People are weighing on the new Governor of Alabama’s words at his inauguration. I first read about it on John Meunier’s blog, and he linked to this article. Also, United Methodist Bishop of North Alabama has weighed in and, in a way he likes, will no doubt bring controversy to him in his conference. The governor himself said this:
Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So 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.
First, I don’t like making statements that set out a line of demarcation between us and them. PamBG comments on John’s post that all are her brothers and sisters, whether they are Muslim doing good or the hateful folk like Westboro Baptist Church. There’s a part of me that wants to agree with her, especially after I gave a talk to a Muslim school in Blackburn a couple of years ago. I found kindred spirits who had the same worries I did about faith: the government clampdown on Christian symbols (no, they do NOT want their removal) and the increasing secularisation of their young people who no longer want to come to prayers and learn about their faith. In them I could identify with them as co-sojourners in a life that was absolutely strange to many outside church or mosque.
Yet, I do think there is some sort of difference. As God’s creation, we may all be brothers and sisters in a ‘family of humanity’. But, does that make us ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’? Jesus himself gives an answer when told about his mother and brothers waiting for him outside. He responds that those who do the will of his Father are his brothers and sisters. While there are many times when I wonder if I come up to this standard, it still seems to indicate a difference. The question seems to be whether or not someone who does not follow Jesus can fit in the category of ‘doing the will of my Father’. It’s hard to deny that when Jesus and Paul and the other New Testament writers speak of ‘brothers and sisters’, they have something more specific in mind than ‘all humanity’.
The decision on who is my brother or sister does not really rest with me, anyway. It is Jesus who ultimately draws people to himself. Then, as a Wesleyan Christian, I believe the person has the choice whether or not to be a brother or sister of Christ, and thereby me. That’s why I don’t care for standing up and making grand statements like the governor’s. I don’t always know who’s who. I agree with him in some sense that there is a distinction, but I probably differ slightly on how that distinction comes about (there’s a cynical side that believes me and other Methodists wouldn’t fit his definition).
One final thought: Willimon talks about the ‘Our Father’ and sees in that some sort of universal meaning to it that I’ve never been able to read in it. It reminds me of a prayer for peace we had at Duke. The organisers of the small group invited an Imam to give a prayer. He came and stayed until we got to the Lord’s Prayer, at which point he quietly left. No fuss, no protestations. It simply seemed as if this was a moment for him our differences (signified by the Lord’s Prayer) became too wide for him, so he felt the need to excuse himself. I found that part to be very touching. There was a sense that we could go only so far, but not all the way. We have much in common, but perhaps we can’t call each other brother and sister without it losing something of what it means.
As to how any distinction I make says anything about their hope of salvation, I have already written about elsewhere.