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Alabama Governor against the Brotherhood of Man

During the celebration of Martin Luther King Day, newly inaugurated Alabama Governor Robert Bentley stated that those who have not accepted Christ as their savior are not his brothers and sisters.  The comment raised an immediate firestorm of criticism.  

Did Governor Bentley get it right or wrong?  Both.  He is certainly correct that the Bible teaches that to be a son or daughter of God, and hence a brother or sister, one must have trusted in Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God.  But is there biblical support for calling non-Christians our brothers?  I would answer with a qualified yes.

One assumes that Governor Bentley would not disallow the terms “brother” or “sister” to be applied to siblings.  Neither does the Bible.  Furthermore, Paul calls his fellow ethnic Jews “my brothers, my kinsman by race” (Romans 9:3).  Even more distant relatives can be called brothers, as in the case of the nations of Edom and Judah (Amos 1:11; Obadiah 10), the descendants of the brothers Esau and Jacob.  Paul even hints at the universal brotherhood of man, based upon creation, when he affirms that God “made from one every nation of men” and that “we are indeed his offspring” (Acts 17: 26, 28). 

Nevertheless, it is more accurate to say that the universal side of the biblical ethic relates to man as created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), which is then reaffirmed in the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:6).  The governor would have been wise to add to his affirmations about Christian brotherhood these more general statements of our common humanity based upon our special creation.

What is more troubling is the reaction to his statements. The Anti-Defamation League questioned whether he could treat non-Christians equally and claimed that he came dangerously close to violating the First Amendment on religious liberty by using his position as governor to promote the Christian faith. 

I would say that it is a peculiar notion of religious liberty that a public figure should not be allowed to express his faith in a church.  Of course, much of this is special pleading, but what it brings into focus is the tension between the language of exclusion and the modernist ideal of the brotherhood of man. 

The modern doctrine of the brotherhood of man was most famously inspired by the French Revolution’s slogan of liberty, equality and fraternity.  At first glance, fraternity would appear to advocate universal bonds of love among all men.  Ironically, the doctrinaire teaching of universal brotherhood as the absolute excludes any exclusions.  It then uses the accusation of intolerance to pressure people, such as Christians, to submit their faith commitments to it.  When challenged by more concrete bonds of loyalty, and not just Christian ones, it also led, as we know, to the guillotine.

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