Robert Bentley’s popularity as Alabama governor was largely built around an image: He was grandfatherly, integrity-driven, a devout Christian. But Bentley’s divorce a year ago led to suspicions, suspicions led to allegations, and the allegations culminated Monday in Bentley resigning before being impeached.
After months of denying wrongdoing, audio recordings and texts emerged of Bentley recounting sexually explicit moments between himself and his senior political advisor, Rebekah C. Mason. Bentley has been accused of using government resources to both conduct and then cover up this affair, allegedly firing a government employee who refused to lie on his behalf and threatening another.
Bentley wore his reputation as an outspoken Christian publicly, quoting the Bible frequently when addressing the state legislature, saying God had elevated him to his position as governor, and during one speech even encouraged his audience to give their lives to Christ. He was the former chairman of deacons of First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa and, until recently, was a member of First Baptist Church in Prattville where he is now under “church discipline.”
“We have reached out to Gov. Bentley, are praying for him and are willing to help him in any way possible,” FBC Prattville pastor Travis Coleman told Baptist Press.
Alabama Baptist Convention President John Thweatt said moral failures among politicians are “especially devastating for us when it’s a person who claims to be a believer. There is an expectation of holiness for the child of God,” Thweatt said.
The news comes as yet another blow to the state of Alabama, which has been riddled with political controversies over the past two years, including Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard being convicted of 12 felony ethics charges.
“I really hate that this happened to the governor, but he did it to himself,” Republican State Senator Dick Brewbaker said. “It just shows that any governor who serves two terms and can leave office without scandal has really accomplished something in Alabama.”
Bentley’s scandal has caused some religious conservatives to look closer at the continuing corruption being unveiled in the Alabama government. Ordained Baptist pastor and Professor Emeritus of History at Auburn University, Wayne Flint, told the New York Times there is a growing sense of unease among many church leaders about the current state of government in their state; however, he believes many Christians are still willing to overlook the moral behavior of their political leaders who line up on certain political issues.
“The idea that moral hypocrisy hurts you among evangelical voters is not true, if you’re sound on all of the fundamentals,” Flynt said. “Being sound on the fundamentals depends on what the evangelical community has decided the fundamentals have become. At this time, what is fundamental is hating liberals, hating Obama, hating abortion and hating same-sex marriage.”
“Secular culture is eroding evangelicalism to the point where it takes us one full year to get rid of the governor because of all of these conflicting pressures,” Flint concludes.
Governor Bentley’s refusal to tell the truth, even when confronted, is confounding. It’s devastating to see this lack of integrity displayed in someone serving in public office. Even more so, though, is the devastation Christians feel over another Christian leader “fallen from grace.”
All eyes turn now to the new governor, Kay Ivey, who is also a Southern Baptist. Ivey asked her pastor, Jay Wolf of First Baptist Church Montgomery, to say the prayer at her swearing-in ceremony. Mentioning Romans 8, Wolf said: “God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Let’s pray for that result.” Wolf also asked for God’s hand on Ivey’s leadership: “May she honor You (Lord) as she serves the people of Alabama.”