One thing I’ve never understood is how so many soi-disant Christians can be so unbelievably ignorant about Christianity. It’s not an incredibly complex religion; indeed, one can gain a very clear understanding of Christ’s teachings by simply reading through the Gospels — you can skip the whole Old Testament if you want.
And yet it often feels to me as if I, who converted from Christianity to Unitarian Universalism thirteen years ago, have read my Bible more recently than a good portion of the most vocal and obnoxious Christians out there.*
Today’s Christian who doesn’t seem to understand Christianity is Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who is, it goes without saying, a Republican. After getting inaugurated on the 17th, Bentley went to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the church where Martin Luther King, Jr., used to reach, and where he organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Well, okay, it takes a bit of chutzpah to speak from King’s pulpit on Martin Luther King Day, but still, I suppose it’s okay. Maybe even a nice bit of symbolism. I mean, a white Governor of Alabama speaking King’s church? It could be good. Healing, even.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, gave a speech from the pulpit of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the pulpit which once belonged to King. That was his first mistake. Few public figures have blended language religious and political with King’s skill, and Bentley is not among them. This became obvious with his second mistake: when he said, “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.”
Leave aside the fact that this was Bentley’s first official act as Governor — telling the non-Christian citizens of Alabama that he doesn’t view them as his siblings. Bentley’s statment reflects a radical view of Christianity, one that has little to do with the teachings of some guy named Yeshu’a, who I’m told had a lot to do with its early creation. This Yeshu’a guy had some crazy ideas of who your true brother is:
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Yes, yes, I know, pedants: Jesus said neighbor, and Bentley never said he wasn’t the neighbor of Alabamaian Jews! He’s just not their brother. He didn’t mean anything by it!
Except, of course, that Bentley’s statement was as much about who his neighbors were as who his brothers in Jesus were. He was speaking as Governor, and saying, flatly, that if you aren’t a Christian, you just aren’t that important to him. Not as important as Christians.
Bentley backtracked, sort of, issuing a statement to (of course) Fox, saying, “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.”
Well, sure, atheists, if you felt disenfranchised, he’s sorry! Hey, Muslims, f you felt like a second-class citizen, he’s sorry! He just meant that you’re not as important to him as Christians. How could that be a problem?
Bentley added, “The governor had intended no offense by his remarks. He is the governor of all the people, Christians, non-Christians alike.” Of course, that’s the problem. Because on a day our nation celebrates the long struggle for racial equality, Bentley made a statement that separated the citizens of his state into two separate classes. It’s quite different from the message of the man who long ago spoke from that pulpit, who once spoke so brilliantly about the day when all of God’s children — including Protestants and Catholics, Jews and gentiles — would be able to join together.
46-odd years later, we’re still not there.
*Note: This doesn’t apply to the many, many Christians who were listening when their Sunday School teachers covered Matthew 6:5.