Apparently, Alabama's devoted Baptist governor, Robert Bentley, was all talk.
Come to think of it, he claims he still is.
Maybe I should back up a bit: As longtime GetReligion readers may recall, we wrote about the controversy that erupted after Bentley's election in 2010. That furor involved the Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher declaring — on the day of his January 2011 swearing-in — that non-Christians were not his brothers and sisters.
"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit," Bentley said.
"But if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister."
Bentley added, "Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."
Fast-forward five years, and the governor — whose wife of 50 years filed for divorce last year — is making headlines for talk of a different kind.
The New York Times reports in today's A section:
RUSSELLVILLE, Ala. — The governor of Alabama wanted to talk about broadband.
But because the governor was Robert Bentley, who is confronting a deepening political morass after acknowledging last week that he had sexually charged conversations with a top aide, that was hardly how a news conference could unfold in this northwest Alabama city. Instead, he had to start by discussing whether he would be able to keep his job.
“I have no intentions of resigning,” said Mr. Bentley, a Republican in his second term. “My intentions are to try to make this state better. My intentions are to try to work through all the difficulties that we’re going through.”
Keep reading, and the Old Gray Lady has some fun at Bentley's expense and that of the Bible Belt state. And honestly, given the governor's sex talk (see video above), it's a little difficult to demand he receive serious news treatment. But we'll give it a shot.
Let's continue with the Times story:
Within hours, Rebekah C. Mason, the governor’s senior political adviser and the woman with whom he engaged in suggestive conversations, captured on tape, said she had quit. And by day’s end, it was uncertain whether it would be politically feasible for Mr. Bentley, 73, to remain in office in this state, which has a gaudy history of scandal but has been in something of a morals-driven meltdown since the governor’s admission last Wednesday.
That "morals-driven meltdown" thing is a nice turn of phrase, no? But is it good journalism? My earlier caveat aside, it might be nice if the Times attempted a more sober exploration of Alabamans' response — and why?
Hey, since this is GetReligion, I'll go ahead and ask: Is there any chance religion and the governor's seeming hypocrisy have anything to do with the reaction in a state with 1.1 million Southern Baptists?
Some lawmakers are talking of impeaching Mr. Bentley. The governor’s former pastor spoke of “church discipline” and said that Mr. Bentley was no longer a member of the Tuscaloosa congregation where he was once a deacon. And as audio recordings of the governor’s conversations with Ms. Mason were replayed and dissected across the Internet, even Mr. Bentley’s proficiency at phone sex has been a subject of conversation.
I'll pause a second while you stop chuckling after reading that last line. Now, back to the serious discussion ...
Obviously, the Times considers the religion facts secondary. Otherwise, the newspaper would name the former pastor and elaborate on the reported discipline. The paper would identify the Tuscaloosa congregation (the First Baptist Church) and include the word "Baptist" at least once in the story.
Longtime Birmingham News religion writer Greg Garrison provides a fuller picture, although some details remain sketchy.
At this point, Bentley seems intent on saving his job — if not his soul — so this story should remain in the headlines. We'll see if anyone delves deeper into the "fall from grace" angle.