On the day he was inaugurated, first-term governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, announced to an audience attending an observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that non-Christians are not his brothers and sisters.
Bentley recently signed what may be the most hostile state law in the United States concerning immigration. Alabama House Bill (HB) 56 outlaws undocumented immigrants from receiving any state or local public benefits.
HB 56 bars undocumented immigrants from enrolling in or attending public colleges. The law makes it illegal for them to apply for or solicit work.
HB 56 invalidates any contract to which an undocumented immigrant is a party if the other party to the contract has “direct or constructive knowledge” concerning that undocumented status.
Under HB 56, persons registering to vote in Alabama must now undergo a citizenship check. Officials in public schools must determine if students are undocumented immigrants.
HB 56 makes it a “discriminatory practice” for an employer to decline to hire or to fire a legal resident when an undocumented immigrant is on the payroll.
George Wallace launched his long political career in Alabama during an inaugural address that called for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
Wallace’s hatred targeted black people. Bentley’s targets are people with Hispanic surnames and appearances.
HB 56 became law without opposition from Alabama pastors, priests and other spiritual leaders. As HB 56 gained momentum in targeting vulnerable people, Alabama religious leaders and their congregations sang from their hymnals, hugged their holy books and looked the other way – like the priest and Levite behaved in the Good Samaritan lesson.
In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King responded to Birmingham clerics who opposed his nonviolent protests against racial segregation. King agreed with Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”
King added, “A just law is a manmade law that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”
And King admitted his disappointment “with the white church and its leadership” when he wrote:
“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, … On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings, I have looked at her beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlay of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over again I have found myself asking: ‘What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? …’”
Bentley, a deacon at First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, also serves as a Sunday school teacher. He’s been chairman of the board of deacons four times.
Jacob and Joseph, patriarchs of Judaism and Christianity, were immigrants in Egypt. Bentley’s god must not be the God of Jacob and Joseph.
The God of Moses, who led the Hebrew people to freedom, sternly prohibited any oppression against immigrants.
“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt… If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn …” (Exodus 22:21, 23).
“You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9).
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you in your land shall be as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Bentley’s god must not be the God of Moses.
Jesus, who Baptists affirm as the highest and best proof of God’s loving character, had a warning for people who did not welcome strangers.
“… I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, … Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:42-43, 45).
Bentley’s god must not be the God of Jesus.
Religious people in Alabama should have long before now reminded Bentley what befell the ruler who ignored the God of Jacob, Moses and Jesus.
Can you say “Red Sea,” governor?
Wendell L. Griffen is a judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a retired state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.