OnMartin Luther King, Jr., Day, the day that the retired dermatologist and Southern Baptist deacon was sworn into office as the new governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley uttered these words in the church where MLK used to preach,
“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.”
He 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.”
Governor Bentley was later informed by his staff that his speech didn’t go over so well. Aside from implying (actually saying) that only Christians are his brothers and sisters, Bentley may well have violated the separation of Church & State. Though he was in a church, it wasn’t for a worship service, it was on a Monday to honor a public holiday. He effectively gave an altar call – and that dog won’t hunt for an elected official. People’s jaws dropped. They were shocked and dismayed. Some were pissed. Some just rolled their eyes and said, “Only in Alabama.” The next day, his handlers created a meeting with leaders of other faiths in his new office. Describing that meeting, Bentley told reporters,
“If anyone from other religions felt disenfranchised by the language, I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way.”
I suspect that Gov. Bentley meant well by issuing that quasi-apology. I don’t think he’s denying that he’s part of the wider brother/sisterhood of humanity. He has a narrow theology – and it has consequences.
It seems that he’s simply so entrenched in Christian dominionism (assuming that being Christian is the “normal” status quo and that most everyone else is a fellow Christian) that he’s completely oblivious to the fact that there are many people in his state (and around the country) who don’t think or believe as he does.
I think he was utterly dumbfounded by people being offended by his remarks. So foreign to him was this notion that his words were offensive, he couldn’t even acknowledge the offense. He voiced his apology in the hypothetical – “If anyone… felt… if I offended anyone…”
The thing is, he did offend people – even to the point of making them wonder if their newly elected leader would work for their interests.
To the extent that I’m a representative of Christianity and the Church, I am sorry for those offensive remarks. I apologize that we Christians haven’t been doing enough to educate ourselves about other religious traditions and get to know people who practice them. I apologize for our tendency to think that God only works through our religion and that the rest of you are going to hell. I apologize for our tendency as American Christians to make others feel (and be treated) as second class citizens. I apologize for our tendency to be hypocrites. And I am sorry that so many of us claim that we are “a Christian” nation while waging so many wars, not ensuring that there is health care for all of our citizens, and spending more on our military than nearly all of the other nations in the world do on theirs – combined.
For what it’s worth, I (and a lot of others) have been repenting from that way of being Christian. There are a growing number of us who don’t believe that non-Christians don’t already have the Holy Spirit working within them. There are a growing number of us who don’t even believe that everyone has to believe that there is a God or a Holy Spirit; and who don’t believe that everyone has to be a Christian, or that all Christians have to be “born-again” ones, or believe exactly the same things in exactly the same way. And, believe it or not, there are a growing number of us who don’t have problems with yoga, homosexuality, or the insights of modern science.
We are progressive Christians.
Those of you who have been reading my blogs on Elephant over the past year may be aware that I’ve been writing a book on progressive Christianity. I am pleased to formally announce that Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity is finally done and available!
I want to thank my Elephriends for your support in helping me hone my writing and my thoughts – even those of you who don’t care for them. Indeed, I am most grateful for the dissenting voices who spoke their truths. “Iron sharpens iron.”
It’s available in hardcover, paperpack, and ebook forms. If finances are tight, and you live nearby and are willing to have a cup of tea with me and chat about life, I may well give you a copy based on my availability (and my finances).
I suspect that many of the people who enjoy Elephant Journal will enjoy this book too. I realize that many, if not most, of the people who will come across this blog are not Christians, but let me say,
Namaste, peace, and blessings to you brothers and sisters,
p.s. to be fair to Bentley, if he were to be judged by 1950’s standards, his remarks were actually somewhat “progressive” in that he was a white man in a black church and calling them brothers and sisters. I feel called to help the Church to be considered progressive (welcoming, nonjudgmental, non-excluding, and unconditionally loving) in the 21st Century.