Well first in fairness, it may be that the Yahoo report cut short what he actually said in that church? He seems somewhat more apparently concerned with speaking to a ritual than and there, than he did in the Yahoo rendition of it:
http://www.newser.com/story/110059/alabama-gov-if-you-arent-saved-you-aint-my-brother.html"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," Robert Bentley told a crowd at a Baptist church soon after taking the oath of office, the Huffington Post reports.
Also granted it's an exercise in picturing boundary lines either way... It's possible
I guess that he didn't put a lot of thought into it or didn't mean it in a particularly political sense. After all, he's an ex-deacon and some religious figures speak like this "all the time." But in all honesty... It surprises many people that he could
fail to imagine such a critical reaction, when he's also just been sworn into office two days back. One has to at least wonder, isn't it a little striking that a governor
was given the podium to make a sermon -- if that could be all
this is in some eyes -- so soon?
Perhaps old habits die hard, but that is also part and parcel of the struggle takes to attempt a real separation
of church and state too. By having this sort of speech a couple days after being elected, when he's newly responsible to another
unit that commonly claims "family" as a metaphor for who will be taken care of and who will not -- namely, the state... At a time when most politicians would presumably expect to be receiving extra scrutiny (justified or not), he drew a predictable enough reaction. If he cannot be cautious of the impression he gives immediately after being elected in terms of what religion may mean for his views of people (who is more "in" than who in whatever way you cut it), then it seems fair enough to assume he will also continue to gather support among political figures by cultivating the same customs.
It is a state with a pretty strong Christian constituency. Just in saying "Christian constituency" we have to recognize that he was (in a political sense at least) speaking in a way that -- point of fact, guess as we might over his specific intent -- would tend to serve one political faction more than others. Of course people are going to look for him to affirm their membership [Edit: in the constituent sense, it's translating into an expectation of relative influence] or not. He's just been elected governor. Many of the Christians in a state where the political rhetoric is so often charged with exceptionalism and "familly values" would want to hear that yes, now that I've won I'm really
(again) going to stand up for those
things. And others would interpret it in a similar way.
It's not as if only
people from other religious backgrounds would see it that way. Religion has not in fact been neatly disentangled from American politics, so whoever is conscious of that entanglement on all sides has to see something
there. Now, people who imagine that the governor simply stops being a political figure when he steps into his church may not see it so. In which case, Obama should likewise have no problem whatsoever tagging along with Rev. Wright any time he pleases either -- because that's just his choice of spiritual counsel, no constituency and no political impact to be expected... We know how that one turned out. And that was primarily over things that Rev. Wright
, and not Obama has said. Which I think should be a pretty significant difference, but nonetheless there we are.
The reaction shows that there is also a population with a strong aversion to that sort of shades of grey whereby common religious language and practice slips itself into national political agendas. Of course it is not technically illegal. Neither is it illegal for Republicans in particular to resist bills in Congress that would enforce equal pay for equal work by women. But these things are signs of regular, fairly open and crass discrimination on the basis of very broad social categories. It's not illegal, just very visibly non-inclusive (also known as discriminatory) to a lot of people. So, they often draw a backlash when people wade in this way. The point is not whether he was in church or which religion he was per se. The point is more that he is a figure with a lot of official power at the moment, and he said something that carries a lot of very real connotations about where he stands in a political landscape. Perhaps if he was not in a party known for so consistently
riding religion (a Bush reference or several may fit here
, if you like) as an excuse for economic inequality, gender discrimination, and other social control, then it might not create quite the same fuss.