By Manifesto Joe
Christian exclusivism is certainly nothing new. It's what most "conservative" Christians believe -- that only those who have accepted Christ as their savior will go to Heaven.
So, the only thing that should be surprising about what Gov. Robert Bentley, R-Ala., said in an address on the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday is that a practicing politician said it so openly. And even that should only be mildly surprising, given the atmosphere of bigotry that so pervades American life now.
Here's what the Chicago Tribune reported:
Speaking to a large crowd Monday at Montgomery's Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church — where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached — Bentley said that "if you're a Christian and you're saved ... it makes you and me brother and sister," according to a report in the Birmingham News.
"Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters," he added, according to the paper. "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."
By Tuesday, the comments were reverberating beyond Alabama. David Silverman, president of Cranford, N.J.-based American Atheists, called the remarks "outrageous."
"He is a governor, not a mullah," Silverman said. "This is a diverse nation with a secular government. If he doesn't like it, he shouldn't be governor."
Atheists weren't the only people who were offended. The Daily Mail (U.K.) later reported:
Today (Wednesday) he was forced to issue an apology for his outburst after a critical letter from Rabbi Jonathan Miller. ...
Rabbi Miller, from Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote that Jews were
"faithful people" who pay their taxes and send children to state schools.
He said in a letter to the Governor: "Our great nation, by law and tradition, provides us with religious freedom. And even though we do not believe exactly alike we ought to see each other with brotherly affection, and as equals in conscience and human worth."
A spokesman for the Hindu American Foundation said the comments on Monday were "intolerant, repulsive and wholly unacceptable."
But they don't appear to be hurting Bentley any among Alabamans. Here's a link to an Associated Press report that pretty much says that most people there agree with what the governor said. Some just think he was unwise to say it openly.
Christian exclusivism, again, is very old doctrine, and certainly not unprecedented among many prominent U.S. politicians. Il Doofus, a Methodist, is said to have professed this belief privately but declined to discuss it openly.
I'm sorry to disappoint some of my agnostic or atheist colleagues on the political left, but I've had a few subjective experiences that have led me to believe that there is a deity. But at 54, I remain unchurched, and one of the main reasons for that is Christian exclusivism. Where I live, that tenet tends to be the rule, not the exception, in Christian churches of almost all kinds.
And it simply defies common sense. A Muslim who has spent his or her entire life in Islamabad is very, very unlikely to be persuaded by any Christian missionary. This person may be more virtuous, by any measure, than a given Christian in Alabama. But he or she is very likely, perhaps almost certain, to cling to the religion in which he or she was raised. That's how the typical human mind works -- and an all-knowing God, if such a being exists, would surely know that.
For another example, suppose that a bright child in Alabama is brought up in a Southern Baptist church, and applies common sense to theological questions. And, this child discovers that there are scores of hypocrites in this church. By the time he or she is a teenager, the person is pretty likely to run away, fast and far, and never, ever go back. Perhaps the person will become a believer again, but not that kind of believer.
To hear it told in most Christian churches in these parts, any such people are surely hellbound. I don't profess to know the mind of God, but I hope those who would say such things are in for some surprises.
Religious exclusivism of any kind betrays yet another habit of the human mind, and a very pernicious one. It's the desire to be part of some "chosen" group. "My group, my community, my church, my political party, everything I belong to is absolutely right, and I am certain beyond a doubt that everybody else is wrong." That's what comes out of the mouths of many people, and it doubtlessly makes them feel better about themselves, that they're special. (Ever hear any of this from conservatives?)
Inclusivism isn't new either, nor is it radical
Even among conservative-to-moderate Christians, there is a differing view. Consider these three statements:
C. S. Lewis - "We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him."
John Stott - "I have never been able to conjure up (as some great Evangelical missionaries have) the appalling vision of the millions who are not only perishing but will inevitably perish. On the other hand… I am not and cannot be a universalist. Between these extremes I cherish and hope that the majority of the human race will be saved. And I have a solid biblical basis for this belief."
Billy Graham - "And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven."
Not exactly religious liberals, any of these fellows, let alone radicals. And they are all considered evangelical Christian icons.
But, at long last, no one should really be surprised that a major Republican politician would make such a statement. Even after the apology, something tells me that Bentley's views are unchanged. He was simply being candid about them at an inappropriate moment.
Given the atmosphere of bigotry and intolerance that the American right wing has resurrected, there's nothing shocking here at all.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.