Gov. Bentley Ain’t My Brother (And That’s Just Dandy)

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.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.pagancenteredpodcast.com Ashlee

    Awesome stuff Star, made me sit down and think a little :)

  • http://www.pagancenteredpodcast.com Ashlee

    Awesome stuff Star, made me sit down and think a little :)

  • scurv

    I give him respect for his world view. I do hope that he honors his words about brotherhood, and I do hope that he respects the vows and paths of those who are outside of his Brotherhood with Christ.

  • scurv

    I give him respect for his world view. I do hope that he honors his words about brotherhood, and I do hope that he respects the vows and paths of those who are outside of his Brotherhood with Christ.

  • The Norse Alchemist

    I’m with you, I didn’t know what the big deal was about what he said. He wants people to be his family, that’s fine. I’m folkish Asatru, I want people to be in my “family.” I didn’t see anything about him forcing people to convert or stripping our rights. Wait and see what he does, then get mad if you have to.

    • http://twitter.com/myoshin Sanduleak Anandamath

      This is a little strange coming from a “Norse Alchemist”. There is nothing “folkish”, “Asatru”, or “Norse” about Alchemy.

      The precise origins of the word Alchemy are not agreed upon, but it is well known that the history of Alchemy can be traced back to Hellenistic Egypt. From there it probably branches out into various Egyptian, Greek, Chaldean, etc, sources, which in turn undoubtedly overlap, diverge, and at times disappear altogether to run deep underground ….

      The implication of your name is that you embrace a very “non-tribal”, and downright cosmopolitan approach to Paganism, that is, one in which all humans are in the same spiritual family. Some of us are more distant relations that others, of course, but related all the same.

  • The Norse Alchemist

    I’m with you, I didn’t know what the big deal was about what he said. He wants people to be his family, that’s fine. I’m folkish Asatru, I want people to be in my “family.” I didn’t see anything about him forcing people to convert or stripping our rights. Wait and see what he does, then get mad if you have to.

    • http://twitter.com/myoshin Sanduleak Anandamath

      This is a little strange coming from a “Norse Alchemist”. There is nothing “folkish”, “Asatru”, or “Norse” about Alchemy.

      The precise origins of the word Alchemy are not agreed upon, but it is well known that the history of Alchemy can be traced back to Hellenistic Egypt. From there it probably branches out into various Egyptian, Greek, Chaldean, etc, sources, which in turn undoubtedly overlap, diverge, and at times disappear altogether to run deep underground ….

      The implication of your name is that you embrace a very “non-tribal”, and downright cosmopolitan approach to Paganism, that is, one in which all humans are in the same spiritual family. Some of us are more distant relations that others, of course, but related all the same.

  • Ananta Androscoggin

    It does, however, leave people with the impression he intends to give his fellow Christians first preference over any others who come to him (or by extension, his administration) for anything the state government has its fingers into.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      So does the same impression apply to Dan Halloran? He’s a Theodish Heathen and they are very tribal. Should Christians expect to receive second-class treatment from him in comparison to those he is oathbound to?

      • Ananta Androscoggin

        Has Halloran made any statements analogous to this now infamous one by Bentley to make us think so?

        • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

          I’m sure Halloran has made comments in a religious setting regarding his allegiance to his own faith community. Like Bentley, he hasn’t made any such statement in a civic capacity.

          This comment from the above linked interview was seen as controversial by non-recon Pagans:

          “PNC:Why do you think that Pagans in reconstructionist religions have been more successful in breaking into politics and seen as serious candidates than Wiccans and other Contemporary Pagans?

          HALLORAN: Because the intellectual rigors of reconstruction faiths provide the discipline and education needed to be taken seriously in academic circles, which usually means mainstream higher education, in turn upper income, and more mainstream appearances and social involvement.”

  • Ananta Androscoggin

    It does, however, leave people with the impression he intends to give his fellow Christians first preference over any others who come to him (or by extension, his administration) for anything the state government has its fingers into.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      So does the same impression apply to Dan Halloran? He’s a Theodish Heathen and they are very tribal. Should Christians expect to receive second-class treatment from him in comparison to those he is oathbound to?

      • Ananta Androscoggin

        Has Halloran made any statements analogous to this now infamous one by Bentley to make us think so?

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

          I’m sure Halloran has made comments in a religious setting regarding his allegiance to his own faith community. Like Bentley, he hasn’t made any such statement in a civic capacity.

          This comment from the above linked interview was seen as controversial by non-recon Pagans:

          “PNC:Why do you think that Pagans in reconstructionist religions have been more successful in breaking into politics and seen as serious candidates than Wiccans and other Contemporary Pagans?

