Pastor Preached on Holiness Then Dismissed Ex-Gov. Robert Bentley From First Baptist Church, Docs Say
Ex-Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and his alleged mistress, former adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, were reportedly confronted and asked to leave the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa by the church's senior pastor in March 2016, according to government documents.
A week after his resignation as part of a plea deal connected to campaign finance and ethics violations, documents from the Alabama House committee that was investigating Bentley's impeachment reveal how First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa's Senior Pastor Gil McKee, confronted Bentley and Mason over the affair allegations and then asked them to leave the church.
The new details being revealed for the first time in a report by al.com, come from the deposition of Heather Hannah by the committee. Hannah was the former chief of staff for former first lady Dianne Bentley and was instrumental in helping her expose the alleged affair.
"Yes, so, Pastor McKee at First Baptist Tuscaloosa gave a big sermon and it was pretty obvious that is was targeted at Rebekah and (her husband) Jon and Gov. Bentley. And the governor got real upset about it, but Pastor McKee kind of talked to Jon Mason about it," Hannah said.
"But then ultimately, he ended calling all four of them into the office, or three of them with Mrs. Bentley, to sit down and just kind of say, 'OK, is this happening and made everybody admit to the fact that they knew (about the affair)."
"And then he asked the governor to no longer be a member of the church. Asked the Masons to no longer attend the church, and removed the governor from his position as deacon and Sunday school teacher," she continued.
When asked to explain what the discussion (confrontation) with Jon Mason was about, Hannah said: "From my recollection it was just the pastor came to Jon and tried to figure out if Jon knew about the affair or not."
On March 13, 2016, around the time of the reported meeting, McKee warned from the pulpit that: "No church will ever move to a spiritual depth that is any deeper than the spiritual depth of its leaders. Of course, that means the pastors ... but it's not just the pastors, it's the other spiritual leaders of the church, the deacons, the Sunday school teachers, people who have places of leadership in the congregation."
He further noted: "Why is it that we think that people who are living in known, unconfessed ongoing sin should be able to come into our churches where we are preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and they should be comfortable? The truth of the matter is that some of us ought to feel uncomfortable."
According to al.com, Bentley and Rebekah Mason first met at First Baptist Tuscaloosa before his 2010 run for governor. The former governor had served as a deacon and Sunday school teacher at the church, chairing its Board of Deacons four times and serving as a member of the Youth for Christ Advisory Board and the Family Counseling Advisory Board. He joined First Baptist Prattville after leaving First Baptist Tuscaloosa.
As governor, according to The New York Times, Bentley would quote the Bible before the Alabama legislature and announce that God elevated him to the state Capitol. At his dermatology practice, the 74-year-old would also sometimes witness to patients.
Conservative Christians whose support propelled him to office told the Times that his fall was a dispiriting setback in a time when they believe Christian values are under attack.
"We're sorry for him and his family, but at the same time, he made his choices and did what he did," the Rev. Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, a church-supported group that holds substantial influence in the legislature, told the Times. "I don't know that people feel bad; I think they feel disappointed. Here was a man who had a chance to accomplish great things, and he failed."
Others, like the Rev. John Killian, a former president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, said Bentley's experience simply demonstrates that Christians are also human and susceptible to moral failings.
"I think he's just like all of us: He's made of flesh and bone, and he's temptable," Killian said. "I believe it was the devil, and I believe the devil knew he was bagging big game."
He added: "There is nothing Governor Bentley's done that any of us couldn't do if we're not on guard. People always saw him as a godly man. They're disappointed, yes, but honest people need to realize we're all susceptible."