Alabama governor apologizes for brotherhood comment
BIRMINGHAM (Reuters) - Alabama's new Governor Robert Bentley apologized on Wednesday for saying at a high-profile church service this week that only Christians who were saved were his brothers and sisters.
Bentley, a Republican, said in a speech the day of his inauguration on Monday that people who were not saved were not his brothers or sisters because they did not share the same "Daddy", a reference to God.
His comments were republished on political websites and drew complaints from religious leaders in the state who said they were inappropriate given his leadership position.
Prominent Alabama Rabbi Jonathan Miller warned Bentley against using religion as a wedge while the president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, Ashfaq Taufique, said the remarks were "not in good taste".
"What I would like to do is apologize. Should anyone who heard those words and felt disenfranchised, I want to say, 'I'm sorry,'" Bentley was quoted in the Birmingham news as saying.
"If you're not a person who can say you are sorry, you're not a very good leader," Bentley was quoted as saying after a meeting with representatives of Alabama's Jewish community plus a Baptist minister.
Bentley was contrite, said Miller of Birmingham's Temple Emanu-El who attended the meeting.
"He did not mean his words to be divisive and he wished he could take them back. He has only been a governor for two days wants to be someone who unites Alabama," Miller told Reuters.
Bentley was speaking on Monday in honor of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King at the church in the state capital from which King led the celebrated Montgomery bus boycott that in 1955 launched the era's crusade against segregation.
In remarks quoted by the Birmingham News newspaper, Bentley said: "I was elected as a Republican candidate. But once I became governor ... I became the governor of all the people. I intend to live up to that. I am color blind."
"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit," said Bentley, a deacon in the Baptist church.
"But if you have been adopted in God's family like I have ... 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," he said.
"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," he said.
Alabama has a reputation for intolerance gained because of opposition to civil rights decades ago and has a strong Christian conservative community.
Randolph Horn, a political science professor at Alabama's Samford University put the remarks down to inexperience in the job and said he doubted they would do long term damage.
"One might think of it as a gaffe and the governor has plenty of time to recover," he said, adding: "It was probably a reflection of personal theological understanding of his and not a statement of public policy."
(Writing by Matthew Bigg, editing by Greg McCune)
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