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. kevin

    this is what you should expect in the least educated and most religious state

    January 20, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • moi

      How rude!
      I think you should check your facts.

      January 20, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  2. Mary J

    I live in Alabama. Don't blame me. I voted for Ron Sparks.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  3. Brian

    "If the governor had stated he was a follower of Islam and, as a Muslim, therefore felt that anyone who doesn't believe in Allah is not his brother or sister.".................

    If a Muslim was elected governor he wouldn't be so stupid as to make a statement like that.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Lido

      That wasn't where I was going with the question. I was addressing it to the Christians who are writing in defending what he said. That it was his right to express his religious beliefs and was wondering if that same sentiment was applicable to followers of other religions or just Christianity. I only used Islam as an example.

      January 20, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  4. Todd the non-jew

    Who cares really,...we just do it becuase it makes you Jewish people happy.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  5. Gooze

    He didn't apologize at all. He said he was sorry if he offended anyone. He didn't take anything back. If anybody thinks that this Governor *won't* discriminate against non-Christians, they are foolish.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • moi

      he shouldn't apologize....except for maybe hurting feelings....he's merely stating something he believes. no need to apologize there was nothing done. you cannot blame the way a person feels...whether you agree or not.

      January 20, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  6. Jim Sibley

    It bedevils me no end that so called Christian don't even know Christ's teachings. Lest they forget:

    Matthew: 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

    Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    January 20, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  7. HappyHeathan

    This guy gives me the creeps. He reminds me of Kane (Julian Beck) in Poltergeist 2.

    Kane: Your all gonna die in there! All of you! You are gonna die!

    Kane: Are you lost, sweetheart? Are you 'fraid, honey? Well then, why don't you come with me?
    Carol Anne Freeling: No!
    Kane: Alright then! I'll sing you a song... until your mom comes back!
    Kane: God is in His Holy Temple! Earthly thoughts be silent now!

    January 20, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  8. Lido

    I was just scrolling through and reading the comments posted here and can't help but wonder: If the governor had stated he was a follower of Islam and, as a Muslim, therefore felt that anyone who doesn't believe in Allah is not his brother or sister would the Christians still defend him so vehemently for stating his religious beliefs? Would they have felt 'disenfranchised' by his statement?

    January 20, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Jay

      No, I'm afraid not. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is completely lost on many conservative "Christians". Many of them lack the common sense to see that one simple statement is the basis of most morality... That's why they cling to bronze-age myths of talking snakes instead.

      January 20, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  9. sophie

    These times we live are truly starting to make me nervous and I am a Christian. I can't imagine how I would feel if I were Jewish or Muslin. We need better leaders, not religious fanatics who wish to separate our country while they try to appeal to the religious right. So if we are not the same religion, we can't be COUNTED as "brothers and sisters"? So if we are not "brothers and sisters" of the governor, what happens? are we left to die if we live in Alabama? Will we be shunned? Stoned for being "pagans"?! There is more that unites us than separates us.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  10. scienceguy45

    "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."
    Apparently nobody else needs to be given an apology. We all know that atheist are subhuman. We misunderstood Gov. Robert Bentley, he just was trying to cast aside people that don't have faith.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  11. Garrick

    Time to move to an enlightened state, Like Mississippi or South Carolina.

    What an idiot – – I don't want you for a brother, Jesus taught me different things than what you proclaim. And unless someone mean harm towards me, every human being is a brother or a sister to me.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  12. Jay

    People like Bentley represent one of the many reasons I'm not religious. If insane bigots like him are going to heaven, I'd rather go somewhere else.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  13. MC

    As a non-christian I was disheartened by the Governor's comments. I do however, understand that people make comments that that they regret and I am very happy to see that he owned up and apologized. A simple apology goes a long way and I am happy to read the Rabbi Miller graciously accepted. Let's move on to more important issues.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  14. Gazork

    Sandra – shame on you. Do you have a nice side?

    January 20, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  15. Gazork

    Hang in there Bonnie. You have my vote.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  16. fireybuddha

    (wipe your screen; that was a wet raspberry.)

    January 20, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  17. David

    What's the big surprise? The governor was only expressing what millions upon millions of Christians believe, and what their preachers preach. And there is a scary future ahead for those who aren't Christian or who aren't the RIGHT type of Christian.
    It will be the very type of persecution that our ancestors tried to get away from. Just watch, the future generations will have to deal with this. And the world will have to deal with horrendous religious intolerance of all kinds. It's knocking at the world's door already. On the brighter side, there is a beautiful sunny sky outside my window right now!

    January 20, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  18. Brad

    The vitriol in these comments is sad. Jesus said: "A new commandment I give you: love one another." Christians in this discussion, please act in love.

    A lot of this debate is about what Christians believe happens to non-Christians after they die. Here's what I believe: God will make the right decision. I'll leave it in his hands. Certainly I want my friends to become Christians too, but I do not know for sure what will happen, so I will not force anything on anyone.

    Non-Christians in this discussion: please understand that the stereotypes that Christians are intolerant / hypocritical are not true (or at least, not always true!). I wish you could know some genuinely loving Christians, as I am lucky enough to.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Mike

      Sorry Brad, but most Christians are intolerant and hypocritical. I know some Christians who are good people, but they're in the minority.

      And for the record, most non-believers do not have a problem with individual Christians. Its when you guys get all organized and try to turn your belief into law that we rally against you.

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

      Well, I have to disagree with you. Most of the Christians I know aren't intolerant or hypocritical. But I guess I have a different vantage point :). I agree that it is wrong to try to legislate morality. Crimes against another people should be punished, of course, but individual morality should not be a matter for law.

      January 20, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  19. veritas

    A Southern politician happens to be a fundaMENTAList evangelical Christian and made comments that made his state and Christianity look bad? Really? Wow. Who would have ever guessed this could happen.

    January 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  20. Robrob

    "The terminology that I used I believe seemed to disenfranchise other religions and it certainly was not meant to do that,"

    Then what *was* it meant to do?

    January 19, 2011 at 11:47 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.