          HALLORAN: Because the intellectual rigors of reconstruction faiths provide the discipline and education needed to be taken seriously in academic circles, which usually means mainstream higher education, in turn upper income, and more mainstream appearances and social involvement.”

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    Excellent post, Star.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      Thanks Tim!

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    Excellent post, Star.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Thanks Tim!

  • http://twitter.com/myoshin Sanduleak Anandamath

    Bentley’s statement is not “tribal”. Traditional polytheistic religions invariably view all humanity as the “children of the Gods”. If we are not all precisely “brothers and sisters”, we are all “cousins”, and we all respect each others’ “parents”. This is a completely different perspective.

    The Christian view, very ably and honestly expressed by Bentley, is the theological equivalent of “your mother wears army boots.” This is completely different from how ancient polytheistic religions looked at things, and it is also completely different from how modern Pagans look at things.

    Paganism offers a way of celebrating human diversity without denying our common humanity.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      I don’t really believe the ancient Romans and Persians believed themselves to be cousins. Caesar didn’t consider the Druids his cousins when he cut down their groves and Rome actually had a “smear campaign” against Egyptian religion during the reign of Cleopatra. Troy and Sparta did not hold each other in much affection. The Vikings did not see themselves as part of a universal brotherhood of man.

      I think Universalism is a bit dangerous. I don’t personally feel a respect for diversity means I have to embrace everyone. I certainly don’t feel any sense of kinship with Muslim or Russian Orthodox folks. I don’t love them, but that does not mean I am against them.

      Life isn’t black and white, and everyone has taken a “if he’s not for us he’s against us” view of this. No, he simply said he doesn’t love us. Does he need to have affection for non-Christians to do his job? No, he’s a politician, not a preschool teacher.

      • http://twitter.com/myoshin Sanduleak Anandamath

        Cousins don’t fight with each other? Uh, what makes you think that? Do you have any siblings? Ever wanted to kill them? Ever tried? I know I have (not yours, mine).

        The religious writings of the Greeks and Romans leave absolutely no doubt whatsoever that they believed that all people everywhere are children of the Gods. Epictetus, a Phrygian slave who spoke koine Greek and became one of the greatest of all Roman philosophers, frequently cajoled his multicultural/multinational audience to remember that we are all the children of Zeus, and that all other distinctions of social status, etc, were meaningless compared to that. When he did that he was appealing to people not on the basis of some abstruse philosophical conception of religion, but on the basis of the popular, conventional religious ideas of the times.

      • kenneth

        Does he need to have affection for us? No. But he needs to have respect for us and all of those he serves. The Christians who employ the sort of language he used have, almost without exception in recent times, demonstrated that they do not respect others. This isn’t just some guy on the street we can agree to disagree with. He wields enormous power directly and indirectly over the life of every resident in that state.

        People unfamiliar with how government works don’t realize how pervasive and subtle discrimination can be. Governors don’t only rule through written policies and legislation. Their words and personalities determine the culture of their administration. His beliefs will influence who he appoints as key department heads, judges, the whole lot. THOSE folks in turn will determine whether you get to adopt a child, or keep your own, or enjoy any meaningful exercise of your rights on a hundred smaller issues. I’m not suggesting by any means his words so far mean that Alabamans face the Burning Times or that Bentley has it in for them, but it borders on foolish optimism to assume that he is really committed to justice for those of us who aren’t his “brothers.”

  • http://twitter.com/myoshin Sanduleak Anandamath

    Bentley’s statement is not “tribal”. Traditional polytheistic religions invariably view all humanity as the “children of the Gods”. If we are not all precisely “brothers and sisters”, we are all “cousins”, and we all respect each others’ “parents”. This is a completely different perspective.

    The Christian view, very ably and honestly expressed by Bentley, is the theological equivalent of “your mother wears army boots.” This is completely different from how ancient polytheistic religions looked at things, and it is also completely different from how modern Pagans look at things.

    Paganism offers a way of celebrating human diversity without denying our common humanity.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      I don’t really believe the ancient Romans and Persians believed themselves to be cousins. Caesar didn’t consider the Druids his cousins when he cut down their groves and Rome actually had a “smear campaign” against Egyptian religion during the reign of Cleopatra. Troy and Sparta did not hold each other in much affection. The Vikings did not see themselves as part of a universal brotherhood of man.

      I think Universalism is a bit dangerous. I don’t personally feel a respect for diversity means I have to embrace everyone. I certainly don’t feel any sense of kinship with Muslim or Russian Orthodox folks. I don’t love them, but that does not mean I am against them.

      Life isn’t black and white, and everyone has taken a “if he’s not for us he’s against us” view of this. No, he simply said he doesn’t love us. Does he need to have affection for non-Christians to do his job? No, he’s a politician, not a preschool teacher.

