Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley has people in an outrage over comments he recently made at a church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was once pastor. Politics Daily is reporting that Bentley was making the point that as Governor he is color blind and serves all the people of the state equally. But he went on to make the distinction that only people with a faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are truly his brothers and sisters. Bentley is being attacked as bigoted and divisive for holding such a view. What is fascinating is that all he was doing was affirming exactly what Jesus said. People who are followers of Jesus are “family” in the faith. The New Testament refers to followers of Christ as brothers and sisters so often that in many churches that is exactly how people address one another. Brother so and so, Sister so and so can be heard in the halls of numerous churches around the world.
I can understand that some people may not really get what Bentley is saying. I remember walking up to an African-American member of my church in Pittsburgh one Sunday morning and saying, “Hey brother, how you been?” He looked at me very puzzled and said, “What did you say?” So I repeated, “Hey brother, how you been?” The continued puzzled look clicked with me and I said, “Brother in the faith, I’m not trying some, white guy being urban thing”. At which point he laughed and said, “Oh, sorry, I’m doing great. How you been?” Being called a brother by a white guy was something that as a new Christian he just was not used to. But he quickly made the transition in his mind and was totally cool with it. I was not his “brother” in a racial sense, but was in a “Christian” sense. Now if he had referred to some African-American friends, who did not follow Jesus, as “brothers”, I would have understood he was talking in a racial/cultural sense and not been upset that he didn’t include me in the mix. In that context I am NOT his brother. In the Biblical/Spiritual context I am. Having read excerpts of the governors speech at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, I suspect that the people in the church understood and appreciated the statement of solidarity in the faith. They knew exactly what was meant by brother and sister. It is simply a way of expressing the common bond that crosses all cultural and racial lines for people who follow Jesus. Nothing bigoted or divisive about it.
What seems to be the issue other people have with this, notably the American Hindu Foundation, and The Anti-Defamation League, is a concern that a governor with such strong religious views is not able to treat other people fairly. Two things come to mind. First, does that mean we can only have elected officials with weakly held religious views or no religious views at all? That would be so contrary to the spirit of our Constitution as to be laughable to those who wrote it.
The second thought is that if someone is truly following Christ as Governor Bentley seems intent on doing, then his fair treatment of others, no matter their religious views, should end up being a model for every politician to follow. I think this is actually the point that Christians should be most concerned about. The reputation that we should have with those outside the family should be one in which they say, “Oh, they are a Christian. Good, at least I know I will be treated fairly, honestly and justly because they want to serve people just like Jesus did”. The time when Jesus treated the Samaritan Woman at The Well with dignity and respect, in spite of the fact that most other Jews, especially Jewish males at the time, would have treated her with disdain, should be the kind of example we set for those outside the Christian family.
You may not be my brother or sister in the faith. But that does not mean I treat you with anything less than honor and respect for two very basic reasons. One, you are also made in the image of God and how I treat the image should track with how I treat God. Two, Jesus told me that I must love you as I love myself, plane and simple.
In the early centuries of the Christian faith, Christians were often reviled for the close, exclusive relationships that they had with one another. But over time that attitude changed. It changed because people began to realize that Christians took care of their own sick as well as the non-Christian sick. And they did it better than the non-Christians. They took care of their own orphans and widows, and the non-Christians orphans and widows. And they did it better. Eventually people decided that they would rather deal with Christians than people of their own group because they would be treated with dignity. It happened because Christians were committed to loving others as Jesus commanded, and serving them in His name.
I wonder, what would it take to recapture that kind of reputation?