(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, penned an open letter to presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich Tuesday, calling on the former Republican and House Speaker to lay his indiscretions bare and publicly repent in "genuine" sorrow before the American people -- but not everyone agrees, stirring a debate about what action Gingrich should actually take if he is serious about seeking the presidency.
When Gingrich prepared to officially announce his run for the White House in 2012, many in the media were quick to point to his "past infidelities and messy divorces," so described by The Huffington Post in a May 5 "primer" on Gingrich's relationships.
While discussing believers and politics, Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., also pointed out in an interview with The Christian Post in March that Christians would be conflicted over considering a Gingrich nomination.
"Christians are really going to have a really interesting time coming up with Newt Gingrich because a lot of religious right folks are gonna really like his politics even though he's on his second wife that he was, as far as we can tell, committing adultery with while married to his first wife. And he's the guy that's gonna lead the family values crusade. That's curious," Driscoll said.
Gingrich, who has emerged as a front-runner alongside Mitt Romney, has married three times. Before converting to Catholicism in 2009, the faith of his second wife, the Pennsylvania native was Southern Baptist.
The former House Speaker has been open about his faith and recently spoke out against what he considers as the growing secularization of America amid pressure from "a cultural elite."
This is not the first time members of the public or the evangelical Christian community has called on Gingrich to be more forthcoming in confessing his wrongs. Many have said that this is a must if he is to convince evangelicals, especially women, Land contends, that he is serious about a 2012 presidency.
"You must address this issue of your marital past directly and transparently and ask folks to forgive you and give you their trust and their vote," Land advises in his letter to Gingrich.
He adds, "Mr. Speaker, if you want to get large numbers of Evangelicals, particularly women, to vote for you, you must address the issue of your marital past in a way that allays the fears of Evangelical women."
Land, who also serves as Executive Editor at The Christian Post, goes on to write: "You need to make it as clear as you possibly can that you deeply regret your past actions and that you do understand the anguish and suffering they caused others including your former spouses. ... Promise your fellow Americans that if they are generous enough to trust you with the presidency, you will not let them down and that there will be no moral scandals in a Gingrich White House."
Among the responses to Land's letter to Gingrich, were expressions of agreement as well as concern of what voters would do if the 2012 primary comes down to President Barack Obama and the former House Speaker.
Others, however, expressed concern about Gingrich, or anyone, being called on to ask the public for forgiveness.
A user identified as "American" commenting on Land's letter shared at the National Review:
"The only person Gingrich needs to seek redemption from on this earthly plane is his children, who have already given the sordid details of the man's past indiscretions and have publicly forgiven him and support him as their father. Really, it's that simple."
As Herman Cain, an ordained Baptist minister and a Republican contender, has come under the media's glare for allegations of sexual harassment from three different woman, Christians have been saying otherwise -- that it is indeed voters' business to know if a candidate is serious about keeping his or her marriage vows.
In defending her client about those allegations, attorney Lin Wood told reporters that Cain's sexual life was not the public's business:
"This appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults – a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public's right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one’s bedroom door."
While Cain has been denying any marital indiscretion, Gingrich has publicly acknowledged cheating in previous marriages.
In March of this year, the presidential hopeful spoke with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) about being "compelled to seek God's forgiveness" for violating his marital vows.
In introducing video excerpts of that interview, Brody wrote: "There will be those Evangelicals who can’t get past Gingrich's transgressions from earlier in his life. But let’s remember. Evangelicals know all about grace and redemption, too. and if Gingrich can connect on issues important to Evangelicals (especially in Iowa and South Carolina), then look out. He has a path to the nomination. Don't write him off. He can compete strongly for the Evangelical vote."
In the CBN interview, Gingrich said:
"There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate. And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn't trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them. I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness. Not God's understanding, but God's forgiveness. I do believe in a forgiving God. And I think most people, deep down in their hearts hope there's a forgiving God.
"Somebody once said that when we're young, we seek justice, but as we get older, we seek mercy. There's something to that, I think. I feel that I'm now 67 I'm a grandfather. I have two wonderful grandchildren. I have two wonderful daughters and two great sons-in-law. Callista and I have a great marriage. I think that I've learned an immense amount.
"And I do feel, in that sense, that God has given me, has blessed me with an opportunity as a person. Forget about all this political stuff. As a person, I’ve had the opportunity to have a wonderful life, to find myself now, truly enjoying the depths of my life in ways that I never dreamed it was possible to have a life that was that nice."
Those who viewed the CBN interview expressed doubt over Gingrich's remarks on trusting in God's forgiveness, with one commenter writing: "As a Christian -- I am doubfounded how Mr. Gingrich believes he has been forgiven for is Adulterous lifestyle. I am not doubting his political prowless."
Another said: "Just looking at his face and hearing his voice makes my stomach a little sick because I remember all the filth he has created and participated in (per the U.S. media) during his political 'career'. If God has forgiven him, praise the Lord! But that doesn't mean anyone wants to hear his testimony."
One viewer, identified as "Char," wrote: "I do not [read] anywhere that he has expressed true sorrow for his past transgressions or apologized to his former wives for hurting them," adding that Gingrich could "never be trusted."
Despite his previous statements, the consensus appears that Gingrich may need to offer Americans more, especially if he is intent on capturing conservative Evangelical voters.
Some who have been paying attention to the debate concerning the "genuineness" of Gingrich's contrition over his infidelity wonder if he should be running for the highest office in the land at all.
"The very act of being a candidate raises a serious question -- is Newt's epiphany real, or is it calculated?" wrote a commenter named "MikeB" on the National Review. "If Newt is overridingly concerned about repenting, of reversing course, of making up for his sins, the last thing he should be doing is running for President."
The Christian Post reported Tuesday on a June poll that showed 91 percent of Americans believe extramarital affairs are immoral.
In that same article, CP reporter Stephanie Samuel spoke with Family Policy Network Policy Analyst Alex Mason, who said that Christians should be aware that although sins can easily be forgiven, the consequences of sin can be far-reaching and long lasting.