MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The former pastor to now-ex Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is refuting reports fueled by testimony from a former aide to Dianne Bentley that Gov. Bentley was expelled from the church over his inappropriate relations with his senior advisor.
Gil McKee, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, released a statement on Thursday advising that Bentley and his senior advisor Rebekah Mason left the church some time ago of their own volition and were not booted from the congregation.
“There is an apparent misconception among the media about the relationship of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa with Governor Robert Bentley and the family of Jon and Rebekah Mason,” he said. “Governor Bentley and the Masons are no longer members of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa, and have not been for some time; but their departure from the congregation was their own decision and not the result of a reported ‘expulsion’ on the part of the church.”
The church said it was releasing the statement in light of an article published this week by AL.com, which was based on government testimony from Mrs. Bentley’s chief of staff, Heather Hannah. She had stated under oath before the the Alabama House Judiciary Committee, the transcript of which is now posted publicly, that Bentley and Mason were asked to leave the church since they were unrepentant.
“Pastor McKee at First Baptist Tuscaloosa gave a big sermon and it was pretty obvious that is was targeted at Rebekah and Jon and Gov. Bentley,” Hannah testified. “And the governor got real upset about it, but Pastor McKee kind of talked to Jon Mason (Mason’s husband) about it.”
She said he then called the Bentleys and Masons into his office.
“[U]ltimately, 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, ‘Okay, is this happening,’ and made everybody admit to the fact that they knew [about the affair],” Hannah recalled.
“And at that time, the governor and Rebekah both admitted the affair and the pastor asked if they would repent [and] make a public confession, and they said no,” she outlined. “And they were dismissed from the church. The governor was removed from his position of deacon and Sunday School teacher. And the pastor said if they were going to live in open sin with no repentance that he couldn’t have them there.”
But First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, which Bentley had attended for many years and served as a Sunday school teacher and deacon, says that was not the case.
“[F]ormer Governor Bentley and the Mason family were never asked to leave First Baptist Church or ‘expelled’ from First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa. Their departure from the congregation of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa was by their own volition,” it said on Thursday.
As previously reported, Christian News Network reached out to McKee last year to inquire if Bentley was still a member in good standing and if church discipline had been applied. As McKee declined to remark about church discipline, suggesting a desire to keep the details private, it was therefore unclear as to what might have taken place.
“While church discipline is a church family matter, both Governor Robert Bentley and Mrs. Rebekah Mason are no longer members of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa,” he simply wrote. “I continue to pray for each of them.”
As previously reported, Bentley resigned from office last week in the midst of impeachment hearings and criminal charges that he failed to disclose a $50,000 personal loan to his campaign, and used $9,000 of campaign money for payment to Mason’s attorneys.
Last March, Bentley held a news conference in which he admitted to making “inappropriate comments” to Mason, who is married with three children. While audio footage of the telephone discussions suggests a physical relationship, he denied the allegation, and only admitted to the “mistake” of sexually suggestive talk.
“I love you. I love to talk to you,” the governor said to Mason in one of the phone calls. “Baby, let me tell you what we’re going to have to start doing, we’re going to have to start locking the door. If we are going to do what we did the other day, we are going to have to start locking the door.”
Mrs. Bentley also reportedly received a text on accident that read, “I love you, Rebekah,” and other staffers allegedly noted that the governor was carving out time on his schedule to be with Mason. Bentley divorced her husband in light of the affair.