Already the new Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley, is embroiled in controversy over comments he made in a church service following his inauguration. At the heart of the controversy are his comments about non-Christians not being his brothers and sisters.
On one hand, the reaction highlights the pervasiveness of religious pluralism. The gospel proclaims God’s forgiveness in Christ and that all who are united to Christ by faith—regardless of race, socio-economic background, and gender—are brothers and sisters. That Gov. Bentley’s comments could be excoriated as divisive points up the scandal of the gospel in our culture, with all claims to “no other name” considered incendiary.
On the other hand, the reaction highlights the danger of confusing state office with church office. What’s a governor doing in a pulpit and what’s a church doing hosting a service celebrating an inauguration? If non-Christians are a little tightly wound about Christ’s exclusive claims as endangering the public order, maybe it’s not entirely their fault.
It’s ridiculous to assert that Gov. Bentley’s comments violate the First Amendment; to disallow such comments would be a violation, in fact. However, strictly from a Christian point of view, such unauthorized use of Christ’s embassy for the affairs of civil society ought to be challenged. I doubt that faithful sermons, songs, and prayers in churches this Sunday will undergo similar scrutiny, even though they would be just as offensive to many of our neighbors. But a governor preaching on inauguration day in his secular office makes it even harder for us to convince our neighbors that the gospel triumphs through Word and Spirit rather than through the sword of state.