Alabama's Governor Wants You to Convert

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Newly-elected Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told a church audience that Christians are brothers and sisters, but non-Christians aren't. "I want to be your brother," Bentley told those non-Christians. Bentley was speaking at the Baptist church in Montgomery where Martin Luther King, Jr. was pastor, on the holiday celebrating the civil rights leader. His message was intended to be one of unity--that he accepted the folks in the crowd as family, regardless of race. But that's not quite how it came out.

As The Birmingham News' David White reports, Bentley told the crowd that he thought King was "one of the greatest men that has ever lived," and that he had changed both the white and the black community for the better. But the religion thing got him into trouble:

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.

Later, Bentley clarified that he wasn't trying to insult other faiths.

  • This Is Why the GOP Appeals to a Certain Demographic, The New Republic's Jonathan Chait explains. "Which reminds me, it's been months since the last neoconservative column upbraiding American Jews for their inexplicable failure to vote Republican."
  • An Odd Kind of Unity, Gawker's Richard Lawson writes. "Now granted, he was at a church. But it was the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and it was a speech given in honor of Martin Luther King Day. So it was, again, about unity and whatnot. The unity of everyone converting to Christianity, I guess!"
  • Governors Tend to Be Weird, Michael Tomasky observes at The Guardian. They're very powerful, and can dole out lots of jobs, he says. But the state works just fine without them. "Finally, most governors, whatever their actual ideology, become technocrats in office, because every state depends on billions from Washington. Since they drink up almost all the largesse from Washington they can get, most of them have to find other ways to be ideological." Like Bentley's speech, which was typical, Tomasky says, of the South.
  • This Speech Isn't an Insult?  "No, of course not," The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen responds dryly. "It's just an example of a soon-to-be governor announcing publicly that constituents who don't share his faith should remember, 'You're not my brother and you're not my sister.' Why would anyone find that insulting? I am curious, though, what Bentley considers everyone else in his state who 'has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.' Great uncles and aunts? Second cousins? Family friend who shows up at birthday parties?"
  • Not the First Such Flub by a Southern Governor, Salon's Justin Elliott notes. In 1992, Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice said the U.S. "is a Christian nation... And the less we emphasize the Christian religion, the further we fall into the abyss of poor character and chaos in the United States of America." Elliott explains that South South Carolina's Carroll Campbell then jumped in to clarify that America had a Juedo-Christian heritage. According to The Washington Post, "Campbell then stood back, put his arm on Fordic's shoulder and said quietly: 'I just wanted to add the Judeo part.' Fordice, appearing to glare at Campbell, said: 'If I wanted to do that, I would have done it.'"
  • The Cameras Are On All the Time, The Birmingham News' Joey Kennedy warns. "Here's a bit of advice for Gov. Robert Bentley: You are governor of Alabama, 24/7, wherever you are, whatever you're doing. Please remember that, especially when you're in public, and you'll face much less embarrassment. Bentley was governor less than an hour before he stepped in it. ... Bentley is governor of Alabama, not Christian-in-chief. It's going to be hard enough to be governor during these difficult economic times; Bentley doesn't need to make it even more challenging for himself."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.