January 19th, 2011
06:47 PM ET

Alabama's new governor apologizes for Christian comments, rabbi accepts

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

What a difference a couple days can make.

On Tuesday, Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, Alabama, fired off a letter to his state’s new governor. He, like many others, was still reeling from comments Gov. Robert Bentley made Monday.

The Bentley remarks that sparked controversy were delivered to a Montgomery Baptist church audience. In them, the just-sworn-in governor suggested that anyone who doesn’t share his Christian beliefs cannot be counted as a “brother or sister.”

So Miller responded, saying he felt "a duty to my conscience and my role as the rabbi of the largest synagogue in Alabama."

The rabbi wrote of feeling “disenfranchised” by Bentley’s words and reminded the new governor that Alabama’s Jews are “faithful people” who also happen to pay taxes, vote, send their kids to the state’s schools, follow the laws and “work, each of us in our own way, for the betterment of all.”

“Our great nation, by law and tradition, provides us with religious freedom. And even though we do not believe exactly alike,” Miller wrote, “we ought to see each other with brotherly affection, and as equals in conscience and human worth.”

Reached Wednesday afternoon on his cell phone, Miller said his concern had dissipated. He was in his car, traveling back from Montgomery, where he’d just met with Bentley.

“He’s looking to fix the thing,” Miller said after the 75-minute meeting, which included about half a dozen concerned community leaders, including those of other faiths. “He was apologetic. He’s clearly looking to reconcile himself. He said today, ‘All of us have put out words we wish we could take back.’”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Bentley apologized for his remarks.

"The terminology that I used I believe seemed to disenfranchise other religions and it certainly was not meant to do that," he said. "And what I would like to do is apologize. Anyone who heard those words and felt disenfranchised I want to say that I’m sorry. If you’re not a person who can say that you’re sorry than you’re not a very good leader."

WBRC: Bentley meets with religious leaders over controversial remarks

Miller made sure Wednesday to invite the governor to come on up to Birmingham and join his synagogue for services, a Shabbat dinner, maybe even address the Temple Emanu-El crowd.

“All my concerns from this incident are put to rest, but, of course, as a minority religion we always have our antennae up,” Miller said. “We certainly expect from his words and deeds today that he will not be a governor who will divide us over religious issues.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Christianity • Church and state • Judaism • Politics

soundoff (577 Responses)
  1. Ben

    I knew you can't be a real Christian and a politician at the same time!

    January 20, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Steve the real one

      Sure you can . Just like you can be a true Christian and a police officer or military member who one day may have to end someone's life!

      January 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  2. paul

    if the politicians would just avoid the topic of religeon all together, they wouldn't find themselves having to apologize for their comments...i mean what part of the separation of the church and state do they not understand?

    January 20, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  3. Philip

    @Jim..the Christian faith is based on Jesus, not on Judaism. And yes, the worlds religions are false. "By their fruits you will recognize them" answered Jesus when asked how the true Christian religion could be identified. The fruitage of today's religions are obvious. By their own actions todays religious leaders condemn themselves.

    January 20, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  4. Jim

    Well, Philip, since Christianity is based on the Judaic faith, and since that faith is false according to your comment, then by extension, so is the Christian faith. Just pure logic at work, there. No, I don't believe that any faith is false, what makes faith is the belief of it's followers. Outsiders are not fit to judge that faith. And the Bible? Not handed to people by God, but rather presented by humans to humans, and thus filled with the intolerance that humans all possess towards each other.

    January 20, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • MarkinFL

      When that faith is paraded publicly and people use it to try to influence civil rights, then yes, we can judge it on its merits.

      January 20, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  5. Philip

    Imagine what your reaction would be if this Governor publicly called Jewish religious leaders "offspring of vipers", then made a whip and physically drove them from their own synagogue! You would be calling for the governors immediate arrest, just as the arrest of Jesus was called for when he actually did expose Jewish leaders and drive them from the temple, whip a crackin'. This idea that Jesus wants his followers being tolerant of false religion is laughable.

    January 20, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Dan

      Phillip, you obviously don't understand the reason for Jesus using the whip. Please study the scripture. The temple was a place of prayer, yet when Christ entered, it was being used as a place to make money.
      God Bless.

      January 21, 2011 at 7:03 am |
  6. Youwillsee2

    No no no.....not cornered Mark. Trying to argue my beliefs with someone like you, who is so dead set against the belief that God is real, is way out of my league.....perhaps someone with an education in religion could deal with you, but I will step aside. I love God.....that's what I know and thats just fine in my book. If you don't, then, well..... that's what you believe. Why all the anger.....why try soooooo hard to convince me there is Not God. It seems to me, especially on some blogs, not in every day to day life, that the none believers are so angry and hateful because we believe in God. Where does the hate and anger come from? As a christian, I try and show my beliefs by my conduct. What are you trying to do?

