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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. david c.

    Don't forget, Governor, that Christianity is the child of Judaism.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  2. Jay

    He apoligized, but what was he *trying* to say then? I haven't heard what he says were his 'intentions'. Just another b.s. politician being PC! What a joke.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  3. Observer

    Why is this news? It's just another conservative religious Republican who is a hypocrite.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  4. KAZ0819

    Jesus Christ was loving and inclusive, and also believed everything written in the Old Testament.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • fed123

      Your repeating yourself, kaz.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  5. KAZ0819

    Having lived in over two dozen states I can assure you all that ignorance and irrelevance are not unique to Alabama (New York and California being two excellent examples), as for not wearing shoes, spend some time in Florida or Hawaii, where the wearing of shoes can be quite rare.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • fed123

      Try doing that in Nome, Alaska right about now. Or in mn, nd, sd, wi, me, ny, nh, cn, ma, pa, oh.....................or nj.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  6. fed123

    What a 'class' act he is.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  7. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Sorry, Gov., no guy named Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of a whale, and no guy named Noah gathered 2 of every microbial organism when the "whole world" flooded. If believing those things is what it takes to be counted as your "brother," count me out. Learn instead to be loving and inclusive, and only then will you be like Jesus Christ.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  8. KAZ0819

    If you think think the Governor is ignorant, an idiot or insane, then why are any of you offended that he does not consider you a brother or sister? If all he is nothing more that a believer in fairy tales, why do you even care what he says?

    January 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • fed123

      Look, we liberals take offense at just about everything that gobpers say, especially when they are pols who can do this country great damage. If I say something 'bad' about you, why do you get upset and report me? Why can't you just ignore me? No, you report me to the powers that be and I'm kicked off this vine. Nice double standard, kaz.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Picklejuice

      It's the fact that he is a Governor representing a large group of people that people care about. That's the only part that matters. Other than that, I don't give a rat's behind if he worships flying purple elephants.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  9. Big Al

    I would have gone to Alabama some months ago but the vaccinations you need to travel there were a bit pricey. Besides, rumour has it that they have a serious mistrust of people who wear shoes. Nice going, Gov. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  10. Greenspam

    Yet another non apology apology. He perfectly meant what he said. What a lame apology – "If you felt disenfranchised by my remark, I am sorry". Geesh. It's like me calling people names and then said, "If you felt insulted by my calling you names, I am sorry".

    January 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • fed123

      I was on msnbc at one time. Said something very similiar to what this gov said. I wasn't allowed to apologize. Banned. For life!!!!!!

      January 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  11. Abraham Lincoln

    If the south seceded again, today, the rest of America would say "Oh thank goodness. I thought they'd never leave."

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

      Well we wouldn't want all of it to leave. Lets keep Florida, love the beaches. The rest they can have, couldn't happen soon enough.

      January 20, 2011 at 7:06 am |
  12. LeeCMH

    Oh Bentley probably had a "wide-stance" moment in a public restroom on the way home.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  13. Nathan

    This guy is full of it, he probably is sick to his stomach at the fact that many of us in this country don't believe in god.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  14. neonmadman

    . If you’re not a person who can say that you’re sorry than you’re not a very good leader." If you are a religious bigot you are not a very good leader.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • TruthBee

      Having lived in several small to med size towns in the state, I can attest to the fact that if you are not Baptist, Assembly of God or Church of Christ, you are not viewed as a true Christian. Politics in many areas is controlled by religious leaders. If you are not the same religion as your town's leaders, your opinions aren't weighed the same members of their church. Your aren't included. The Gov was just stating the reality of the situation, no matter how wrong that view is. We have a LOT of poor leaders in Alabama.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  15. SkyKIng

    "In Birmingham they loved the Governor.
    (Boo hoo hoo.)
    Now we all did what we could do.
    Now Watergate does not bother me.
    Does your conscience bother you? Tell the Truth!"

    Hasn't changed much, has it?

    January 19, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  16. Roscoe

    Has anyone seen this governor's birth certificate? Why won't he make it public?

    January 19, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • Mark

      We tried, we really really tried; we even found is mommy and daddy just to show he's from there – but the birthers just wouldn't believe it 😉

      January 20, 2011 at 7:00 am |
  17. 21k

    as a recovering catholic, i know that bentley's true feelings are what he initially said. xtians do not believe that non-xtians have a place waiting in heaven. same way that other faiths feel about xtains. religion will be the cause of the next civil war in this country.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Mike

      Congratulations on escaping the brainwashing. The civil war is already going on, its just being waged with education rather than bullets. The number of Christians continues to fall, acceptance and tolerance for other faiths is on the rise. Its not going as fast as some would like, but it is definitely going.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • I_Like_everyone

      21K, as a recovering Protestant, I find it interesting that people who profess to be Christians can't even agree on specific tenets of the faith. My mother, who was Jewish until she was 27 and converted to Christianity, would be spinning in her grave if she knew I have become a Catholic. To quote her: "Those people are WEIRD!", though I don't think my mother ever attended a Mass in her life.

      Our parish priest, when he mentions Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., ALWAYS says "our brothers and sisters in the _ faith" when referring to other faith traditions. He might not be the norm for priests, but he seems to try to set an example of tolerance for others, not only in what he says, but what he does. Remember, Christ often used Samaritans in his teachings, and they were the outcasts of the day.

      January 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  18. rrogij

    Let's face it - we ALL know what this governor was saying. You are NOT a brother in CHRIST if you aren't a born again believer. It's not that complicated.

    Just like Peter, this govenor denied Christ by reneging on his statement. Shame on him.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Picklejuice

      So it's a christly thing to say that people who have different beliefs cannot be considered a "brother" or a friend? wow, nice belief system ya got there

      January 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Picklejuice

      Hee hee 🙂

      I think it's soooo funny that you are offended that I don't have the same sky daddy as you. It makes you soooo angry because, it is obvious that you are a sociopath control freak (those types tend to gravitate towards religion).

      And it's because you get angry, that you think your god is angry too, but really, it's just you that's angry cuz your ego is hurt.

      Heehee, too funny! Hilarious! 🙂

      January 19, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  19. TheFraum

    What ever happened to the separation of Church and State? Lets get more atheists, or at least sensible thinkers into Government. Or is that an oxymoron? If I hear a candidate start preaching their faith in a campaign it usually means they have no reasonable ground to stand on and must turn to rhetoric to win. How can a Governor with such one sided views be trusted to run a system with some many different perspectives to consider?

    January 19, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Mike

      That's a great idea, but we're talking about Alabama here. Give them another 30 years or so to catch up to where most of the other states are now, and then they can try to move forward.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  20. rrogij

    If you identify yourself with Me before men, I will identify with you before my Father.

    Not my words kids - those are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let your "yes" be "yes and your "no" be "no" - anything else is from the evil one.

    Shame on this former minister - he should know better. May the Lord be praised!

    January 19, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Picklejuice

      Oh god shut up already with this disingenuous nonsense. Get off your computer and get a life, instead of telling people what they should believe.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • rrogij

      Nope - no can do. Truth hurts pal. Christ came to the earth to be our King. For some (like you) he is a stumbling block. Wake up dude and get your act together. Quit stumbling through life and get right with your King. Seriously, get your act together.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Picklejuice

      @rrogij

      There are 2 types of people who should be kept away from children. Pedophiles, and religious nutballs such as yourself. Believe in your nonsense all ya like, at the end of the day, my children are beautiful and they are not going to hell for not having your hilariously wrong beliefs.

      January 19, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
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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.