This past Martin Luther King Day, Alabama’s new governor, Robert Bentley, addressed a Baptist Church and shared the following sentiment with his audience:
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.
The press got a hold of it and the thing went viral and then the governor apologized and before I get all First Amendment on the man I recall a lifetime—that is my lifetime—of saying unbelievably imbecilic things in front of classes and colleagues (which I never apologized for).
So I am just going to go back to preparing my lecture on Martin Luther’s 1523 “On the Secular Authority” and let it go.
Besides, we are merely in the preseason of the 2012 Faith and Values campaign.
In the next few weeks, however, an apostle’s posse of Republicans will announce their candidacies (or at least intimate as much to scoop-deprived journalists). And then the real, nasty F and V action will begin.
By the time February rolls around and the GOP candidates will all be trying to ingratiate themselves to the Evangelical base, Bentley’s indiscretion will be long forgotten.
Like the exhibition football game the NFL stages in Kyoto or Bogota or some such place in August—in a few weeks nobody will think of the governor’s un-fraternal declaration if only because so many new brain-traumatizing, concussion-inducing Church-State fouls will have been flagged.
But will 2012 match the 2008 F and V season? Honestly, I don’t see how that’s even possible. Recall that with an outgoing Republican Commander in Chief in 2008, presidential candidates in both parties were peddling their faith-based wares.
For every Hillary reference to the Sunday school classes she used to teach, we had John McCain calling this a “Christian nation.” For every invocation by John Edwards of Matthew 25, we had Mike Huckabee subsuming the Constitution to the Bible.
For every rabbit punch delivered to the traditional secularism of the Democratic Party by Senator Obama, we had Mitt Romney citing Psalms. For every Jeremiah Wright, a Pastor Hagee.
I don’t see how 2012 could possibly match 2008 for outlandish, over-the-top religious rhetoric in American politics. But we have a long, action-packed season ahead of us: if strategists in either party conclude that communities of faith may decide the election, then the worst is yet to come.