Should Bentley have to disavow his faith?

Published 5:47 pm Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mama always said it’s not polite to talk about religion or politics.

Well, someone should have warned newly inaugurated Alabama Gov. Dr. Robert Bentley.

The Southern Baptist deacon was speaking to a group gathered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on Monday when he put his foot in his mouth his faith squarely in the center of his politics.

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During his speech, the new governor said simply: “Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”

In a matter of hours, the comment at a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial became a national headline. And less than 48 hours in office found Bentley making his first public apology in an attempt to appease the growing cadre of critics.

And, to his credit, he did so quickly and contritely. It’s easy to believe that Bentley had no idea his comments, spoken to a church group, would raise such a national furor.

But, in the world of politics, that’s just what happens. And with the ever-widening chasm in our public discourse, it seems critics and ideological opponents lie in wait for a chance to fuel the flames of debate.

We expect our state leaders to be impartial, thoughtful and considerate in their public comments and in their approach to governing. But we can not expect a Christian man of faith to put aside the core believes that guide his everyday life – concepts such as love, fidelity, honesty, service. We can, however, expect him to separate his faith and his responsibility when he governs our state.

And we can, as a nation, stop seeking out the words and phrases that divide and start looking for our shared common ground, one on which we can rebuild America and its future.