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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. Editor in Chief

    "then" not "than."

    "...then you're not a very good leader."

    January 20, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  2. Trey

    You'll notice in his apology he never says that he doesn't feel the way that people were concerned about.

    He only says that if people were offended by that, he's sorry that they're offended.

    And why was this rabbi included in the story? There's plenty of other religions that were offended. I remember reading about an Islamic leader's comments on this. Where's the reactions from him? Or any Buddhists? Or Wiccans? Why single out and only given attention to Judaism?

    January 20, 2011 at 5:08 am |
  3. doctore0

    He was doing what the tribalism manual says.. you know, the bible. The biggest problem facing USA is Christianity.

    January 20, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  4. Mitchell

    Just the dumbing down of our political system. If this Governor has any idea of what his role required, he would not have made the remarks in the first place. We're paying him and his advisers and speech writers way too much money for them to make simple errors like this. Regardless of hiw own religious beliefs, he is now an elected official to a secular society, and needs to remember that.

    January 20, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  5. Greg Clapton

    Heathens need not stay!

    January 20, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • star

      whothens? I bet youd like to see people that deny your beliefs burned at the stake too huh???? SICKO

      January 20, 2011 at 5:42 am |
  6. Nicole

    Awesome site with essays: OCA.org

    Best wishes to all you night owls!

    January 20, 2011 at 3:41 am |
  7. stupidchristian

    The world would be better off without stupid christians and violent muslims.

    January 20, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  8. redplanet

    It is an abomination to have a ridiculous person like this in a position of power. My dog is smarter than this nutjob. How can anyone take religion seriously and be called competent? Get rid of the piece of filth.

    January 20, 2011 at 3:06 am |
  9. rhonda

    What is he apologizing for? In every religion, and in every denomination, there are those who feel brotherly love towards one another. In the Christian faith each denomination feels brotherly love for one another. In the Jewish faith, each member feels brotherly love for one another, in the Muslim faith, each member .......well actually, I have NEVER seen an iota of love coming from Islam....

    January 20, 2011 at 2:49 am |
  10. RM

    He's apologizing for speaking his mind? If he doesn't have a backbone, he's not a very good leader. He did nothing wrong and had no reason to apologize.

    January 20, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • Daws

      Maybe he changed his mind once the words spoken came to light and were reflected back at him. It could be he realized that if there is a god, then we are all his children, and all brothers and sisters.

      January 20, 2011 at 6:04 am |
  11. Nicole

    Comment for M.K.

    This world is not our permanent home: 'Here we have no permanent city but await the city to come." We travel through this life with faith, understanding that some may choose violence, but that Christ taught us to love, and to turn the other cheek, to walk two miles with someone if they ask us to walk one.

    I also know this: Atheism is a position of faith, just like Christianity is a position of faith. To say 'there is no God' is either to say 'I have infinite knowledge-I have checked every inch of the universe and found there is no God' or it is to make a leap of faith.

    I believe in God. Because of Christ I know that God is love.

    January 20, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • MIke

      Wrong. I don't believe in Santa Claus, but that is not a position of faith. Faith is required when logic, common sense, and intelligence tell you one thing, but you choose to disregard those and believe something else.

      January 20, 2011 at 7:12 am |
    • Don

      Atheism is not a faith, Nicole. And one needs not check the entire universe to say there are no square circles, correct? If you disagree, then you clearly don't understand the idea of logical contradiction. And that's not my problem.

      January 20, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  12. CMH87

    Here is a fact for all you religious people. Scientifically speaking, the odds of there being a god is exactly the same as the odds of there being an invisible teapot orbiting Mars. Just thought it should be put into prospective for you.

    January 20, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  13. M.K.

    Why even waste time discussing what another Republican hypocrite says or does? Has any of you ever given any thought why this world is so violent, and has been for thousands of years? if one believes the bible, there were more killings and other evil things going on during the bible period than any time since the big bang. Why would some one as pure and holy as God allow the world to get in such a shape as it is in?

    January 20, 2011 at 2:17 am |
  14. Nicole

    Also note: just like you only look at someone who follows a diet to see if the diet works, you should only look to people who truly follow Christianity to see if it works (like the saints!) I am so sorry that people shout that they are Christian while not following it, and in that they make Christianity look repulsive.

    January 20, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • Lido

      Finally, a true Christian speaks up! Thank you.

      January 20, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  15. John Debba

    @Abudu Rahman–Gov. Bently was wrong to distance himself from the very citizens he must justly govern, through the secular office he willfully chose. Nonetheless you are equally wrong to make this a case for your Islamic proselytizing and polemics.

    January 20, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • Abudu Rahman

      Where did I mention anything about Islam?

      January 20, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • John Debba

      @Abudu Rahman-Perhaps some here will believe by not mentioning Islam you have not made an Islamic argument, but I know better. I left Islam many years ago for Lord Jesus, but remain very familiar with Muslim arguments against Christianity.

      January 21, 2011 at 4:48 am |
  16. Nicole

    Comment for Moi:

    I am a Christian Sunday School Teacher, and all people, regardless of their faith are our brothers and sisters. If God is our Father, how can anyone not be our brother and sister?

    January 20, 2011 at 2:11 am |
    • moi

      it amazes me how many of you are upset over something 1, does not concern you or your state, and 2 is not even correct.
      he was not making a political statement. lol....i suppose President Obama can no longer say merry Christmas huh? because someone might be offended? give me abreak

      January 20, 2011 at 6:07 am |
  17. stupidchristian

    Who want to be christians' stupid bros and sis? They are all freaking stupid and violent animals!

    January 20, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  18. dandiwer@gmail.com

    fk that guy stupid Christians.

    January 20, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  19. Nic

    Think if Obama had said something like this lol... Fox News would be all over it.

    January 20, 2011 at 1:50 am |
  20. RoyInOregon

    I suspect the apology was sincere. Regardless, I have to wonder, though, about the lack of situational awareness in those who should know better. These southern bible-belt governors and other political leaders continue to amaze me. The ignorance with which they confuse their secular, public duties with what should be their private, personal religious beliefs is startling. I know, I know . . . religious folks down there are actually proud of not observing that difference. Do they understand, though, that to most of the rest of the country, it makes them appear to be ignorant and intolerant?

    January 20, 2011 at 1:46 am |
    • moi

      I choose to live in a state where I can be proud of being religous. there is no shame in being full of faith.
      Situational awareness? Umm, I think it was pretty clear he was aware of where he was and his audience don't ya think? He was in a church.
      Now I don't suppose his comments would go over too well if he was conducting a press conference from the Capitol, but honestly, they are offensive and no one should take offense.

      as far as ignorance and intolerance....well, just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I suppose it depends on what you consider us southerners to be ignorant of. Maybe some people up north could use a good educating yourselves. I don't care what the rest of the country thinks of me. There are way too many nutjobs in this world for me to care what others think.

      January 20, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • Lido

      Roy In Oregon: Exactly! Politicians, irrespective of party affiliation, have got to learn that when elected to office they are elected to represent EVERYONE. That they are elected to be political leaders not religious leaders and the two should never be mixed because when it comes to personal religious beliefs you'll never please everyone. That they will be held to higher standards than the average person. That each and every word they utter will be picked over and scrutinized. You'd think they'd learn.

      January 20, 2011 at 2:12 am |
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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.