Among the more explosive details in the House report on the relationship between Robert Bentley and Rebekah Caldwell Mason were claims the two were asked to leave the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa after a meeting with church leaders.
But, according to First Baptist Tuscaloosa Senior Pastor Dr. Gil McKee, no such meeting ever occurred and any decisions about leaving the church – whether by Bentley, Mason or her husband, Jon – were made by individuals and not church leaders.
Neither “I nor the church ever asked any of them to leave. They left by their own volition,” McKee said.
In March 2016, news emerged that Bentley, a former deacon and Sunday School teacher, and the Masons were no longer attending First Baptist Tuscaloosa. The announcement, confirmed by the church, came just after the release of an audio tape in which Bentley could be heard discussing kissing Mason and touching her breasts. Bentley and Mason’s relationship led to First Lady Dianne Bentley filing for divorce in August 2015. Rebekah Mason remains married.
At the time, McKee issued a statement saying that 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.”
Then, in April, the Alabama House Judiciary Committee report on the possible impeachment of Bentley was released with additional details on the church situation. Those details came from Heather Hannah, an assistant to Dianne Bentley, who claimed McKee confronted Jon Mason about the alleged affair between the governor and his wife.
“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,” 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 to) 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 said.
McKee said that’s not how the process occurred, reiterating he never called the Masons and the Bentleys in for a meeting at the same time.
“I talked to the Masons as a couple in private on two occasions and Dr. Bentley privately on two occasions, once by phone and once in person,” McKee said.
He also refutes the idea he preached a “scathing” sermon that led to Bentley and Mason leaving the church.
“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 in a statement.
Bentley resigned April 10 as part of a plea deal in connection to ethics and campaign finance laws violations in connection to his relationship with Mason.
He is currently a member of the First Baptist Church of Prattville.
Travis Coleman, the pastor of First Baptist Prattville, said church leaders have reached out to the former governor and are “praying for him and willing to help him in any way possible.”