During the 2010 Gubernatorial race I was intrigued by the dermatologist from Tuscaloosa on the Republican ticket, Dr. Robert Bentley. He seemed so un-political, so genuine and well, nice. He captured the hearts of many Alabamians with his clever slogan, “Alabama is sick and it needs a doctor” and his promise to not take a salary until things turned around. Through my ministerial network I learned good things about him, mainly how he had taught a Sunday school class at FBC Tuscaloosa for years, how he often shared the Gospel with his patients and of his reputation as a fine Christian gentlemen. Therefore, both in the primary and general election I proudly cast my vote for Dr. Bentley. He was the underdog in the primary beating out GOP favorite Bradley Byrne and then defeating a challenge from Democrat Ron Sparks. As a Christian, particularly an Alabama Baptist, I felt proud as I watched him deliver his victory speech. I remember thinking, “this guy is one of us”. His first four years were promising as he brought jobs to Alabama and got the economy moving again. I watched him minister to the people of my hometown with Christian compassion after the tragic day of April 27, 2011. In January of 2013, I attended a pastor’s prayer breakfast in Montgomery and heard him speak passionately of his strong faith in the Lord and even had the pleasure of a five minute chat afterwards along with a photo opportunity.
As word began to leak early in 2014 about possible ethic and moral failures, I first brushed them off and labeled them as “political opposition”. But as time went on the accusations became louder and more distinct. I remember the day I heard of the ALEA helicopter flying his wallet to the beach, his wife filing for divorce, and more rumors of corruption and ethic law violations, wow. Unfolding before me was the very public downfall of a man for which I voted in four different elections, my heart broke. It isn’t surprising that an Alabama government official failed the public, that is becoming all too common. My heart broke not for a failed governor, but for the failure of a fifty year Christian marriage and the undoing of a fellow brother in Christ. As a matter of fact, all fellow believers should be brokenhearted. This is so much bigger than politics and the state of Alabama, this is about a fellow believer, a redeemed man who made really bad decisions. I know that some will say, “no Christian acts that way” or “I am not even sure he is a Christian.” Yet, I am reminded of James 4:12, “God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?” I can certainly judge him on his actions as a Christian brother, but I should never question a man’s eternal standing, that job belongs to the “one who has the power to save or destroy.”
The New York times recently published an article entitled, “For Alabama Christians, Gov. Bentley’s Downfall is a Bitter Blow”. In that article, Bentley is described as a man that Christians in Alabama put much hope to which now has become a “bitter blow”. While I agree that it does hurt, Bentley’s fall is so much bigger than heartache for a segment of our state’s population. The fall of a godly man is much more serious than a “bitter blow”, it breaks the heart of God. Truthfully, it should break every believers heart. Not because Robert Bentley is a high profile person, but because he is a man for which God sent his Son to die. The “bitter blow” may be felt by some in Alabama, but it is most importantly felt in heaven. Yet, the biblical truth is that God still loves Robert Bentley and offers forgiveness and total cleansing. The Lord doesn’t see him as Governor Bentley, he simply sees him as a son. I picture the Lord as the father in Luke 15 waiting on Robert Bentley to return home. If Dr. Bentley will humble himself, confess and repent of his sins, the promise of Scripture is “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. It is my honest prayer that my brother in Christ will run to the cross and find healing and restoration. Being the governor of Alabama is of little importance when compared to being in good standing with the creator of the Universe. Every believer should join together and pray for our brother. “…but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘today’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13.
What lessons can Christians learn from Governor Bentley’s Failure?
- Surround yourself with Christians who will hold you accountable. “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Galatians 6: 1-2. It is critical that we create a circle of accountability around us and watch out for one another’s spiritual well being. One has to wonder if the governor had such a circle around him and if he did, why didn’t a brother have a heart-to-heart with him? Did someone try and he wasn’t willing to listen? Had he isolated himself so much that it become difficult for a fellow Christian to reach him? A strong accountability circle will simply not allow a fellow soldier to fall without a fight. Every Christian needs fellow soldiers who will stand with them in life’s spiritual battles. Do you have someone in your life who will give you “honest talk”? Do you surround yourself with those who walk in integrity and have strong Christian character?
- Pride is perhaps the greatest sin and it comes into our lives gradually. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:10. For a believer, down is up and up is down. As we lower ourselves in humility before the Lord, he then lifts us up and gives our lives the greatest of meaning and joy. It was the temptation of pride to which Satan used to trip all of mankind (Genesis 3:1-5). If enough people pat you on the back the risk is that you will begin to believe them. “For pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love or contentment, or even common sense.” -C.S. Lewis. Lewis is correct, when pride creeps in we lose our ability of common sense and more important, spiritual sensitivity. When we exalt ourselves, we de-throne Christ from our hearts and our lives become a tail spin of mismanagement, mistakes and corruption. Don’t let power or pride creep into your life, the results could be disastrous.
- Invest more time in your marriage than any other relationship. If you are spending more time with someone else of the opposite sex that doesn’t share your last name, the moral failure is surely around the corner. Paul reminds us men to “love your wives as Christ loves the church.” Eph 5:25. For both husband and wife there must be on display perpetual Christian devotion to one another that is rooted in the love of Christ. The failings of the governor has reminded me of the primacy of my relationship with my spouse. No other woman in the world should know my deepest secrets, biggest fears and grandest dreams. I should share no intimacy with another except the one to which the Lord has given me.
- The truth, regardless of how embarrassing and painful, will always be your best friend. Solomon reminds us bluntly that “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth.” Prov. 12:22. There were many times in the past four years when simply telling the truth would have been a better choice for our governor, but it was not to be. Every falsehood will eventually be revealed and all lies will, in time, come back to haunt you. If you have failed, admit it. Don’t cover up sin through lying and falsehoods. Sin covered up by sin is a double portion of poison to the soul.