|Photo courtesy the Associated Press|
While preaching to a crowd at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Bentley implied to his constituents that unless they have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, he will not consider them his brothers and sisters.
Bentley’s comments drew rebuke from all corners of the nation, particularly from the Anti-Defamation League.
“The governor does not have to be a seasoned politician to understand the impact of remarks like that,” said Bill Nigut, the ADL’s Southeast regional director. “These are remarks of a man who truly believes what he said, apparently. This seems to be quite clear that Christians are part of an exclusive relationship he has with his brothers and sisters, and the rest of us are not.”
Insult to Injury
Further fanning the fires of outrage, Bentley’s strange remarks came not only on the same day Americans commemorate the accomplishments of late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but in front of the same Alabama church where King once served as pastor.
“When Governor Bentley began his speech, he opened by saying that it was important for people in Alabama to ‘love and care for each other,’” said Melvin Greternathy, a member of the church. “Then he said he was ‘color blind,’ which I took to mean he didn’t see people in terms of race. But then he started with all that ‘if you don’t believe in Jesus, I don’t believe in you’ stuff.”
Bentley later clarified that his reference to color blindness had nothing to do with race, but was a description of an actual problem he has with his vision.
“I can’t see red or green,” the Governor explained. “And it’s caused me the torments of the damned, I tell you. I wanted folks here to understand the pain and the troubles I’ve endured, just like all of them have at one time or another, and just like those Alabamians Dr. King was speaking before so many decades ago. We all have terrible problems, but together we’re going to overcome them. Me and my brothers and sisters. And maybe even some of the heathens in the state, if they come around to the glory of God Almighty, who is white and has flowing blond hair.”
The actual language Bentley used would have been less controversial, say critics, if he had framed it differently.
“There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit,” Bentley told the audience. “But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.”
The rhetoric caused many non-Christians in the audience to take exception with what they perceived to be exclusionary language. But aides close to Bentley said that his speech was meant to embrace a large portion of the state’s population.
One aide told reporters, “It is like a family. There are blood relations, in-laws, and even some stepchildren. Jews and Christians pretty much have the same daddy. Muslims are a little bit like in-laws. But then you have the Hindus and the Shintos and the Buddhists and the Indians and so forth. Governor Bentley accepts them too, just like people who adopt little babies that aren’t theirs from China, Africa, and the Ukraine.”
Incest and Impeachment
Surprisingly, Bentley’s most vocal detractors are not citizens without faith in Christ. Many Christian groups have already flooded state offices with letters requesting the Governor’s impeachment based on the “unnatural” nature of his relationship with his “brothers and sisters.”
Bethany Brightslice, a Bennington Vale homemaker who heard the speech on the radio, said, “I was a little put off by the overall tone myself. He’s talking about people he doesn’t know as his direct relatives, but then saying that he loves and cares for them all. And filling them with his Holy Spirit and having it live within them? It sounded a little bit creepy, I think. Like Larry Craig creepy, when he called Clinton a ‘bad, naughty, nasty boy,’ or whatever he said while pretending he wasn’t gay.”
“Governor Bentley sincerely believes that all Christians are his brothers and sisters, in every sense of the words,” said Brandt Hojekstra, a legal advisor working within the District Attorney’s office.
“I mean, he believes this stuff. And the problem we’re facing is the nature of his relationship with his wife, Dianne. Alabama redefined and outlawed most of its incest laws in the late 1980s. As a result, it’s now a crime in the state to have sexual congress with your relations, up to second cousins. Mr. Bentley’s wife is also an active Christian. So that makes her Robert Bentley’s sister. And that’s incest. If enough people are willing to push their representatives to prosecute this, I think Bentley could face a very real impeachment process.”