      • http://twitter.com/myoshin Sanduleak Anandamath

        Cousins don’t fight with each other? Uh, what makes you think that? Do you have any siblings? Ever wanted to kill them? Ever tried? I know I have (not yours, mine).

        The religious writings of the Greeks and Romans leave absolutely no doubt whatsoever that they believed that all people everywhere are children of the Gods. Epictetus, a Phrygian slave who spoke koine Greek and became one of the greatest of all Roman philosophers, frequently cajoled his multicultural/multinational audience to remember that we are all the children of Zeus, and that all other distinctions of social status, etc, were meaningless compared to that. When he did that he was appealing to people not on the basis of some abstruse philosophical conception of religion, but on the basis of the popular, conventional religious ideas of the times.

      • kenneth

        Does he need to have affection for us? No. But he needs to have respect for us and all of those he serves. The Christians who employ the sort of language he used have, almost without exception in recent times, demonstrated that they do not respect others. This isn’t just some guy on the street we can agree to disagree with. He wields enormous power directly and indirectly over the life of every resident in that state.

        People unfamiliar with how government works don’t realize how pervasive and subtle discrimination can be. Governors don’t only rule through written policies and legislation. Their words and personalities determine the culture of their administration. His beliefs will influence who he appoints as key department heads, judges, the whole lot. THOSE folks in turn will determine whether you get to adopt a child, or keep your own, or enjoy any meaningful exercise of your rights on a hundred smaller issues. I’m not suggesting by any means his words so far mean that Alabamans face the Burning Times or that Bentley has it in for them, but it borders on foolish optimism to assume that he is really committed to justice for those of us who aren’t his “brothers.”

  • kenneth

    Some of you place an awful lot of faith in the goodwill of Evangelical Christianity and the politicians who subscribe to it. There is nothing in the record of their words or actions to support that faith. There are different corners of the evangelical world just as the pagan world, but the majority who seek elected office these days are dominionist to one degree or another. They are openly contemptuous of the very idea of separation of church and state and believe that Christians should be the only ones with a presumption of credibility before the law. This is not paranoia talking, they make this quite clear in the speeches and fund raising campaigns they carry out among themselves.

    Only time and his actions will reveal if Bentley’s words represented an agenda. But it’s very clear they revealed his instinct. Maybe he really does understand and respect his obligation to limit the influence of his beliefs in his work as governor, but I wouldn’t bet a bad cup of coffee on it. Most evangelicals in office these days are more subtle about their discrimination than Bush or Helms were. They’re careful about what they say in what setting. They don’t, for the most part, craft obviously unconstitutional legislation aimed at us.

    But here we are in 2011, and it’s still a 10-year court battle to secure ANY of the rights routinely granted to Judeo-Christian outfits. How many pagan military or prison chaplains do we have? We have the state of California advancing dominionist theory in the courts. We have law enforcement officials who use public funds to hire fundamentalist witch hunters and label any homicide with a knife to be “occult” in nature. We have how many pagans being run in circles for years trying to get local tax exemptions, zoning, adoption papers etc. In almost all cases, this is being done by officials who, like Bentley, publicly insist they’re “everyone’s” governor, mayor etc.

    If we ever want to stop living as beggars in our own country, it’s time we learn to connect the dots. Here’s a suggestion for any Alabama readers we have here. Try getting yourselves invited to one of the governor’s “prayer breakfasts” or an appointment to an interfaith council or a job as a prison or state police chaplain. Many states have highway cleanup programs where you “adopt” a section of road and get a little sign with your organization’s name on it. Try signing up your coven. Bentley will show his true colors then. Like everyone else, he starts off with me with a presumption of good will, but given his words and the history of his “tribe,” it’s a damn thin one.

  • kenneth

    Some of you place an awful lot of faith in the goodwill of Evangelical Christianity and the politicians who subscribe to it. There is nothing in the record of their words or actions to support that faith. There are different corners of the evangelical world just as the pagan world, but the majority who seek elected office these days are dominionist to one degree or another. They are openly contemptuous of the very idea of separation of church and state and believe that Christians should be the only ones with a presumption of credibility before the law. This is not paranoia talking, they make this quite clear in the speeches and fund raising campaigns they carry out among themselves.

    Only time and his actions will reveal if Bentley’s words represented an agenda. But it’s very clear they revealed his instinct. Maybe he really does understand and respect his obligation to limit the influence of his beliefs in his work as governor, but I wouldn’t bet a bad cup of coffee on it. Most evangelicals in office these days are more subtle about their discrimination than Bush or Helms were. They’re careful about what they say in what setting. They don’t, for the most part, craft obviously unconstitutional legislation aimed at us.

