Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley receives a standing ovation as he walks to the podium in the Old House Chamber to swear in members of his cabinet and staff on Tuesday at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Julie Bennett)
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley apologized Wednesday for his inauguration day remarks about only Christians being his brothers and sisters and said he would work over the next four years for people of all faiths and colors.
Bentley said he didn’t mean to insult anyone with comments he made from the pulpit of a church once led by Martin Luther King Jr. He said he was speaking as an evangelical Christian to fellow Baptists.
“If anyone from other religions felt disenfranchised by the language, I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way,” Bentley said Wednesday.
Bentley spoke with reporters after meeting with several members of Alabama’s Jewish community and other faith leaders at his Capitol office.
The Southern Baptist deacon says he will be a governor for everyone, not just Christians.
Bentley had told a church crowd just moments into his new administration that those who have not accepted Jesus as their savior are not his brothers and sisters, shocking some critics who questioned Tuesday whether he can be fair to non-Christians.
“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,” Bentley said Monday, his inauguration day, according to The Birmingham News.
The Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday called Bentley’s remarks shocking.
“His comments are not only offensive, but also raise serious questions as to whether non-Christians can expect to receive equal treatment during his tenure as governor,” said Bill Nigut, the ADL’s regional director.
Speaking at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church after the inaugural ceremony, Bentley told the crowd that he considered anyone who believed in Jesus to be his brothers and sisters regardless of color, but anyone who isn’t a Christian doesn’t have that same relationship to him.
“If the Holy Spirit lives in you that makes you my brothers and sisters. Anyone who has not accepted Jesus, I want to be your brothers and sisters, too,” Bentley said.
Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, said he wasn’t sure how the remarks were intended.
“Does it mean that those who according to him are not saved are less important than those who are saved?” Taufique said. “Does he want those of us who do not belong to the Christian faith to adopt his faith? That should be toned down. That’s not what we need.”