The First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa has expelled Republican Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and a female staff from its membership amid a raging controversy over an inappropriate audio recording that suggested the governor had an extramarital affair. Bentley was a deacon in the church.
"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," Senior Pastor Gil McKee told Christian News Network on Friday.
Spencer Collier, who was recently fired by Bentley as secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, had accused Bentley of having an affair with Mason. Collier said he heard a tape recording in 2014 where the governor made sexually explicit comments to Mason.
"I made a mistake. Two years ago I made a mistake. ... I have apologised many times to my family. I have apologised to the family of Mrs. Mason. I would now like to apologise to the people of Alabama. I ask them to forgive me. I've been told about the possibility of tapes for two years," Bentley said at a news conference on Wednesday.
In the audio recording, Bentley tells Mason, "I love you. I love to talk to you. 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."
Mason is Bentley's senior political advisor while her husband, Jon Mason, is the executive director of the governor's Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, according to AL.com.
Bentley denied that he had a "physical affair with Mrs. Mason," adding that he has never "done anything illegal."
State Auditor Jim Ziegler filed a complaint against Bentley with the Alabama Ethics Commission and the governor said he will cooperate with the investigation.
"The governor continues to disgrace the state of Alabama, and in my official capacity as state auditor, I am required to report these suspected violations," Ziegler said. "It is clear that he is misleading the people of the state about the nature of his relationship, but it is also clear that Ms. Mason is required to either be classified as a public official, or file as a lobbyist, in her capacity as an adviser who is paid by an outside source."
Bentley said, "I have always complied with the ethics laws of the State. In fact, I voluntarily release my tax returns to the public every year in a spirit of openness and transparency. I have always and will continue to cooperate with the Alabama Ethics Commission."
Bentley's former wife, Dianne Bentley, recorded the conversation between the governor and Mason. The governor's wife filed for divorce last year because of the conversation.
When asked if he was in love with Mason, Bentley replied, "I love many members of my staff, in fact, all the members of my staff. Do I love some more than others? Absolutely."
Despite the scandal, Bentley has refused to resign from his job.