Robert Bentley served as governor of Alabama for only a few hours before he stepped into controversy. Bentley spoke to an audience at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church following his inauguration Monday. He spoke on his responsibility as governor to serve all people in Alabama, regardless of race or party. Ironically, his comments resulted in misunderstanding and conflict, according to the Birmingham News:
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.
Shortly after making his remarks, Bentley clarified his statement. His office released a statement that said, "The governor clearly stated that he will be the governor of all Alabamians - Democrat, Republican and Independent, young, old, black and white, rich and poor."
His statement was theologically correct, said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
"It shows a startling naivete," Land told Julia Duin. "If I were governor of a state, I'd never voluntarily say that."
Bentley did not retract his statement, but he did apologize if his words offended people of other faiths.
"I will never deny being a born-again Christian. I do have core beliefs and I will die with those core beliefs, but I do not want to be harmful to others. And I will die if I have to defend someone else's right to worship as they choose," said Bentley.
Star Foster, who runs a Pagan blog at Patheos, took Bentley's side.
What Robert Bentley said at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church on Monday was said after his inauguration in a Christian temple to a Christian audience. In a spiritual setting he affirmed his spiritual beliefs. He said all Christians were his kin. Regardless of race, age, gender or geographic location he embraces those who have accepted Christ as their savior as his family. It's such a tribal statement and such a ringing endorsement of Christian values.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) objected to his comments and asked for an apology. "His comments are not only offensive, but also raise serious questions as to whether non-Christians can expect to receive equal treatment during his tenure as governor," said ADL's regional director Bill Nigut.
Bentley later held a press conference following a scheduled meeting with the Birmingham Jewish Federation. Bentley said, "As I have said before, I am the Governor of all of Alabama, regardless of race, socio-economic status or religion. I swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Alabama, and that includes protecting our right to worship as we please. I will always defend our freedom of religion."
The press asked Bentley if he considered everyone in the room to be his brothers and sisters. "Yes, yes I do," Bentley answered.