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. Francesco Ferrante


    Wow. You guys give me the creeps. You make me want to sing Amazing Grace... The Lord is truly Merciful and long Suffering to put up with idiots like you guys. Let's all sing in unison God Bless America... LOL....

    January 19, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Yooper

      As Mahatma Gandhi once answered a question about his views of Christianity, "I respect your Christ, but I don't understand Christians".

      January 19, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  2. Sherif

    I don't understand what the other religions problems? This Gover. is a Christian, his brothers and sisters are Christ followers, how this bothers others? Why did he apologize? We don't apologize as long as we don't offend others.. All human being are brothers and sisters in being created by God, but not the same on the spiritual level, sorry , we ain't!!

    January 19, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  3. Shawn Sammartano

    So, why did he need to apologize? He stated his own religious beliefs in a church. He stated exactly what the Bible says about this issue. This "outrage" is nothing less than Christian persecution. A man whether in a government position or not has a right to state his own personal "religious" beliefs. What's the issue here??? It is shameful that he apologized. And what does this Rabbi have to do with this?

    January 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  4. Get Real

    A bigot is a bigot is a bigot . . . public apology notwithstanding.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  5. Mark C

    There's a reason Alabama is #49 in everything. (Alabama state motto: Thank God for Mississippi). They're idiots.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Remmy

      You're a NY Jew, right?

      January 19, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  6. PG

    First off, I appreciate the apology. Whether or not it is sincere, it is nice to see someone publicly taking accountability for their missteps. There are certain other (former) governors who could use a lesson here.

    Secondly, enough with the Jew-baiting already. The rabbi wasn't saying the governor was anti-Semitic, he said that the governor's words disenfranchised Jews and others in Alabama who did not share religious/spiritual beliefs. He was correct.

    Something that continually amazes me about today's Evangelical- they seem to forget that the man who gave the Sermon on the Mount wasn't a Christian. He was a Jew...

    January 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Zinger

      The Jew-on-a-stick did away with the Mosaic covenant. "In Christ, there is no Jew nor Gentile ..." Very anti-Semitic of him.

      And recall that Paul had to constantly move from place to place, "for fear of the Jews."

      January 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  7. Linz

    Ugh, and you wonder why people hate religion. Go figure...

    January 19, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • inkorrekt

      Linz,right on. Who needs religion? Nobody. But everybody needs God. There was an international conference on the world religions. Every religion was represented there. Dr.Erwin Lutzer went there. out of curiosity, he aslked alll of them nearly 3000 if their religion had a Saviour. Many oif them did not even understand who a Saviour is, They all said, we do not have aSaviour. But, we have a Teacher. This is the fact. Religion does not have a Saviour. This is why Jesus Christ came to the world to save the world. He lived a pure life. Yet He was accused and crucified. He rose again and appeared to more than 500 people. Thisis historic. No one ever came as aSaviour except Jesus christ. He did not start areligion. But, He called upon men to follow Him. He cleimed to be God. Either He was atrue God or alunatic. He is still alive. He loves you .He is waiting on you offer His salvation. It is FREE gift. Take it.

      January 22, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  8. Francesco Ferrante

    Call me what you want. I might be a moron in your eyes. At the end of the day, your view of my person is not important in the grand scheme of things. What counts is how I measure up in God's eyes. I might be a nobody, but at the very least, I will stand up for My God at every opportunity I get.

    In Christ's immortal words "I am eerthe Way the Truth and the Life" no one comes to the Father but by Me(Christ). This is a very exclusive statement my friend all other religions are simply the Devil's attempt to side track men from the Truth. Keep those insults coming. Your insults and many of them like you only serve to prove the truth of God's Word.


    January 19, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Well, cheers to you to! Thank you for that inspirational and positive message!

      January 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Brad

      Brother in Christ: I agree. But we should try to follow Christ in our actions and relations with others, in humbleness and love. Christians often have this intolerant or arrogant stereotype attached to us, which is not true (if I may say so!), when you know us in person. We must not act in a way to perpetuate that stereotype.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • A Rose

      Does it matter if we call you Francesco or Mr. Ferrante?

      January 19, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Picklejuice

      Don't you just love it how religion suddenly starts to slowly turn the world into a crap hole? Pits people against eachother over who's sky daddy is the "right" one, when the focus should be on being good to fellow mankind no matter what. You don't need to have a religion to be good to people.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @picklejuice: But...but...but if you don't believe in the invisible camp counselor, you don't get to go to permanent summer camp. 🙁

      January 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • wrt

      What the hell is an "eerthe"?

      January 20, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • IkanThink

      And your evidence for all of that is....?

