After Alabama’s governor pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and resigned amid allegations of illegal conduct to cover up an extramarital affair, the state’s Southern Baptists expressed disappointment and pledged prayer.
“More than anything, we need to pray for Gov. [Robert] Bentley,” Alabama Baptist Convention President John Thweatt told Baptist Press (BP). “Pray for his family. Pray for our new governor [Kay Ivey], lifting her up and asking God to give her direction and give her wisdom.”
Bentley, a Republican and Southern Baptist, pleaded guilty April 10 to converting campaign funds for personal use and failing to file a major campaign finance report, according to media reports. Shortly after the plea, he resigned, stating in a farewell address, “The consequences of my mistakes have been grievously unfair to you, my dedicated staff and my cabinet.” Bentley also told the staff and cabinet, “I have let you and our people down.”
Among terms of the plea deal, the Montgomery Advertiser reported, Bentley will serve one year of probation, forfeit the $36,912 in his campaign account and perform 100 hours of community service as a dermatologist, his profession before entering politics.
Bentley’s resignation came the same day Alabama’s House Judiciary Committee began an impeachment hearing. The committee released a report April 7 alleging Bentley misused state workers and resources to hide an affair with a political adviser.
Bentley’s wife of 50 years divorced him in 2015.
A professing Christian, Bentley drew criticism in 2011 for inviting listeners during a speech to trust Christ as their Lord and Savior, BP reported at the time. Bentley is a member of First Baptist Church in Prattville. He is a former chairman of deacons at First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa.
First Baptist Prattville pastor Travis Coleman told BP, “We have reached out to Gov. Bentley, are praying for him and are willing to help him in any way possible.”
Thweatt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Pell City, Ala., said moral failures among politicians are “especially devastating for us when it’s a person who claims to be a believer.” He added Christians should condemn the former governor’s sin but not become judgmental.
“There is an expectation of holiness for the child of God,” Thweatt said. Because all believers are susceptible to sin and moral failure, “we’ve got to take steps to make sure we’re walking in sanctification.”
Vice President Mike Pence is a positive example for fellow politicians and others, Thweatt said, noting Pence’s 2002 claim he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.
Joe Godfrey, leader of the Alabama Baptist Convention’s public policy auxiliary, told BP he feels “disappointment.” While all believers sin, Godfrey said, the former governor’s apparent “lack of remorse” seems antithetical to the posture a believer in sin should adopt.
Walking with Jesus requires “humbling ourselves before a holy God and acknowledging our total dependence on Him,” said Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program.
Christians can increase the level of integrity in politics by becoming involved in the political sphere and staying “close to Jesus” in the process, Godfrey said.
“Our only hope of overcoming the temptations of power and sex and money and all of those things is to stay close to Jesus,” Godfrey said. Believers in politics “are called to be salt and light.”
A “bright spot” related to Bentley’s resignation, Godfrey noted, is that it demonstrated the ability of Alabama’s system of checks and balances to weed out unjust leaders.
“In this case, the system eventually worked,” Godfrey said. “It took time, but it eventually worked, and we were able to get rid of somebody that was breaking laws and doing things that he shouldn’t be doing. There’s some encouragement in that for all of us.”
Though Bentley was the first Alabama governor to be considered for impeachment by the state House, the news website AL.com reported, three of the last six governors have either been convicted or pleaded guilty to criminal charges.
Also leaving office in Alabama during the past 18 months were House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was convicted of 12 felony ethics charges, and Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was suspended for the remainder of his term for allegedly directing probate judges to disobey a U.S. Supreme Court order related to same-sex marriage.
Ivey, a member of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, was sworn in with her pastor Jay Wolf holding the Bible on which she placed her hand. Wolf led the swearing-in ceremony’s opening prayer.
“Romans 8 says that 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 said according to The Alabama Baptist newsjournal. “May she honor You (Lord) as she serves the people of Alabama.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)