    But here we are in 2011, and it’s still a 10-year court battle to secure ANY of the rights routinely granted to Judeo-Christian outfits. How many pagan military or prison chaplains do we have? We have the state of California advancing dominionist theory in the courts. We have law enforcement officials who use public funds to hire fundamentalist witch hunters and label any homicide with a knife to be “occult” in nature. We have how many pagans being run in circles for years trying to get local tax exemptions, zoning, adoption papers etc. In almost all cases, this is being done by officials who, like Bentley, publicly insist they’re “everyone’s” governor, mayor etc.

    If we ever want to stop living as beggars in our own country, it’s time we learn to connect the dots. Here’s a suggestion for any Alabama readers we have here. Try getting yourselves invited to one of the governor’s “prayer breakfasts” or an appointment to an interfaith council or a job as a prison or state police chaplain. Many states have highway cleanup programs where you “adopt” a section of road and get a little sign with your organization’s name on it. Try signing up your coven. Bentley will show his true colors then. Like everyone else, he starts off with me with a presumption of good will, but given his words and the history of his “tribe,” it’s a damn thin one.

  • Wyrd Designs

    Here I was thinking of writing an op/ed piece like this, and you beat me to it Star. :)

    And Dubya more than said it wasn’t a religion, he was trying to prevent the worship at the Fort of those soldiers too!

    • Ananta Androscoggin

      It was Dubya’ statement as mere Governor of Texas which turned out to be one of the main obstructions being used by the VA against the Veteran’s Headstone Marker Pentacle Quest. I’d say that was pretty influential.

  • Wyrd Designs

    Here I was thinking of writing an op/ed piece like this, and you beat me to it Star. :)

    And Dubya more than said it wasn’t a religion, he was trying to prevent the worship at the Fort of those soldiers too!

    • Ananta Androscoggin

      It was Dubya’ statement as mere Governor of Texas which turned out to be one of the main obstructions being used by the VA against the Veteran’s Headstone Marker Pentacle Quest. I’d say that was pretty influential.

  • http://twitter.com/eireannoir Teresa (Chrissy)

    (deleted, see above)

  • http://twitter.com/eireannoir Teresa (Chrissy)

    (deleted, see above)

  • http://twitter.com/eireannoir Teresa (Chrissy)

    Thank you for posting this, Star. I still consider myself an Alabamian even though I moved from AL to TN three weeks ago and when I first heard about what Bentley said, I was furious. After reading your post though, I feel much better and I’m viewing this from a different light now.

    I didn’t know that he was at a church when he said this, which is why I was so angry (I’m a firm believer in separation of church and state) but now knowing that, it changes things and I find myself agreeing with everything you said. Well done, and thank you for calming me down ;)

  • http://twitter.com/eireannoir Teresa (Chrissy)

    Thank you for posting this, Star. I still consider myself an Alabamian even though I moved from AL to TN three weeks ago and when I first heard about what Bentley said, I was furious. After reading your post though, I feel much better and I’m viewing this from a different light now.

    I didn’t know that he was at a church when he said this, which is why I was so angry (I’m a firm believer in separation of church and state) but now knowing that, it changes things and I find myself agreeing with everything you said. Well done, and thank you for calming me down ;)

  • ElrondHubbard

    Though it is hard not to be suspicious when a politician makes a statement like this–as it’s often easy to interpret it to mean he will be serving in the best interests of like-thinking Christians, specifically–I think you make a great point. Since he was speaking in a church as opposed to a public address or other political setting, there’s really nothing to write home about. Christianity is the dominant religion in this country, and therefore it isn’t surprising that most politicians will be from some branch of the Judeo-Christian faith. And yes, it may influence some of his policy decisions. But expressing his religious devotion in the proper setting is not tantamount to declaring war on those who see the world in other ways, and since he has not made an overt attempt to blur or cross the line between church and state, again there’s little reason to get in a froth over the whole thing. Great post, Star!

    • kenneth

      If we got into a froth more often, we might not still be living like Dalits in a country which was supposedly founded to guarantee equal rights to all of its citizens.

  • ElrondHubbard

    Though it is hard not to be suspicious when a politician makes a statement like this–as it’s often easy to interpret it to mean he will be serving in the best interests of like-thinking Christians, specifically–I think you make a great point. Since he was speaking in a church as opposed to a public address or other political setting, there’s really nothing to write home about. Christianity is the dominant religion in this country, and therefore it isn’t surprising that most politicians will be from some branch of the Judeo-Christian faith. And yes, it may influence some of his policy decisions. But expressing his religious devotion in the proper setting is not tantamount to declaring war on those who see the world in other ways, and since he has not made an overt attempt to blur or cross the line between church and state, again there’s little reason to get in a froth over the whole thing. Great post, Star!

    • kenneth

      If we got into a froth more often, we might not still be living like Dalits in a country which was supposedly founded to guarantee equal rights to all of its citizens.


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