      January 21, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  9. John

    Robert Bentley openly advertised himself as an evangelical Christian. He should not have to apologize for language that is common among that community, especially not when such language was used in a church. It makes me sick that a handful of writers with a political agenda have created a fictional outrage to these benign comments. In order to feel "disenfranchised" by the Governor's comments, you have to take them completely out of context. However, that's business as usual for our media. I would encourage those who use this as an opportunity to make a cheap, ad-hominem attacks on the people of Alabama to consider the meaning of bigotry.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • inkorrekt

      John, you are absolutley right. I tried to put myslef in the position of a Hindu, Jew or a Muslim. He spoke the truth. But, he should have added aDisclaimer such as: "Thank you all for electing me as your Governor. You all elected me not because I am a Christian, but, you believed that I can govern well. I am honored by your trust. I will fulfil my obligations to each and everyone of you whether you are a Christian or not. You are my brothers and sisters."

      Well, now it becomes your duty to pray for your Governor everyday that he will be agood governor to all the people.

      January 22, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  10. MarkinFL

    Oh for Christ's sake folks! He used some typical Christian rhetoric in a Christian church. He didn't say everyone else was subhuman or not deserving equal rights or protection or some such. He said he only felt brotherly about other Christians. Big deal.
    I think its ALL a bunch of clap trap, however, we have to live with the fact that most elected officials are religious. As long as they treat everyone equally while in their official capacity who care if they worship snakes or pray to ghosts.

    I'd normally be all over something like this, but I just don't see the big deal in this particular case.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  11. Brian

    I wonder if those "brothers and sisters" in Alabama handle snakes and speak in tongues.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  12. Peter Q. Wolfe

    I'm currently in Alabama and I don't see the big deal. I'm a moderate democrat who didn't vote in the midterms cause of the conservative tsunami hitting the state and naiton from those medicare weilding retired welfare recipents. Well, he made a mistake cause he is human. Democrats, independents, and other public officials constantly are expected out of professionalism to perfection. Nobody is perfct at this fake shallowness. He slipped up saying what he honestly believes that his brothers + sisters in his houseof worship were fellow believers in Christianity. Soon we won't be able to speak out against anything on any issue if this keeps up. Maybe like in the 19990's you can probably speak your mind and show everyone your a ignorant bigotted individual but in our illterate society people cannot critically think. For example, americans should adopt among many other things te metric system ad desert the imperical system!

    January 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  13. paul

    This is ridiculous. He said something wrong and everybody immediately screams bigot and racist.leave it to his voters.republicans are not racist we have conservative views.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      All that glitters is not gold. Sadly for your party, it attracts the lion's share of racists and various other bigots. We all have our crosses to bear and rampant racism is one the Republicans seem to be saddled with.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  14. Joshua Ludd

    Christians (because you are about the only ones who do this), get it through your heads already! No matter what religion we are or if we even follow a religion, we are ALL equal both in the eyes of the law and of your god. In fact, your god calls upon you to love and respect those who do not share your faith. Start acting more like real christians and less like an exclusive social group.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • inkorrekt

      AMEN to that brother Ludd. God loves you and so do I. The Governor also loves you though he forgot to say it.

      January 22, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  15. Average Guy

    I'm just an average guy trying to get through life. I treat people decent but I don't go to church. I don't need the promise of heaven to know the merit of good deeds and the ills of bad ones.

    I try and be accepting of other peoples beliefs. I mean accepting that they believe that stuff and not really care either way. When stuff like this comes up I find it very hard to do that. Here we have a person elected to Governor. He is supposed to represent many different kinds of people in his state. He is clearly not able to do that and has clearly stated his distrust towards others and his disdain for them as well. This is unfortunate for the people in Alabama.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • CochleaDoc

      Well said.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  16. Brad

    Christ calls us to love everyone. He shouldn't have said what he said. Yes, there is a special connection between brothers and sisters in Christ, which maybe he was going for, but still, there's no need to even hint at a message of intolerance at church. It should be a message of love!

    January 19, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • inkorrekt

      Brad, I agree with you. I am certain that he is a true follower of Christ and he was too blunt about this. He should have added a disclaimer. " Thank you for electing me. You had elected me not as a Christian, but as someone who can Govern all the people, christian and non christian alike. I am honored to serve you all. You are all my brothers and sisters".
      Everyone makes mistakes. I do too. So, let us not crucify him. Let us forgive him, accept his apologies and move on. Particularly, we the Christians have been commanded to pray for our leaders and those in authority. So, I am calling upon you as afollower of Christ to pray for your Governor everyday that he will follow God's direction and wisdom and Govern well. I do not live in Alabama.

      January 22, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  17. meee


    January 19, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  18. Jon

    I'm not sure he needed to "apologize" but an explanation was certainly in order.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      I agree, once this got blown all out of proportion he did need to step up and explain since it could affect his ability to govern. Frankly, as long as he governs fairly, who cares what his religious beliefs are.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  19. JennyTX

    The governor needs to remember that he also represents people who are doing just fine without any religion at all.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  20. Gary

    I love how talking heads will yap and yap then say something offensive to people and the next day apologizes. If you're going to say it, offensive or not, own up to your words...

    January 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Sam

      You have to wonder how many transgressors get a "phone call" that changes their tune.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • Long Lost Friend

      GG, call me....281-725-1212 Dorothy See how easy it is to be tracked.

      January 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
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.