In March 2016, First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa’s senior pastor Gil McKee issued a short statement about two of his congregation’s most high-profile members – then-Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and his alleged mistress and former adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
“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. I continue to pray for each of them,” McKee said.
Now, a year after the pointed announcement and a week after Bentley resigned as part of a plea deal related to campaign finance and ethics violations, documents from the House committee investigating his impeachment have shed new light on what took place at the church.
A deposition from Health Hannah details some of the events surrounding Robert Bentley and Rebekah Mason’s exit from the church, as well as the involvement of former First Lady Dianne Bentley and Mason’s husband, Jon Mason. The incident occurred just before the release of audio tapes in which the governor discussed touching Rebekah Mason’s breasts and kissing her, even as Jon Mason served as Bentley-appointed leader of SERVE Alabama, the Governor’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives.
Jon Mason’s resignation was submitted last week at the request of Gov. Kay Ivey.
Questions and answers from deposition:
Question: “… (The) First Baptist Tuscaloosa confrontation with Bentley and Mason. (The) Pastor…confronted Jon Mason?”
Answer: “Yes, so, 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. And the Governor got real upset about it, but Pastor McKee kind of talked to Jon Mason about it.
“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.”
Question: “When you say the pastor confronted Jon Mason afterwards, what does that mean?”
Answer: “I’m not sure…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 said from the pulpit: “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 went on to say “a spiritual church is not some kind of social picnic club with which Satan and those who will follow him should be comfortable or supported.”
“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,” McKee said.
Bentley and Rebekah Mason first met at First Baptist Tuscaloosa before his 2010 run for governor. The 74-year-old 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.
After leaving First Baptist Tuscaloosa, Bentley joined First Baptist Prattville.
Text messages also included in the impeachment report show both Bentley and Mason referencing their religious beliefs – even as they text love notes back and forth.
“You can only be who God made you to be,” Rebekah Mason wrote to Bentley in 2015. “You honor God by doing what He says you should do. Not what man says you should do.”
In another text she wrote “Your purpose. Your mission. Your ministry. Your service is being stolen from you.”