From CBS News comes the following story related to the question of Christian brotherhood. These are only excerpts the full story is HERE. In these excerpts, the original text is in black, bold, italics and my comments are in normal text red.
Alabama Republican Governor Robert Bentley said….that he does not consider Americans who do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior to be his brothers and sisters.
Technically, and in the strict religious sense of the term, “brother,” he is right. It is Baptism, incorporation into Christ, that makes us brethren. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: “For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” “Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn (CCC # 1271)
However, Gov. Bentley is likely ill-advised to talk of this sort of thing in a civic setting where the term “brother” is not used in the strict religious sense. It is true that he spoke in a Baptist Church, (Dexter Ave Baptist) but the gathering was a civic gathering to Honor Dr. Martin Luther King for his Civil Rights legacy. In civil discourse, terms like “brothers and sisters” are more reflective of a common humanity and, to some extent, the notion of a shared citizenship. In the common expression “My fellow Americans” it will be noted that “fellow” is a synonym for “brother” or “common family member.” It is important to understand how words are used and understood in different settings. Failing to do this can cause misunderstanding and give offense, as the Governor has done.
“There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit,” Bentley said shortly after taking the oath of office….But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have….It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.” Yes, perhaps in the strict religious sense the term that is true, but, as stated, there are other notions of brotherhood that are used and accepted outside religious circles that the Governor does not seem to recognize. While the unbaptized present may not be his religious brethren, they can be said to be brethren in the wider and more common, civic, and general use of the term.
”Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters,” he continued. “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.” Here too, some distinctions are in order. We can use the term “Father” for God in at least two senses.
In one sense he is Father, for He is the origin of all things. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, In Israel, God is called “Father” inasmuch as he is Creator of the world. Even more, God is Father because of the covenant and the gift of the law to Israel, “his first-born son”. God is also called the Father of the king of Israel. Most especially he is “the Father of the poor”, of the orphaned and the widowed, who are under his loving protection. By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority(CCC # 238-239). From this point of view we DO share a common “daddy” and all are made in the image and likeness of God.
In a second and religious sense however, no one knows the Father except the Son. Hence only Jesus is the Son of the Father in the truest and strictest sense. We therefore can only expereince God as Father fully by being incorporated into Christ by baptism. Then, as members of Christ’s body, we share in Christ’s perfect sonship and experience God as Father in the truest and fullest sense. In this sense the Catechism states plainly, We can invoke God as “Father” because the Son of God made man has revealed him to us. In this Son, through Baptism, we are incorporated and adopted as sons of God (CCC # 2798). While this gives a certain gift, enjoyed only the baptized, the Catechism also reminds us: The baptized cannot pray to “our” Father without bringing before him all those for whom he gave his beloved Son. God’s love has no bounds, neither should our prayer….. [We pray] with and for all who do not yet know him, so that Christ may “gather into one the children of God.” (Jn 11:52) God’s care for all men and for the whole of creation…should extend our prayer to the full breadth of love whenever we dare to say “our” Father. (CCC # 2793) Hence the Governor’s final sentiment is a good one, in desiring all to be his brethren. But in failing to make proper distinctions and understand common from strict usage he unecessisarily offends.
American Atheists President David Silverman told Hotsheet that the comments were “bigoted” and show that Bentley “puts his Bible above the Constitution of the United States……Being the governor of all people means that you are a representative of all people. It certainly does not mean that you abuse your position to push your religion on people who differ from your faith.” It doesn’t seem fair to say he is pushing his religion on people. It was probably wrong for the Governor to make such acute religious remarks in a civic setting, but it does not mean he is pushing his religion.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish rights group, also condemned the comments. “It is shocking that Governor Bentley would suggest that non-Christians are not worthy of the same love and respect he professes to have for the Christian community,”….His comments…. also raise serious questions as to whether non-Christians can expect to receive equal treatment during his tenure as governor.” Here too it doesn’t seem fair to interpret the Governor’s remarks as to “suggest that non-Christians are not worthy of the same love and respect he professes to have for the Christian community.” Even if his notions are flawed by being improperly distinguished, it does not follow that he considers others are not worthy etc. And while, the ADL leader is not wrong to have concerns about equal treatment under the Law, this is monitored through the political process and the balance of power. It is unlikely that any human being is wholly exempt from experiencing a special closeness to certain members of his constituency who share similar backgrounds. For example, a Jewish Governor would likely experience a special closeness to fellow Jews. However, whatever special affinity a Governor might feel, he must be judicious and even handed in his decisions. This is clear. Frankly Governor Bentley was not very smart to voice his special affinity with Christians, even though it is likely and understandably there. There are just some things you shouldn’t say.
Nigut added: “Governor Bentley’s remarks suggest that he is determined to use his new position to proselytize for Christian conversion. If he does so, he is dancing dangerously close to a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids government from promoting the establishment of any religion.” This is fair enough. The Governor was acting in an official capacity at a swearing in, and should not have engaged in this sort of sectarian reflection, articulated religious divisions or expressed wishes for conversions. As a private citizen he is free to do so, but not as the Governor at a public and civic function. General expressions of prayer and support, commending the state to the care of God are all fine, and part of the American tradition. But extended comments about the theology of faith and baptism and the use of terms in their strict religious sense, is going too far.
Bentley’s….communications director, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, told the Birmingham News, “He is the governor of all the people, Christians, non-Christians alike.” While Bentley, a deacon at a Baptist church, drew a distinction between Christians and non-Christians in his comments, he also said he was “color blind” and would represent all the people in his state.OK, fine. But the bottom line is that a lot of unnecssary things were said that ultimately required reassurances that would have been unnecessary had the Governor used a bit more prudence. His remarks were appropriate at a Catechism class, but not a swearing in where he was bound to be misunderstood.
Most of you who read this blog regularly know that I am a big believer in evangelization and think that all of us need to witness to Christ more than we currently do. That said, prudence is also necessary and the evangelizer will do well to know a bit of his audience and acknowledge the setting. Words and expressions, that may be properly understood in the Church setting, are not always the first way we speak to the secular world. Further, beginning with what divides us is not always the best way to begin. Seeking common ground and building trust is often a more fruitful approach. Beginning by saying “Well you’re not really my brother and God really isn’t your Father” is not likely going to move the conversation very far. People tend to shut down or react upon this sort of talk. There are times to discuss our differences frankly, but not in this sort of setting.
Finally, there are some legitimate limits that civil officials should observe when acting in their official capacity. These days there are clearly too many limits imposed. But Governor Bentley went too far in his reflections and provoked more than he prophesied.
And now some pointers from the great evangelizer, Fr. Barron