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Gingrich Woos Skeptical Evangelical Voters

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2011 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) As evangelicals and other social conservatives gather here this weekend (June 3-4) to take the measure of a number of Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich will be conspicuously absent.

Gingrich’s campaign cited scheduling conflicts in not speaking to Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition, but his absence will nonetheless prompt questions about his ability to woo politically minded religious voters, and leave some voters’ concerns unanswered.

To be sure, the former House speaker has made the rounds in trying to line up early support, especially in Iowa, where religious conservatives are a major force in the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.

He’s paid a courtesy call to San Antonio megachurch pastor John Hagee and also stopped by the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and a gathering of Hispanic evangelicals, always trying to reaffirm his commitment to God and country.

Even so, some political observers expect his marital past — three marriages, two divorces and an admitted affair with the woman who became his current wife — to be too much for some conservative voters.

“There are some who will look over that because Newt is a political genius,” said Tamara Scott, the Iowa director of Concerned Women for America.

“There are others who have concerns that this man couldn’t keep his marriage together and how can you run the White House and the country if you can’t keep your own home in order? I’ve heard all of it.”

But Gingrich, who has talked openly about his past failings, has a compelling narrative for religiously minded voters who appreciate a good conversion story.

“People are not, by and large, going to be sidetracked by somebody’s past behavior,” said Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. “We’re all sinners and people make mistakes.”

Indeed, Iowa pastor Jeff Mullen, who has hosted Gingrich at his church in Waukee, cited ancient Israel’s King David, who was a murderer and an adulterer and yet is described in the Bible as a “man after God’s own heart.”

“I personally don’t think (Gingrich) needs to ask my forgiveness for anything,” Mullen said.

Gingrich’s nascent campaign is already off to a rocky start. After savaging the House GOP plan to overhaul Medicare, and racking up a bill at Tiffany & Co. of up to $500,000, Gingrich’s “Positive Intensity Score” now trails all other GOP candidates, according to Gallup’s most recent analysis.

His political baggage isn’t new: a March poll by the Pew Research Center found Gingrich was the first choice of 11 percent of white evangelicals, lower than Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney and significantly lower than Mike Huckabee, who has since withdrawn from the race.

As he attempts to both launch and repair his bid for the White House, Gingrich has held get-to-know-you meetings with evangelical activists. California pastor Jim Garlow, who became chairman of Gingrich’s “Renewing American Leadership” nonprofit, left his session with a better impression.

“I found him to be very transparent,” said Garlow, pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, Calif., of his discussion of Gingrich’s “moral and marital failures” in a private meeting. “There was no defensiveness at all.”

But some evangelical leaders say Gingrich still has work to do.

“Men are much more willing to cut him some slack than women are,” said Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land, who said he’s asked hundreds of Southern Baptists what they think of Gingrich and his past. “I find that women don’t trust him and it doesn’t help that he’s married
to the `other woman.”‘

Gingrich, who was a Southern Baptist until he joined the Roman Catholic Church in 2009, is married to his third wife, Callista, a lifelong Catholic who sings in the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Land, for one, thinks Gingrich needs to give an honest address about his past failings, similar to John F. Kennedy’s Houston speech about his Catholic beliefs, or Mitt Romney’s 2007 defense of his Mormonism.

“Don’t try to explain it,” Land said he’s advised Gingrich, who he said would think about it. “Just confess it and ask for forgiveness.”

Reed, who will host this weekend’s Washington gathering as he attempts to revive his old Christian Coalition kingmaker role, predicted evangelicals will consider Gingrich as long as he speaks about his past mistakes and his current faith in God.

“I think there’s a misconception that evangelicals engage in identity voting,” Reed said, citing as evidence divorced Ronald Reagan’s win over evangelical Jimmy Carter.

Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler said the candidate has not shied away from the topic, discussing it “courageously and honestly” whenever asked.

In a March interview on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, Gingrich spoke frankly about his marital past.

“I was doing things that were wrong and yet I was doing them. I found that I felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness. … I do believe in a forgiving God.”

During the 2008 campaign season, he confessed on James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” program that he was having an affair while calling for President’s Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.

Even so, Tyler acknowledged that some evangelicals may not be able to consider Gingrich.

“Newt has made peace with God over his failings and people can determine for themselves if it’s a disqualifier or not,” Tyler said. “The people that I’m talking to are more concerned about finding someone who could beat Obama because he is so antithetical to their values, as opposed to picking someone who is perfect.”



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    This kind of religious nit picking would not have made the New York Mirror in the 40′s and 50′s during a Presidential Campagin year. lol

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    And they have very good reasons to be skeptical of that man! Trust a man who has the past he has? Leaving his wife(s) when at least one was very ill with cancer? No, that may not have anything to do with how he would “run the country”, but it speaks to his personality. Also his “becoming Catholic”? To please the 3rd wife? The article is right—woman won’t accept him like men might. Wonder if the Southern Baptists are happy to be rid of him?

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    “People are not, by and large, going to be sidetracked by somebody’s past behavior,” said Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. “We’re all sinners and people make mistakes.”

    I’ve noticed the ultra-religious voter is often more swayed by what the politician says than by what he’s done. I expect they make a lot of bad used-car deals too.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    Obama does the same thing, they all do the religious prostitution, it’s a slimy trick.

  • Pingback: Republican Presidential Candidates To Address Evangelical Christians | brazilia News

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    People bring it on themselves if they demand a certain kind of talk or apparent religious belief. It’s a lot better if they judge people on their actions. Actions can’t be faked so easily.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    I hope that the indictment of John Edwards will go as well for him in the morals dept. He had a wife in the last stages of cancer as did Gingrich when he had a new woman somewhere else, too. He used a gift of 700,000 from his long-time friend Mellon to pay for his new love and their baby, and now the powers that be say this money was supposed to go for his campaign. Mellon said use the money anyway you want it’s a gift. There is a lot of legal laws to wade through here, but I hope he wins. All the rest of present day men in politics have been forgiven by their moral friends and wiggled out of possible law suits, why not John?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    Edwards gets zero sympathy from me. He had no business doing what he did and he had no business running for President having done what he did.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Yes, nnmns, no sympathy from me on Edwards either. He is a real “jerk” though I have harsher words I won’t say here.

    Wonder if Newt will leave wife #3 if she gets sick? He apparently doesn’t like to stay with someone who gets ill!D

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    I read his Aides book, and because of that I learned he wasn’t the only one who wanted to live in the White House, his wife did too. Her ambition to this end was enormous. I’m not judging Edwards, but if two people give you 925,000 and say it’s a gift, then that is what it is. His affair started after the campaign started, I think. I also think his children have gone through enough emotion in their young lives, and they need their Dad to be able to begin as normal life for them as he can, and that would be to set up a law practise that has absolutely nothing to do about politics.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Henrietta, the trial will determine if all that money was indeed a gift. I agree that his children need him—-however he apparently wasn’t thinking of that when he decided to have the affair resulting with the birth of a child.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    From the book I learned that John was always with his children, not so with Mrs. He was stupid in his relationship, but perhaps his wife wasn’t around enough to be a wife. Who knows? What will be will be. Someday we’ll probably read a book on the whole thing.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    lifestyles needed to traverse today’s way of living encounters many temptations as couples live in unnatural separations, and at the same time encounter many relationships professionally. Some people in high pressure jobs seek releases in many unhealthy ways. Men and women need healthy support to navigate these temptations especially in this high tech world. And of course people and their support network need to be spiritually ground

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