    January 20, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I have no interest in convincing you that there is no god. I also have no hate for your belief. I merely asked how you can reconcile that you believe god created everything and can do anything, yet your god is not responsible for the damage caused by his creations that act the way they do because they were created that way. If I set loose a random killing machine among the population something tells me that I would be held responsible by everyone.
      Your god seems to have no problem sending out self-willed murderers into the world to wreak havoc. That is apparently your god's choice.
      There really is no defense for this kind of grossly irresponsible behavior.

      January 20, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  7. Reality

    The following does take the Abrahamic god down a notch but it was the conclusion of one who spent his life reviewing the scriptures:

    Father Edward Schillebeeckx from his book, Church: The Human Story of God, Crossroad, 1993, p.91 (softcover)

    "Christians must give up a perverse, unhealthy and inhuman doctrine of predestination without in so doing making God the great scapegoat of history" .

    "Nothing is determined in advance: in nature there is chance and determinism; in the world of human activity there is possibility of free choices. Therefore the historical future is not known even to God; otherwise we
    and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings. For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women."

    January 20, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Yes, but that is a rational logical position, so it will be completely rejected by 38% of believers in this country and pretty much ignored by the rest.( possibly minus a couple of percent of semi-enlightened believers )

      January 20, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  8. Buster Bloodvessel

    What a goofball. He's no brother of mine.

    January 20, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  9. Youwillsee2

    No, not trying to change the subject. However, trying to have a rational discussion would get neither one of us anywhere as you seem (correct me if a miss read you), very angry because I believe in something different than you and you are very firm in your beliefs. Not knockin ya, just sayin.....

    January 20, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Nice continued avoidance by attempting to focus on my supposed anger. That is one of the classic type of deflection of someone cornered in an argument.
      I am not angry at your beliefs. I am more than willing to believe in gods as soon as they decide to show themselves.( Not saying I would like them necessarily, since most descriptions of gods are pretty nasty).
      I merely object to any suggestion that I should have to live my life based on someone elses' fantasy. Beyond that, its just entertainment.

      January 20, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  10. Youwillsee2

    Yes Don, i have heard of "for the sake of argument". However, "markinfl" did not say for the sake of argument and I was responding to his post. But thank you just the same. Hope you all have a nice day.....peace

    January 20, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • MarkinFL

      One does not have to say the magic words to say something for the sake of argument. You clearly knew I do not believe in your god or your devil so clearly I'm just referencing the christian story. You simply tried to change the subject since their is no counter to my statement that makes any logical sense.

      January 20, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • MarkinFL

      BTW, I have read the bible, including that nasty thing called the Old testament. Where it isn't just boring, redundant and illogical, it is truly disgusting.
      Having a "rational" discussion based on the bible is pretty much impossible. We can discuss the bible rationally but there is little that it contains that bears resemblance to the rational world. Its few reasonable parts are all borrowed from prior religions and philosophies.

      January 20, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  11. Michael Wong

    People like this always apologize for their remarks, but not for the sentiment behind them.

    January 20, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • George Guadiane Austerlitz, NY

      I do not agree with the concept of organized religion, BUT, for those that do (like this guy) should he apologize for what he believes?
      In the end, he'll probably be sorrier for the apologizing than for exhorting the congregation to "join him in Jesus." He was in a church, talking about church stuff in a very churchy way. I would not have advised him to take on the duties of a preacher, being a Government figure and all (conflict – church/State).
      The apology ends up amounting to a renouncement of his faith.

      January 20, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • MarkinFL

      A preacher can be a gov't official. There is no church/state conflict unless that official tries to govern outside of civil law by using his biblical beliefs instead. I suspect more than one preacher has held public office.

      January 20, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  12. Youwillsee2

    If there is no God as you say, then how could he create the devil......? You can't have it both ways......educate yourself before you start claiming there is no God. Read the bible then we can discuss it rationally!

    January 20, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Don

      Have you heard of the idea of "for the sake of argument"? Apparently not.

      January 20, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • MarkinFL

      YOU believe your god made the devil and continues to allow it to run rampant. How do YOU reconcile that with a just and loving god?
      If I have a pit bull and allow it to roam freely, am I responsible for any injuries it causes?

      January 20, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • George Guadiane Austerlitz, NY

      In order to have "free will,' one has to have a full spectrum of options – enter Satin (the Dark Side for the Star Wars crew).
      A "just and loving God" intent on giving us "free Will" would need to Love and Trust us enough to allow us to DO wrong if we chose.
      The unfortunate (and ill considered in my opinion) part of that is the actions that occur against others. I'd be happier if we could only do evil to ourselves (if we chose to).

