While national polls show many Republicans are supporting presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, some evangelical voters continue to struggle with how to rectify the former speaker’s sorted marital past of three wives and two mistresses with the family values image of social conservatives.
A poll released Tuesday shows that Gingrich, now the GOP front-runner, leads his closest contender Mitt Romney 35 percent to 21 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters who plan to vote in the GOP primaries and caucuses.
Yet Christian leaders continue to doubt him as their nominee. A coalition of eight Iowan Christian pastors announced Tuesday morning that they would rally their support for Michele Bachmann rather than Gingrich. The Minnesota congresswoman is an outspoken evangelical who remains married to her first husband Marcus.
Brad Sherman, a minister at Solid Rock Christian Church, praises Gingrich’s oratory skills but worries about his past infidelities.
“Part of me wants to say I’d love to see him debate Obama because I think he would chew him up. But I have to live by principle,” he said, according to The Des Moines Register.
Illuminati TV’s YouTube video “Newt: The Kim Kardashian of the GOP” makes a similar point. The video has over 30,000 hits and has been widely commented on by the news media.
In it, commentator Molotov Mitchell suggests conservatives are ignoring Gingrich’s past because he is a great communicator. However, Mitchell argued that conservatives, by ignoring his past, are potentially setting Gingrich and his third wife up to be America’s next model family.
“Mothers and fathers of America, Newt and Callista are the last role models we want our sons and daughters to look up to,” Mitchell implored.
Christians are well aware of how bad Gingrich’s marital record is for Christian social conservatism.
In a past interview with The Christian Post, Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll predicted, "Christians are really going to have a really interesting time coming up with Newt Gingrich [as a nominee] because a lot of religious right folks are going to really like his politics even though he's on his [third] wife that he was, as far as we can tell, committing adultery with while married to his [second] wife. And he's the guy that's going to lead the family values crusade. That's curious."
For many Christians engaged in the race, the answer to the dilemma Driscoll described is forgiveness.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recently noted in an open letter to the Gingrich campaign, “Evangelicals are a forgiving people, who having experienced redemption and forgiveness in their own spiritual lives, are most often willing to extend it to others who ask for it.”
Jesus of the New Testament of the Bible traveled with the disciples forgiving men of their sins and restoring them to good health. In similar fashion, some evangelicals have already set out to forgive Gingrich and restore him to his current position of top contender.
Evangelical organizer David Lane is close to Gingrich and told CNN he sympathizes with him.
“I was one of the wildest men who ever lived, loved women, wine and song, and I came to Christ,” Lane said. “I’m not perfect, but I read the Bible seven days a week. Is Newt a new man? I think he is. There’s something different about him.”
While evangelical men like Lane are anxious to forgive and forget Gingrich’s misdeeds, Land worries that female voters will not be as generous.
“My research would indicate a majority of men, but less than a third of Evangelical women are currently willing to trust you as their president,” he wrote.
Land, also an executive editor for CP, shared in his letter to Gingrich that evangelical women need a deeper show of remorse.
“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 said.
He urged Gingrich to speak clearly about his newfound faith and assure voters that he would lead an upright life in the White House. Gingrich recently converted to his wife’s Catholic faith.
Gingrich has spoken to evangelicals about his marriages.
In a 2008 closed-door meeting, Gingrich answered questions about his affair with current wife Callista while leading the impeachment charge against then-President Bill Clinton for his extramarital affair. He also apologized for his affairs in a 2008 Focus on the Family radio appearance. He told listeners that he was “alienated from God” at the time and had “fallen short of God's standards.”
He also pledged to remain faithful to Callista in a 2011 letter to The Family Leader.
Some Christian leaders assert Gingrich has done enough to receive the unconditional forgiveness of Christian voters.
In an email circulated among Christian conservatives and later obtained by CNN, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. sniped at conservatives still lingering on Gingrich’s past.
“The woman at the well was fortunate she encountered Jesus that day instead of some of our evangelical brethren,” Falwell said.
Family Policy Network Policy Analyst Alex Mason told CP in an earlier interview that Christians should forgive politicians for their extramarital affairs when they show themselves to be “repentant and contrite.” However, he said those sins, though forgiven, still have consequences.
A consequence of infidelity is that voters may continue to find it hard to trust cheating politicians even after they have apologized, Mason said.
Without directly addressing any of the GOP candidates, he said, “When they’re making those empty promises (to their wives), voters will immediately think to themselves ‘what makes me think with any amount of certainty that the promises that this politician has made to me are any more valid in his mind than the ones he broke to his wife.’”