Governor Bentley’s Brothers and Sisters

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?)

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13 thoughts on “Governor Bentley’s Brothers and Sisters

  1. Yeah, I think Bentley just misspoke. My personal frustration is that he brought it up at all. I think if I were an unbelieving Alabama resident, I would have a difficult time believing that this person had even a MINOR chance of representing me in government. Which is really unfortunate. (If he declared non-belief in such strong terms, he would be labeled “militant” in his stance — this seems pretty “militant” to me.)

    And yes, everyone is my brother and sister. If you walk this earth with me, you are my sibling.

    • I don’t know him, of course, but he seems like a nice enough fellow and probably a capable politician. Maybe this will be a way for people to dialogue about faith in a non-threatening way. But probably not. People aren’t particularly adept at doing that.

  2. I agree. We are all made in the image of God. Whether we are believers or not we share a common heritage – we were created by God, and we are all sinners. Now of course, we should hope that our unbelieving brothers and sisters will join our spiritual family, but we shouldn’t isolate them or stand apart from them too far if they don’t.
    And yeah the guy was probabaly just speaking from tradition. In the south, we are taught certain things from childhood, in Sunday school and such, and it is sometimes hard to escape from those teachings, even if they are inaccurate.

  3. I understand what he said – and I think he could have said it better.

    I also understand what unbelievers will hear. They hear brother and sister and think “neighbor.” I think of the two (siblings and neighbors) as interchangeable, too. My fellow human beings are my neighbors and my siblings – we’re co-heirs in the Earth and the gift of life.

    I teach Speech, so, this is going to come off as teacher-y, but knowing your audience and adapting to them tends to make for the most successful speeches. If your next line is “and I want you to be my brothers and sisters” then craft the speech that will accomplish that, not tick them off.

    • Knowing your audience is absolutely key–and when you are a politician your audience will be more than just who is sitting in front of you–it will be everyone who hears of what you said. Good point.

  4. Let me take the apparently very minority position here. Based on what he said and where he said it, I see nothing wrong with it. He was inside a church, he was speaking about Christian fellowship within that church and as a result there was nothing incorrect in saying someone who hasn’t accepted Christ isn’t his brother or sister.

    If he wasn’t in a church and speaking to a body of believers, I could see the point of being critical of his statements and wanting him to clarify. I don’t think he should stop boldly speaking about his faith in Christ to a body of believers just because some people who aren’t Christians may not like it.

    • Thanks for your reply and I understand your point of view. I sort of agree with it, even. The problem I have with his words and lack of clarification is that people in the public eye (like politicians) need to have an awareness that their words won’t just stay with the people they are standing in front of; they will be broadcast to a wider audience without the frame of reference/life experiences that a person inside of a church might have. There are people he will serve as governor that will not understand his meaning and feel like he cares more about the people who share his faith than he cares about them. This can possibly cause a multitude of problems. I think that it is necessary at times to clarify our “churchy” words to people who have no way of comprehending the real meaning behind them. I am far from perfect in this regard, myself. It is not a stretch to say that we can all do better.
      Again, thanks for reading and replying. We don’t all have to agree, but it’s good that we can disagree with kindness. I appreciate that.

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