(Photo: Reuters/Eric Thayer)
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich held a conference call Wednesday with religious leaders in South Carolina and across the nation, and described in personal detail his spiritual journey.
Gingrich's grandmother was the earliest influence on his faith, according to Gingrich. When he was about four years old she impressed upon him the “reality of God, the reality of heaven and hell, and the desire to be saved.”
Gingrich's father was in the Army, so he lived in many different places as a child. That led to being exposed to a variety of Protestant denominations.
“I basically became whatever the local Protestant chaplain was,” Gingrich said.
He remembered attending a Lutheran church in Pennsylvania, and becoming a Presbyterian acolyte at one point. He also recalled attending Sunday school and singing in a choir as a child.
Gingrich's “real sense of God” entering his life came when he was in his 20's and a graduate student at Tulane.
“It was one of those moments of suddenly feeling God inside you, and suddenly feeling that you really had experienced Christ in your life, and it was a very powerful experience,” Gingrich said.
He became baptized at that time by the Rev. Avery Lee, pastor of St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. (St. Charles Avenue was a Southern Baptist congregation at the time that Gingrich attended, but it left the Southern Baptist Convention in 2001.) After graduate school, Gingrich was “fairly active” for a time in two different Southern Baptist churches in Georgia.
Gingrich then described a period of his life when he was “too far from God” and “too lonely.” He began reading a book from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Not because he was drinking, but because of the loneliness and emptiness he was feeling, which are “often associated with people who go through things like trying to recover from alcoholism.”
“I found it helpful to read about 'One Day at a Time' (the AA slogan), to think about subordinating my life to God and recognizing that by myself I was inadequate.”
Gingrich began attending a Catholic worship service about 12 years ago. He initially went because his wife, Callista, sings in the choir and he wanted to be supportive. Over time, though, he found himself becoming more comfortable in the Catholic Church.
“I found myself becoming Catholic,” Gingrich said. “I didn't make a decision to become Catholic, I found myself being absorbed.”
After the Pope visited the United States in 2008, Gingrich said he felt the need to have a “spiritual home” that would be “a refuge from the secular world and a refuge from the pressures of everyday life.”
Gingrich explained that he developed a habit of praying regularly, even at a young age.
“I would pray even when my life was at its most painful and most isolated I would still pray regularly and ask God's advice and God's guidance and it's something I think I learned at a very, very early age.”
The conference call also included Christian author and pollster George Barna, Pastor Jim Garlow, Don Wildmon, founder of American Family Association, and Mike Lewis, pastor of Cathedral of Praise in North Charleston, S.C.
Gingrich will speak at Cathedral of Praise on Sunday. The South Carolina primary will be on Jan. 21.
Correction: Friday, Jan. 13, 2012
An article on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, about Newt Gingrich's call with religious leaders in South Carolina incorrectly reported that Cathedral of Praise is in Conway, S.C. The Christian Post confirmed that the church is located in North Charleston, not Conway.