"There's going to be goofs by anybody," Stewart said. "Once he gets into his policies and the substance of his administration, I think he can turn it around."
Candy Gunther Brown, an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, said Bentley was making a "theological statement" to a church crowd. She called Bentley's statements a "classic altar call" from an evangelical.
"He's saying I want to be your brother. That's an invitation. But basically the way it's heard is as an exclusionary statement," said Brown, who studies evangelical Christian literature.
"My guess is that expressions of shock and concern by critics are even perhaps disingenuous, because this can scarcely be the first time they've heard a similar statement. If they're in Alabama, they've heard this before, they've heard it many times before and maybe even by political leaders."
One of the Jewish leaders who met with Bentley Wednesday, Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, called the new governor's remarks "a difficult misstep" at the beginning of his administration. But he said he was pleased with the governor's apology and said "I hope and pray we can come together in the next four years."
Another rabbi, Elliot L. Stevens of Temple Beth Or in Montgomery, called the meeting with Bentley a positive step.
"We are all gathered here at the table in the first days of his administration and we are talking about inter-religious dialogue," Stevens said.
Associated Press Writer Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.
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