A man who should act, for one day, on the supposition that all the people about him were influenced by the religion they professed would find himself ruined by nightfall.
— Thomas Macaulay
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is a Christian. Or so he professes, most famously on the day he took the oath of office in January 2011. In post-inaugural remarks made to a crowd at Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, from the pulpit once occupied by Martin Luther King, Jr. — a paragon of inclusion if ever one there was — the newly installed governor saw fit to proclaim his faith in terms that hardly could have been more exclusive.
“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,” Bentley told the crowd. Something of a national uproar ensued, and while numerous of Bentley’s fellow Baptists leapt to his defense (many blamed the media for having had the temerity to report what the governor of Alabama said in public), he still felt obliged to hold the requisite meeting with the requisite interfaith leaders — “requisite” here meaning that no one saw any need to invite a representative of the Muslim faith — and issue the requisite apology for his remarks.
Even in turning an embarrassing page for himself and the state he had just been charged with leading, however, Bentley could not resist pandering to his political base — i.e., folks who could not have cared less if their governor made statements more suited to a theocracy than a democracy. Though no one had ever suggested that he renounce his own religious faith, Bentley wanted everyone to know that, being forced to apologize to a bunch of non-Jesus-believers notwithstanding, he “will never deny being a born-again Christian.” Which is the governor’s prerogative, and which in all honesty would be just fine with me — if only he showed any proclivity to adhere to what I, perhaps naively, consider to be the basis of Christian belief.
That would be the teachings of Jesus, the words and deeds that emanated from Christ during his time on this troubled earth. Among other things, Jesus made it clear that the treatment of the poor and sick is the essence of Christianity. This is the point of the passage in the book of Matthew in which he tells his followers that they will “inherit the kingdom” of God if they have conducted their lives on that basis.
I was hungry and you gave me food, Jesus said, making himself the embodiment of the downtrodden. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.
Now, I want to be fair to our governor. And in that vein, I’m quite certain that he is good to his family and friends, gives generously to his church and other charitable causes, and probably would go — probably even has gone, perhaps on numerous occasions — out of his way to help a person who is, as the old folks used to say, down on his luck. I’m prepared to accept the proposition that Robert Bentley is, in the accepted sense of the term, a good man.
But I hasten to add that being reasonably certain of Gov. Bentley’s innate “goodness” only makes it harder to square his professions of faith with many of his actions as governor. The Bentley administration has been hard on all of the people whom Jesus told us are most in need of our kind attentions and loving care. People living in poverty. The chronically ill and infirm. Single mothers. The long-term unemployed. The homeless. Immigrants. Children.
None of these groups — to use the formulation of one of our governor’s political heroes, Ronald Reagan — is better off now than they were four years ago. Of course, Bentley would say those things are not his fault, but rather that of Barack Obama, the foreign-born secret Muslim socialist who somehow managed to get himself twice elected as President of the United States.
It is in blind opposition to Obama — not just the president’s politics, but the man himself — that Bentley has joined other Republican governors in opting to ignore the law of the land (the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare) and refusing to expand Alabama’s Medicaid system. Short of detonating a nuclear weapon, he could hardly do more damage to the most vulnerable people in Alabama, or to the state’s present and future.
This assertion is borne out by two recent studies, one by the University of Alabama and the other by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. According to these two centers of higher education — one of them among the world’s most respected centers of medicine and healthcare-related activities — Medicaid expansion would provide access to medical care and services for more than 300,000 Alabamians who currently have no health insurance. In addition, the expansion would create more than 30,000 jobs across several business sectors, spur $20 billion in new economic activity, and generate $935 million in additional tax revenue for the state.
Bentley’s response to these figures? He says they’re “bogus,” thus removing all doubt about just what type of Republican he is. He’s a FOX News Republican, denying the veracity of objective mathematical and scientific conclusions in any case in which they do not support his subjective view of the way the world should be. What’s worse, he has adopted the view that is becoming unquestioned doctrine in his chosen party: The conviction that the poor are expendable.
In this, Bentley has sold out his Christian faith in the service of his political agenda. As a fellow Christian, I find that inexpressibly sad; as an Alabamian, I simply view it as the latest of innumerable outrages that have been perpetrated upon us by our presumptive leaders; as a human being, I am determined to do whatever I can to address the disillusion, destruction and death — yes, people are going to die as a direct result of our governor’s actions — Bentley is leaving in his wake.
That is all I can do.