My wife is from Alabama and I from Tennessee. In some parts of the sports-obsessed south this is called a mixed marriage. When my beloved Volunteers play her Crimson Tide in football it can become a very bad day. She’s not particularly fond of the Alabama jokes or the comments that I have made in the past concerning some of the stereotypes that are associated with her home state. The song “I’m My Own Grandpa” comes to mind. Also, there is the issue of the Alabama Crimson Tide mascot being an elephant. Don’t get me started.
There are plenty of reasons why people would ridicule Alabama (or Tennessee for that matter). Alabama’s new governor, Robert Bentley, has provided another one. I don’t think people should ridicule him or his state for it, but I am sure that many will.
According to the Birmingham news, Governor Bentley had this to say to a crowd at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church shortly following his inauguration: “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 you to be your brother.” As you can guess, this has already ruffled plenty of feathers. I predict that it will ruffle many more in the coming days.
You might think that I have no problem with what he said. If so, you are partially right. Because of my upbringing and faith tradition, I will often address people at our church services by putting brother or sister before their first names. I mostly do this when speaking with the older members, the ones who are used to this and who do it themselves. The feeling of family extends beyond words, though, to the core of what it means to be a part of a family of faith. There is a special bond, a real kinship, among those of us who are committed to following Jesus.
In spite of this, there is a sense in which I disagree with Governor Bentley. Or, at the very least, wish he would have used different words to convey his meaning. Because, in reality, we are all connected to each other in a way that transcends our various religious beliefs.
The Book of Acts records a speech by the Apostle Paul to a group of people at Mars Hill. The people gathered believed different things, served various deities. In speaking of God, he quotes one of their own poets by saying, “we are also his (God’s) offspring” (Acts 17:28). Paul understood something that all followers of Christ need to understand. While there may be a special familial bond amongst Christians, there is also a bond that we have with everyone. Period.
We all come from God. We are all here for a purpose. There are no accidents. Some are a part of Christ’s family. All are a part of the human family. We are all his offspring.
If I were Governor Bentley, I would clarify my remarks. I would say that those who have accepted Jesus as their savior are my brothers and sisters in Christ and that those who have not are my brothers and sisters as fellow humans trying to make the best out of this messy place called life.
Like it or not, we are all in this thing together.
(What do you think about his words? What do you think about the words of Paul? Can we believe different things and still be family?)