      January 20, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Pretty much then, god is a dog-fighter and we're in the ring. Its up to us whether or not we tear each other to pieces and has nothing to do with our handlers.

      January 20, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Can you prove God and the Devil are two separate people? Ever seen them together?

      January 20, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  13. Youwillsee2

    There is good (God) and evil (devil) in our world.....that is my belief.....why do most (not all) non-believers try and blame evil things that happen on God? And why all the anger and hate on those who believe in God? Why judge us so harshly? I have some great friends who are non-believers....I would never judge them ....just as they do not judge me. Will I talk about my love of God....yes! That's my right.....! If you don't believe, thats your right and not my place to judge you.....I believe thats Gods job. Live and let live.....stop all the hate!

    January 20, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Non-believers do not blame evil on your god. How could they since they do not believe your god exists. However, evil has frequently been done with the excuse that it is their gods' will.
      Also, many believers seem to think that everyone should have to live by their specific religions' rules. That irks us to no end.
      I certainly do not hate religious people, but I do vehemently disagree with some of their actions.

      January 20, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • MarkinFL

      BTW, one of the reasons people question how your god is so "good" is that he created the devil and clearly could remove him at any time, yet chooses not to. So it pretty much appears that the god being pushed on everyone is a hypocrite and not really nice at all.

      January 20, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  14. dana

    I guess freedom of speech and religion is only afforded to non white non Christians. He didn't get elected to be brother,he is elected to run the poorest state in the nation. Who he counts as brother or sister is up to him.

    January 20, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I agree. However, this is not a first amendment issue at all.

      January 20, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  15. Reality

    Why both the governor and the rabbi live lives of flawed theology and history:

    1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    "Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment.

    2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan se-cts.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hit-ti-tes, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    For added "pizz-azz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "fil-icider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedo-ph-iliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    3. Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adu-lterous preachers, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

    January 20, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Dan

      For your sake, I hope you are right and I have been wrong all these years.
      God Bless.

      January 20, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  16. sean

    Two questions for believers: why did God lie to Adam & Eve in Genesis, when he said if they ate of the tree they would die? They didn't die. Did he speak metaphorically, meaning spiritual death? If so- then why do the creationists insist on interpreting the "science" of the bible LITERALLY, and not also metaphorically? They wouldn't have to cling to proven falsehoods like the earth is 6.000 years old, etc.
    And why, in Leviticus, did God prescribe hysopp oil to treat leprosy? This is right from his mouth! It does nothing to cure leprosy; millions died before science came up with REAL effective treatment. Why didn't God just tell the truth, that it was an infectious bacteria that caused it, and give them the antidote? He didn't seem to know any more than what was "known" to the writers at the time. Some all- knowing figure!

    January 20, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • Pope Benedict

      Why worry about something so complex? God created light on the first day and created the stars and sun that make the light on the fourth day. You don't need to go any farther to realize that religion is the biggest scam in history. Maybe when the bible was writte, people didn't know that light came from the sun and stars, but nobody's that dumb now.

      January 20, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • Dan

      Wow, Adam and Eve are really old then. Where are they living?

      January 20, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Ya'll don't get it. They became mortal, so they did die, eventually. Of course that happened after the most intense period of incestuous reproduction to ever occur until god invented Alabama.

      January 20, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Dan

      Sean, for clarification, Adam did die.

      Genesis 5: 5 Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.

      January 20, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  17. john

    Religious bigotry; even for or against religion, is UNAMERICAN.

    January 20, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  18. Pope Benedict

    Bentley is more evidence that religion is the worst thing that ever happened to civilization.

    January 20, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  19. JRR2

    He said "I would like to apologize..." but he didn't. Lots of "I would like to" but never actually did it.

    January 20, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  20. BB

    @MIke, you said "Dan, when you die you die". I hope and pray for your sake that you are right and I have been wrong this entire time, and that we "just die".
    All other relgions. Let's compare Christianity to Islam. The bible (which, by the way is the #1 seller of all time by far) was written long before the birith of Christ, by numerous authors, over thousands of years, predicting his birth, perfect life and crucifixion, along with his resurrection. All came true. There are eye witnesses to all of these accounts.
    Now, the Koran was written 700 years AFTER his death by a single author. He could pick and choose what he wanted to write, which he did.
    If you don't beleive the bible, how do you know Christopher Colombus discovered America, or that George Washington was our first president or that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated?

    January 20, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • sean

      If you don't beleive the bible, how do you know Christopher Colombus discovered America, or that George Washington was our first president or that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated?
      You're right! I don't believe (I before E...remember?) that stuff about Columbus (with a "U"), Lincoln, and Washington since it wasn't in the bible.

      January 20, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • MarkinFL

      It comes down to the reliability and number of sources. The bible has neither.

      January 20, 2011 at 7:53 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.