Baptist prophet Wayne Flynt said Alabama's anti-immigration law is racist. Baptist Gov. Robert Bentley denied being a racist.
"This is just mean-spirited," Wayne Flynt, left, said of Alabama's anti-immigration law. "I'm certainly not racist," Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the law, said. (Photos: EthicsDaily.com, left; Sutherland Boswell, right)
NBC correspondent Kate Snow interviewed both for a news show, "Rock Center with Brian Williams," that aired on Nov. 14.
The program began with footage of rotting tomatoes in a farm field and continued with interviewing Alabama farmers unable to secure farm laborers.
"Anti-immigration is probably as popular a political issue as you can find in Alabama," said Flynt, a retired historian at Auburn University who teaches Sunday school at First Baptist Church of Auburn.
"I would remind you, however, that being against the federal government's integration policies in 1963 was equally popular," noted Flynt.
Snow asked, "Are you equating those two things?"
"I am equating those two," he answered. "This is just mean-spirited. This is finding the most vulnerable people within a society, people who can't vote, most of them are women and children. They have no political power. And so in a sense, it's like the blacks in 1963 who could not vote in Alabama."
When Snow told Bentley, a member of the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, that he was seen as a racist for his immigration stance, Bentley looked away from the camera. Then, he turned back and said, "I'm certainly not racist. I'm not racist. I, in fact, that's insulting ... I love everyone."
Bentley's church is hardwired to the Southern Baptist Convention. Flynt's church is connected to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
A few days earlier, Bentley bashed a New York Times editorial for connecting the civil rights movement with immigration.
"States are expanding their power to hasten racial exclusion and family disintegration, to make a particular ethnic group of poor people disappear. The new laws come cloaked in talk of law and order; the bigotry beneath them is never acknowledged," read the editorial about Alabama and other anti-immigration states.
Bentley said, "To equate this to the civil rights movement is an insult to the civil rights movement. It's an insult to the men and women who had their homes bombed, the children who were killed in Birmingham at the 16th Street Baptist Church ... so it's an insult to them."
Before one can accept at face value Bentley's alignment with the civil rights movement, one would need to know what he has done to support the civil rights movement – where he has bucked the white power structure and unjust laws.
What is known is that Bentley likes to play the "insult card."
He is insulted that people would think he is a racist based on his anti-immigrant words and actions. He is angry that some would insult the civil rights movement with a comparison to the immigration issue.
He also thinks outsiders really don't know Alabama, the same kind of argument that the segregationists made about "outside agitators."
"Why are we getting all the publicity? I think it has to do with Alabama's past and the perception that people have of Alabama over the years that don't live in our state and really don't recognize the amount of progress we've made in Alabama over the last 50 to 60 years," Bentley told the Associated Press.
While the Baptist governor, who signed into law the nation's most severe anti-immigration law, denies racism, the Baptist prophet, known as "the conscience of Alabama," makes the connection between the two eras.
For clarity's sake, what are the similarities between the anti-desegregation era and the anti-immigration era?
First, anti-desegregation and anti-immigration laws were passed by the white power structure.
Second, anti-desegregation laws were intended to make sure that poor people of color felt second-class citizenship. The anti-immigration laws are intended to make undocumented immigrants feel unwelcomed.
Third, anti-desegregation laws were challenged by the federal courts. The anti-immigration laws are being challenged in federal courts.
Fourth, anti-desegregation and anti-immigration forces use slurs for people of color – the n-word and the word "illegals."
Fifth, the anti-desegregation era witnessed the silence of white Southern Baptist leaders, who refused to speak against discrimination. The anti-immigration era witnesses the same dynamic. The Alabama Baptist State Convention refuses to speak against the anti-immigration laws and for the least of those among us.
The similarities are painfully obvious.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.