Everyone is hooting and hollering and getting in a huff over Governor Robert Bentley stating in church that he only considers Christians to be his brothers and sisters, although he’d like more people to embrace Christ so he can count them as “family”. I find myself for once standing back and wondering what the hoopla is all about.
You see, we’ve been saying for some time now that someone’s religious beliefs shouldn’t be a litmus test for their fitness for public office. It shouldn’t matter if a candidate is Catholic, Jewish, or Theodish Heathen. What matters are their political views and their commitment to the First Amendment. If they are willing to uphold the Constitution of their country and state, then their religious views, sexual orientation, and gender is immaterial. We should judge politicians based on their political merits.
What Robert Bentley said at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church on Monday was said after his inauguration in a Christian temple to a Christian audience. In a spiritual setting he affirmed his spiritual beliefs. He said all Christians were his kin. Regardless of race, age, gender or geographic location he embraces those who have accepted Christ as their savior as his family. It’s such a tribal statement and such a ringing endorsement of Christian values.
Now, of course, he’d like to consider an unrepentant old heathen such as myself family, but I’d have to convert. Well, as nice as it would be to get invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the governor’s mansion, I think I will pass. I appreciate the invitation. He obviously feels his faith has a lot to offer, but he was respectful enough to make his invitation from a church and not the capitol building. He never said anything that made me question his support of the First Amendment. I appreciate that.
See, that’s what I think separation of church and state means. You talk religion in religious venues and politics in political venues. Some people can’t grasp that. They talk about God in the Senate and politics in church. It’s not just violating the spirit of the Constitution, it’s rather unseemly. These folks don’t seem to understand that there is a proper time and place for everything. It’s all spelled out in Ecclesiastes and if you don’t care to read the Bible then flip on over to Youtube and listen to The Byrd’s “Turn, Turn, Turn”.
There are plenty of politicians talking about religion when they shouldn’t. While still governor of Texas George W. Bush said “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion. I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made.” He was referring to Wiccan soldiers being given equal religious rights in the Armed Forces several years before he approved military action in Afghanistan and Iraq where Pagan soldiers gave their lives for their country. There were over 2,400 active duty Wiccans in the US Armed Forces in 2009, and over 8,000 troops with unclassified religions. Note that unclassified isn’t the same as atheist; it just means the Armed Forces doesn’t recognize the religious affiliation of those troops. In 1985 Sen. Jesse Helms introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would strip 501c3 status from any religious organization promoting “witchcraft” which was a direct attack on many Pagan’s religious rights. Helms is the same Senator who led the fight for school prayer, once again putting other people’s religious rights under fire.
Governor Bentley doesn’t have a history of mixing up politics and religion as far as I can tell. He seems to be active in politics and active in his church, and hasn’t confused one for the other yet. On his Inauguration Day he affirmed his commitment to his state in a civic setting and his commitment to his faith in a religious one. I don’t have any problem with that. On some level, I find it rather admirable.
I hope Governor Bentley keeps honoring the separation of church and state. I hope his church does not make him less committed to his civic duties and I also hope his civic duties do not lessen his commitment to his spiritual principles. If he can do that this liberal Pagan from Georgia won’t care whether he’s “family”, but I’ll be proud to call him a neighbor.