January 18, 2011
Governor Robert Bentley
600 Dexter Avenue
Via: fax 334-353-0004
Let me offer you my congratulations on yesterday’s inauguration as the Governor of Alabama. I wish you success, and that these next four years will be years of growth and prosperity for all the citizens of our great State. Leadership has its responsibilities and burdens, and I pray to God that you will bear these burdens with dignity and grace, and that you will fulfill your responsibilities with skill and compassion.
Governor Bentley, I feel a duty to my conscience and my role as the rabbi of the largest synagogue in Alabama to bring to your attention the fact that your remarks at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church yesterday were troubling to me and my congregation, and I believe also to many Alabamians. You are quoted in the Birmingham News as saying:
“There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit. But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian 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. . . . Now I will have to say, that 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.”
I admire people of faith, and I hope that God guides you through these next years. Yours is a difficult job, to be sure, and you will need Divine Providence to get you through the days and months and years.
I want to tell you about us. We Jews are also deeply faithful people. Our living tradition harkens back to Abraham and Sarah, and forward to our rabbis today. The ideas brought forth by my ancestors were incorporated as the cornerstones of Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Sikhism and Baha’i, and are the foundations of western ethics and modern spirituality. We are also Alabamians. We pay our taxes. We vote in elections. We send our children to school in this state. We abide by Alabama’s laws and work, each of us in our own way, for the betterment of all. We are good citizens of this state.
Governor Bentley, as a non-Christian, I felt disenfranchised from your grace as our leader in the immediate hours after your inauguration. If you were an archbishop or the pastor of a church, I could take issue with these statements, or even ignore them. But you are my 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.
We Jews, and others who are not Christians, know that we are a minority in Alabama. We know what it is like to be few in number and sometimes seen as outsiders. We are also proud Americans. Governor Bentley, religion in this country is great because every American is offered equal protection and defense from a government that would attempt to dictate conscience and belief. We hope that you would reconsider the sentiments you shared at the historic Dexter Avenue Church, and be a Governor that respects us all and treats us all as brothers and sisters. Please don’t use religion to divide us. Unite us all instead. You are your brothers’ keeper, and Governor Bentley, we are your brothers.
2500 years ago, the Prophet Malachi told my people: “Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” I am a religious man, Governor Bentley. We have only one God and one father, and we are all, whether we like it or not, brothers. And we need to be kind to each other as we ought to be kind to our brothers. And we are kind to our brothers for sake of the One God who is the father of all.
I am hoping that I will hear back from you a clear message of enfranchisement and understanding. I am depending upon you for leadership.
Governor Bentley, I plan to send this letter to my congregation. I promise you that I will also send them your response. And Governor Bentley, it would be my honor to invite you and Mrs. Bentley to address Temple Emanu-El one Sabbath evening so that you would get to know us better. I hope you might find time amid all of your duties to reach out to us in the spirit of friendship.
This was not an easy letter to write. But do know that it was written with great hope and prayers for you and our State of Alabama.
Rabbi Jonathan Miller
cc: Temple Emanu-El