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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. sean

    The gov sounds like a real KKKristian.

    January 20, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  2. Mitch

    I am happy and very proud to say, that I am NOT Gov. Robert Bentley's "brother".
    The thing to remember is;
    Bentley may be sorry for his remarks, but he is not sorry for being a bigot!
    I hope that Gov, Bentley remebers he is Gov. of all the people of Alabama and not just the people who he has decided are his "brothers and sisters". I find Gov Bentley's remarks to be offensive, callus and myopic.

    January 20, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  3. Child of Christ

    Just another example of denying Christ all for the sake of the "world". God forgive us.

    January 20, 2011 at 7:22 am |
  4. vp

    Mr. Bentley spoke in English and forgot to use his Conservative Dog Whistle.

    We all weren't supposed to hear that, just the southern Xians.

    You can bet his apology was insincere and next chance he has, he'll bring out the dog whistle and do it again.

    It's all they have.

    January 20, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  5. Chaos

    Only a backwater bigoted state would elected such a creep. Way to go Alabama. Proving yourself to be the Hee Haw Dumbf... state that your reputation has. Gee, I wonder why?

    January 20, 2011 at 7:18 am |
  6. BB

    @Norbert Octavious Gordon Orlando Demetri:
    I encourage you, in your no God belief, to patent something. Pick something that would be easy, that you can make millions, maybe even billions of dollars at. Thought of it yet?
    Good. Now, patent it. Oh, by the way, there is only 1 stipulation. You CANNOT use ANYTHING. Just speak and make it happen. Good luck.

    January 20, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Please explain what the heck you are talking about.

      January 20, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  7. Rudedog

    How much longer will religion, of ALL faiths, be used to further hate? 10,000 atheists could not hurt Christianity more than a couple of Christian whackos.

    January 20, 2011 at 7:01 am |
  8. Mike

    There are Jews in Alabama?

    January 20, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Of course! How else could they manage their world-wide conspiracy?

      January 20, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  9. Dan

    For all above who beleive God hates non-beleivers. Wrong. He loves all. What God hates is SIN, hence Sodom and Gomorrah. People have a hard time accepting truth. Jesus said in John 14:6 "I am the way, the TRUTH, and the Light". No man comes to the father but by me. Another passage that talks about the future is Philippians 2: EVERY knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord".
    Let me ask a question to all non-beleivers: IF you were to die in the next minute (NO ONE knows when their time here on earth is final), what would happen to you?
    We Christians need to pray, not persecute non-beleivers. Jesus said there would be persecution among beleivers, but we need to pray for and love our enemies.
    Have a blessed day.

    January 20, 2011 at 6:48 am |
    • MIke

      Dan, when you die you die.

      Now let me ask you a question. How arrogant do you have to be to believe that the one religion among thousands that you happened to stumble upon (most likely force-fed to you by your parents/caretakers) is the one true religion and all others are false?

      January 20, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • Child of Christ

      Very well said Dan.

      January 20, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  10. freetime1

    He is right we are not nor do we wish to be cannot be counted as a “brother or sister.” We are so much better then him. His brothers and sisters can be found in groups like the KKK.

    January 20, 2011 at 6:47 am |
  11. Marie MD

    Oh please!! Give me a break. He menat every word of it. These rethugs continue to put foot in mouth and then "apologize" for saying what they truly believe or making it all about themselves and not their racism or dumbness.

    January 20, 2011 at 6:25 am |
  12. npguy

    Please Jesus protect me from your followers....

    January 20, 2011 at 6:19 am |
  13. BuddyKowalsk

    Gotta love that 'ol time religion down in that thar bible belt.....

    January 20, 2011 at 6:06 am |
    • Ron

      This isn't just something that happens in the south...it's pretty much every state.

      January 20, 2011 at 6:12 am |
    • MIke

      @Ron

      Not even close there buddy. The south is about 30 years behind the rest of the country when it comes to tolerance (religious and otherwise).

      January 20, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  14. Ron

    Let's look at the facts:
    1. The governor is two people....one a public government representative and the other a private person.
    2. He was speaking in a Baptist church and not in a public office....speaking as a private person or elected official??
    3. Christianity has its own "cultural language"....had he said he was among Republican brothers and sisters would Democrats be offended?
    4. Unless you haven't figured it out, Christianity is exclusive by definition. Though there are many Christian denominations there is a common bond (brothers and sisters). But then again every religion is exclusive. If a Jew born a Jew becomes a Christian but still celebrates Jewish culture...Jews reject their "brother" as being a Christian, not a Christ believing Jew. Muslims...uh...do I really need to go there??

    You people need to stop your over sensitive whining. We can't expect politicians to set aside their beliefs once they become a public official. What does matter is the context of what position they are speaking from. Had the governor been a Muslim, Jew or whatever and went to their house of worship...I don't expect to be included in their version of brotherhood either.

    January 20, 2011 at 6:05 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I couldn't agree more. This is a tempest in a teapot. We have a lot bigger issues to deal with when it comes to church/state interaction.

      January 20, 2011 at 7:58 am |
  15. Daws

    He still doesn't get it. Some of us have no religion, and are still good people.
    His apology was to those with other religions, not to those without any.

    January 20, 2011 at 6:00 am |
  16. Nikk

    I love Bentley, but only when it comes in the form of a car!!!

    January 20, 2011 at 5:54 am |
  17. ExB

    As an atheist and a former resident of Alabama (prior to this man being elected) I find what he says to be typical of the beliefs of Alabamians and Christians. Does it offend me? nope. Why? Because this is the sad state of this country. This is the way a majority of the citizens of this country feel. And there is nothing we can do about it. There is nothing that will ever separate church and state. I mean for "Christ's" sake, the one of the nations mottos is "In God We Trust". The most unfortunate thing about what the Governor said is that he didn't say it in front of people who disagree with him. If he had, then he would have been able to see first hand how painful and hurtful words can be when everyone who is not a "Christian" pelted him with Qu'rans, Torahs, or burning bibles. Man do those things smart!

    January 20, 2011 at 5:53 am |
  18. star

    I love all the jesus freaks getting on here claiming their god will act out against folks who deny "him" I grew up around these weirdos. they live, they talk religious babble then for 50 years then they die, disappear and no god ever shows its face. its time humans evolved beyond these stories...

    January 20, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  19. Karloff

    What a waste of time all this religious "ooga-booga" is. Religion is just another excuse for prejudice and self-righteousness.

    January 20, 2011 at 5:34 am |
  20. Phil

    As an atheist, I don't want to have anything to do with people who believe "faith in god" is what binds us together. They bother me like the jojo witnesses...

    January 20, 2011 at 5:19 am |
    • Ron

      No problem....don't go to a Baptist church and you'll not be around them. Had he said it on the street corner that would be a different story.

      January 20, 2011 at 6:17 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.