The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers (Martin Luther King, Jr., “Strength to Love,” 1963).

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools (Martin Luther King, Jr.).

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New Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has apologized for his comments made shortly after his inauguration in which he said that only “saved” Christians were his brothers and sisters. He met a couple of days ago with Jewish leaders and said he meant no insult by his words, but was speaking from his core beliefs as a Baptist (http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2011-01/ala-governor-apologizes-brothers-and-sisters-comment). Given the viewpoint of Martin Luther King, Jr. represented in the citations at the beginning of this post, it’s ironic in the extreme that Bentley made his offensive comments on the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader and at the very church in Montgomery where Dr. King was once pastor.

I’ll give the governor the benefit of the doubt and believe that he is sincere in his apology. But his statement was still incredibly misguided, both politically and from a biblical perspective. For the former, there’s nothing wrong with faith guiding the efforts of an official to lead. But such explicit reduction to second-class of anyone in the state who does not share a narrow set of beliefs is simply wrong and foolish. The values an official needs to take away from his or her faith for governing should be tolerance, a concern for justice and equity, an openness to new ideas, and an affirmation of hope even in difficult times.

For the latter–the biblical viewpoint–the governor apparently never read or forgot or ignored certain texts. Indeed, our baptism binds us in a special way as brothers and sisters. But that bond is not the only one the Bible knows or cares about.  Paul said in his sermon in Athens: “From one ancestor he [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” And surely our bond as human beings, all made from the dust and returning to it, unites us. We also all bear the image of God.

But beyond family, the Bible encourages and commands all of us, which certainly includes leaders, to care for the sojourner, the stranger, the alien. In Matthew 25, Jesus commended those who cared for the “least of these my brethren” (KJV) and identified himself with the hungry, the naked, and the imprisoned.

It is our common humanity, our common need, our common compassion that makes us brothers and sisters, not a ritual, not a doctrine, and certainly not the misguided opinion of an elected official. If Jesus calls anyone in need his brother or sister, who are we to dispute that?

© 2011 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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