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. JC

    This guy is a TOTAL LOSER. I wouldn't want him to claim he was 'my brother'. He will be caught with a live boy or a dead girl someday and prove he is a REAL CHRISTIAN.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  2. TheAlaskaCurmudgeon

    Religion and politics are like oil and water. Each play important roles, but mix them and you get a toxic sludge that gunks up everything it touches.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  3. HappyAgnostic

    Wow, interesting discussion. Can't decide who are the bigger idiots here. The right wing nuts who want to beat Jesus into us, or the self-righteous condescending atheists who seem to think they know something that the other 95% of the world doesn't, and are just as artificially superior as the revoltingly closed minded Christian bigots they have the audacity to talk down to.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • I Crown Thee King!

      No, you win. You are the most superior of us all. You have the achieved the ultimate in smug, condescending self-righteously about the self-righteous condescention of others. Thanks for having the audacity to talk down to us all.

      January 20, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • wrt

      Artificially superior- less calories than the truly superior.

      January 20, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • Daws

      Indeed, doesn't have to put his nickel down anywhere, sweet.

      January 20, 2011 at 6:26 am |
  4. LEB

    So... he's apologized to leaders of various religions for his comments. When does he plan to apologize to the atheists and agnostics? Or has he forgotten when when he's elected to represent everyone, it means EVERYONE?

    January 19, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  5. Bob Washington

    If you put Gov. Robert Bentley in a black suit and black brimed hat he'd look like the preacher in Poltergiest 2. In fact I think he is the preacher in Poltergiest 2!

    January 19, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  6. Sandra

    It's okay, I don't want to be your sister. You old fossilized turds can just dry up and blow away and we won't even remember your names. Bye you hateful, fearful old fool.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  7. believer

    Matthew 12:48-50 (King James Version)

    48But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?

    49And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

    50For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  8. Jay In Florida

    Well, given the comment uttered by the Gov. even I would have felt it was very pushy, despite the fact I am Christian. The last thing anyone needs is a self-absorbed leader who's incapable of seeing past his own personal faith. Most of us have a faith. But we also owe each other respect for our faith. This idiot's comment showed ignorance at best, but a lack of respect as well towards anyone else who does not attend his church.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  9. Jack the Catholic

    CATHOLICS RULE! jews are cool to. i like muslims as well. and hindus. and everybody.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • I_Like_everyone


      Here, here! Me, too. Some of my best friends at my old job were Hindus and Muslims (actually one of my Hindu friends married a Muslim). I find learning about other traditions fascinating, but then again, I studied two foriegn languages in college (majored in one of them) so that could be why. I just wish we could all live and let live.

      January 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  10. Bonnie

    These were NOT Christian comments. Please read your Bibles-GOD said in His Word that He shines the sun and allows the rain to fall on the saved and unsaved. Yes, we should be professing Christ and His Love to the world. But judging others and putting them down and saying they aren't our "brothers and sisters" is absolutely NOT the way to do it. Jesus Christ didn't just teach to those who believed in Him-He said "the healthy don't need a physician". Comments like this are simply furthering the belief that all Christians are bigoted, egostistical, evil, intolerant people. FOR EVERYONE OUT THERE WHO DOESN'T KNOW THE LORD OR IS NEW IN YOUR FAITH: PLEASE don't believe that this is what Christianity is about. It's about the Love of Christ. And don't listen to others. The Bible says "taste of the Lord and KNOW that He is good". At least read the Bible to discover him for yourself before making a decision about whether or not to follow Him. People like this are hurting, if not destroying, the cause for Christ. Whether you're saved or unsaved, JESUS LOVES YOU and wants not that ANY man should perish but that ALL should come into the knowledge and understanding of HIM. GOD BLESS YOU ALL-evn those who will make a negative comment about my comment. I love you as my brothers and sisters anyway.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Mike

      "The Bible says "taste of the Lord and KNOW that He is good". "

      I think I read that one of the priests was using that line on the altar boys.

      January 19, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  11. The Real Truth of the Bible

    My favorite biblical passage is from the Gospel of Mark 3:20-21:

    "Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family[b] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

    Jesus' family, who had known him all his life, thought he had gone crazy. Think of all the countless wars and torture and oppression that grew out of the fact that so many people are willing to believe that a man "out of his mind" is God.

    Jesus' family thought he was insane.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Reality

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane. Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

      January 19, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  12. Patricia Redstone

    He was being a moron and his jewish staff members were the only ones who noticed. It's the ethnocentricity of the thing. Educated people should know better. Leaders should have better instincts. I'm tired of settling for ignorance and arrogance in our leadership! They need to get out and broaden their perspective! I'm a southerner and because of my father's military career I was raised in Europe. No leader – even on the smallest village in Italy, Switzerland or Germany would say something so completely moronic. We have a great country but we lack social intelligence.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  13. Bob Washington

    Religious freaks! – The really scary thing is that if they ruled the world there would be no world. The evidence is in the past. Would the Christians have used an atomic bomb if they had one at their diposal during the Crusades – HELL yeah! Religious people want the end times to come, they want to be judged, there is something truley INSANE about that. Live life every day to the fullest while your on this planet and don't look to something better after your gone, because when your dead, your dead, you cease to exist and thats it. There is no afterlife you won't be living on a cloud, it's ok that we just cease to exist but if your scared and have to make up some afterlife story to make you feel better thats great, but keep it to yourself, we don't want to be your brother or your sister or have anything to do with your CRAZY beliefs!

    January 19, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  14. Jacqueline

    How unusual. A right wing evangelical apologizing. May all rabid proselytizers and tea partiers take a second look at their words and deeds.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  15. tyler

    "THAN you're not a very good leader"?

    "then" is correct.

    at least the editors used the correct form of "you're" I guess. can't win them all...

    January 19, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  16. sandra halbert


    January 19, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Mike

      First, turn off the caps.

      Second, Law > Religion. When you become a public servant, you become a servant of the Law.

      January 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • LEB

      He can express his solidarity to fellow Christians all he wants when he retires from office. But for as long as he is serving as an elected official, his faith should remain a private matter because he has been elected to serve "the people." Not just "some of the people."

      January 19, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  17. Heli0tr0pe

    Lemme guess: Gov. Bentley is a...Republican? Really?!? Shocker!

    January 19, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Mike

      I know. When I read the article, my first thought was: "Religious intolerance? In Alabama? Can't be."

      January 19, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  18. conoclast

    I didn't think his original remark was all that insulting to anybody. He said that non-christians were not his brothers but he hoped someday they would be; is that so terrible? Now, whether it is appropriate talk for a governor is another question. The bible belt is its own little world down there and there aren't may dissenting voices so Gov. Bentley probably just thought he was "preaching to the choir". Welcome to the internet, Gov!

    January 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Mike

      I'm sure that's what he thought. Too bad for him that there are other people around that will drag Alabama up to the modern age weather he likes it or not.

      January 19, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  19. jerzy Gotszling

    to sensitive on one way

    January 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  20. Puzzled

    Jesus loves you...ALL of you, whether you love Him or not.

    January 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • Mike

      That's what I hear. His priests seem to do a good job of spreading His love around in His absence.

      January 19, 2011 at 11:03 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.