Sunday, January 23, 2011

Governor Robert Bentley

I read over twenty blogs where religion is the main focus, which is why I was surprised to see so few posts on the controversy surrounding Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's recent comments. Shortly after his inauguration on January 17th, Bentley was giving a speech at a Christian church and said:

"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."

Bentley apologized two days later, 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."

However, to me, this apology rings hollows, as it is a typical politician's apology. He is sorry that people "felt disenfranchised" and were "offended". He is not sorry for his words, he is sorry those words offended people and got him into trouble. Look up any news article about a public figure (politician, celebrity, etc) apologizing for something and an overwhelming majority of the time, their apology follows the same format: they are sorry that people got upset, not for what they did or said.

Whether Governor Bentley is truly remorseful about what he said, I do not know. I hope he is. What actually bothers me, however, is the prevalent thought behind his statement. Many people in the Governor's state, Alabama, were not upset by his words.

Governor Bentley considers himself a Southern Baptist, along with about 25% of Alabama's population. This is the same denomination I was raised in for most of my life. One of the primary reasons I left Christianity as a teenager was because of the attitude towards non-Christians I found in Southern Baptist churches. The part about non-Christians burning in hell was deeply disturbing, but it was not actually the worst part. It was the hypocrisy. Time and time again, I heard sermons about "loving our enemies" and "helping those who were less fortunate". Yet, at least when it came to non-Christians, reality did not match. It was almost as if non-Christians were "tainted" with sin and evil. We were indirectly encouraged not to hang around non-Christians for fear that their "badness" might rub off on us and then we too would be "tainted". If an adult found out we had a non-Christian friend, they would push us to proselytize them, something I was never able to bring myself to do. But I saw others do it. I saw my friends do it to their friends. And I saw the pain in the eyes of the rejected when their former friend would no longer play with them. But we were taught to isolate ourselves from these "sinners". We made assumptions about their behavior: they stole, they lied, they disrespected their parents. We feared their sins would negatively influence us and lose our salvation.

Later, in high school, I found myself on the other side. Several times a friend discovered I was not a Christian. They would attempt to convert me, tell me they were concerned for my soul, and beg me to accept Jesus as my savior. Once they failed, as they always did, they would become more and more distant until they eventually stopped speaking to me at all. It hurt. Badly.

The constant proclamation of "love the sinner" had an unspoken caveat: "love this sinner, but only if he/she is willing to convert to our brand of Christianity". This has created an "us vs. them" mentality. They see non-Christians as outsiders, people who must be resisted, sometimes even fought. It is this mentality I believe is behind Governor Bentley's comment. I'm not surprised he does not see non-Christians as his brothers and sisters, when he belongs to a branch of Christianity with this strong "us vs. them" attitude.

God individually created every single human being on this planet. If we have the same Father, how can we not be brothers and sisters? We are siblings, and it's time we started acting like it. I believe that if everyone on Earth treated all others like family, this world would be a much more peaceful and happier place. The "us vs. them" mentality brings nothing but conflict and pain. You cannot claim to love God and yet reject large parts of His creation and you cannot claim to be a good person and refuse to help those who do not share your beliefs.

1 comment:

  1. I had some pretty good Facebook discussion on this. I think this is why Christianity as a group needs to turn to Universalism. Anything less will forever perpetuate the us/them mentality.