and that I don't want to give anything to it. Rather, it's the mindset. I like doing things to help others. I covet opportunities to do so. But I don't do it because I feel the community has done something for me and I, therefore, owe the community something back. I do it because God has given me everything I have -- loaned it to me, really -- and I want to use what he has given me to show his love and his face to others.

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Photo: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration