Alabama Governor Robert Bentley on Wednesday apologized to anyone he offended when he made remarks about Christianity at a Montgomery church about an hour after his inauguration Monday.
Bentley told a religious crowd at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church that fellow Christians were his "brothers and sisters."
He then added, "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."
Leaders from the Muslim and Jewish faiths expressed concern about the remarks, asking whether the governor was wanting to convert them or whether he might treat non-Christians as second-class citizens.
Bentley was already scheduled to meet with members of the Birmingham Jewish Federation within the next week. But given the concerns from Monday's remarks, the governor's office moved the meeting up to Wednesday afternoon.
"I would like to say that anyone who heard those words and felt disenfranchised, I want to say that I'm sorry," Bentley said during the meeting. "I don't want to be harmful toward anyone else in anything that I may say."
Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Birmingham's Temple Emanu-El was among those concerned about the remarks.
"I found it to be very troubling, and I shared it in an honest and forthright way with our governor," Miller said, describing Bentley's comments Monday as a "difficult misstep" at the beginning of his term.
However, Miller was comforted by Bentley's apology. Miller told reporters he felt satisfied that the governor did not intend any malice or ill will with his statements.
"I think he now understands," Miller said. "And be careful of his words, as I have to be careful of my words, too. And we're moving forward."
"Having been asked by members of my community here what we're going to say and how we're going to take it, I am very impressed with what the governor brings to this conversation," said Rabbi Elliot Stevens of Temple Beth Or in Montgomery. "He does have an open mind. He has an open heart."
When asked if Bentley would consider the Jewish leaders in the room to be his brothers and sisters, the governor replied, "They are my brothers and sisters. Certainly they are."
The governor added some perspective about where his "brothers and sisters" remarks were made and the context of his statements.
"I was speaking on a spiritual term that we use in the Baptist church," Bentley said. "I was speaking to a group of fellow Christians, that were fellow Baptists, that knew exactly what I was saying with my remarks."
While the governor apologized for causing offense, he made it clear that he holds onto his personal religious views, and that will not change.
"I will never deny my faith," Bentley said. "I will never do that."