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