Friday, January 21, 2011

On the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of man (and woman)

Okay, so some people take weeks to screw things up at their job. New Alabama governor Robert Bentley managed to do it in about four minutes. In a speech at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church, on Martin Luther King Day, he let all non-Christian Alabamians know exactly where they can get off.
"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit," Bentley said. "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."

Bentley added, "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."

What the fuck? (Sorry, Jesus.)

Practically Harmless regular B has made a valid point: "Like I want to be his sister…" And I recognize that in the Deep South, winning souls for Christ is practically a contact sport and Bentley sincerely is concerned for our salvation. But I can't not take a little bit of umbrage here, not because I'm worried about my own soul or my own treatment at the hands of the administration but because he's the governor. He was just after pledging to be the "governor of all the people" and "color blind," and then he had to delineate who is and who is not his brother.

Now, I don't think we're suddenly going to see a rash of executive decisions that overtly, or even covertly, or even subconsciously, favor Christians over non-Christians. But it's tough to see an elected official stand up in front of a crowd--even if it is a church crowd--and tell non-Christians, in so many words, "You're not my brother and you're not my sister." It makes you wonder what he's thinking when he shakes the hand of a Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or, hell, atheist Alabamian.

I think that to this day, the best approach to religion in office was stated by John F. Kennedy during his 1960 presidential bid: "I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me." A person who holds public office has every right to practice his religion and practice it fervently, if that's his way. But that person must not ever stand up before a crowd and deny anyone his brotherhood, even if most people in attendance know to mentally tack on "in Christ" at the end. He is, as he said, governor of all the people, and any intimation that he's governing some people who are his brothers and sisters and some who aren't is a bad, bad thing.

I'm going to let Bentley off somewhat lightly on this one if only because there's nothing to gain by pounding on him. He has apologized, and it seems sincere, and I do believe it was a foolish gaffe rather than a revelation of deep-seated prejudices. But I will say this: Bob, you've had eight years in the state legislature to learn what is and is not appropriate behavior for a public figure. Remember at all times that your responsibility is to the citizens of Alabama, not to your flock; and your job is to improve our lives, not save our souls.

I mean, thanks for caring, and all. But don't do it again.

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