January 24, 1011
“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. If the Holy Spirit lives in you that makes you my brothers and sisters. Anyone who has not accepted Jesus, I want to be your brothers and sisters, too.”
If you’ve ever attended a church that embraces a biblical, evangelical faith, those are not “fighting words.” In fact, you would probably hear some “amens” from the crowd while the “preacher” uses the family image to encourage the not-yet-committed to come to faith.
But those words – from a pulpit, in a Baptist church service, from a recognized deacon in the Southern Baptist denomination – have incited a firestorm of controversy. The reason? They were made by Robert Bentley, the same Sunday he was inaugurated as Governor of Alabama.
"We live in a country that is hugely diverse," said David Silverman, president of American Atheists, the country’s oldest atheist civil rights group. "The governor basically said: ‘If you’re not like me, you’re second class.’ This is a man who puts the Bible above the Constitution and his preacher above the president. His words are disgusting and bigoted and reinforce Alabama’s reputation for being backward and bigoted."
A spokesman for the Anti Defamation League said the governor’s comments were "stunning" and "distressing" and were tantamount to proselytizing. "It is stunning to me that he’d make those remarks. It’s distressing because of the suggestion that he feels that people who aren’t Christian are not entitled to love and respect," said Bill Nigut, the ADL’s regional director. "On the day that he is sworn in as governor, he’s sending a statement to the public saying if you’re not Christian you can’t be with me. From our point of view that is proselytizing for Christianity and coming very close to a violation of the First Amendment."
Wow. That’s no small amount of conflict, within the first hours of one’s governorship. Has Bentley’s new job placed him in a position where exercising his First Amendment rights are a violation of the First Amendment? As a refresher: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech… As the Governor, does he no longer have freedom to exercise his religion, or to speak what he believes to be true?
Jesus was no stranger to controversy. On one occasion, he was also at church (the Temple courts), and addressing the people, when the Pharisees – his ongoing opponents in all things spiritual – stepped up to challenge him. Here’s part of the interchange: “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:42-47)
Apparently, Governor Bentley’s remarks were in alignment with Jesus’ position… and the reaction of his opponents was predictable, as well. The big question: if they’re both right, whose child are you? And, does it matter?