On Monday, as I was busily lining up appointments for a business trip to the Houston Metro Area, newly elected Alabama Governor Robert Bentley was being sworn in as the state’s 53rd chief executive. It was a day of pomp and circumstance that I fully and legitimately expected to pass with little else than blah blah coverage in the media. Inauguration activities are not supposed to be controversial.
But I should have known better because, well… This is Alabama.
As you’re probably already aware, just after taking the oath of office, Dr. Bentley made the pedestrian trek to the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, famed for being the site of so many stirring sermons by Martin Luther King, Jr. where he delivered a short speech about how he saw his role as Governor of Alabama. But in a moment that surely must have horrified his communications director Rebekah Mason and Bentley supporters across the state, he added this little grenade blast:
''Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So 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."
Oh my. A statement that took all of ten seconds to utter has now been responsible for the little old country doctor to become famous in all the wrong places. The story was picked up by the national news media; the Twittersphere and Blogosphere went ballistic and the talking heads had talking point fodder for morning shows.
Ben Flanagan of al.com stole a page from my playbook yesterday, and sampled some of the comments from around the web. As you would expect, these don’t exactly paint a charming picture of the genteel retired physician.
Here's what different news organizations and blogs throughout Alabama and the country are saying about Bentley's comments.
- New York Magazine leads with the headline "Alabama Governor Insults All Seven or So Non-Christian Alabamans" before saying that alienating minorities is an official responsibility of the Alabama governor. It then links to a Wikipedia page on Gov. George Wallace.
- AOL offers Robert Bentley: 5 Facts About the Ultra-Christian Alabama Governor
Some of the hard left bloggers took even bigger chunks of flesh from the man who hadn’t even been governor for an afternoon before sticking his foot in his mouth.
Here’s my take on the matter, in the form of a question:
I have no problem with a man of faith expressing that faith. Even those holding public office. I do have a problem with fundamentalists holding office and expressing those views in a way that sounds like you’re prejudiced, even if you’re not. Furthermore, we are locked in a war against a group of religious fundamentalists whose prejudices are so great, they blow themselves up to kill the infidels. The comparisons between Christian fundamentalists and those of the Islamic flavor are inevitable, even if they’re completely bogus.
Bentley later apologized for his remarks, but you can’t unring the bell. The damage is done.
Rebekah Mason has a huge job ahead of her.