Nearly twenty-eight years later, Gingrich is the front-runner for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States. Much, of course, has happened since he published that book in 1984, and over the years we have learned many things about Gingrich. His many achievements include his leadership role in the 1994 Republican take-over of Congress and his subsequent ascendancy to the office of Speaker of the House. His many foibles include a significant House ethics violation and personal moral failures that resulted in two broken marriages.
In 2009, Gingrich was received into the Catholic Church, the faith of his third wife, Callista Bisek. Because Catholic conversion requires the sacrament of confession, Gingrich has been absolved of his sins. This, of course, suggests to many, including me, that one cannot evaluate Gingrich’s candidacy and character without taking his conversion seriously. It is a mistake for Christians to emulate the world and treat a man’s conversion as if it were the metaphysical equivalent of a change in hobby.
On the other hand, Rod Dreher raises an important point in suggesting that Christian conservatives take care in their choice of standard-bearer. Relying on insights by New York Times writer Ross Douthat, Dreher argues that Christian conservatives, in the toxic atmosphere of the culture wars, cannot afford to have as a public face a figure who for most of his adult life has shunned the virtues and ways of life that Christian conservatives want to advance in the public square.
This is not to diminish or call into question Gingrich’s conversion. Quite the opposite. For, as the Catholic Catechism teaches, absolution of sins does not eradicate all the effects and consequences of those sins on the shaping of one’s character. This requires ongoing conversion, including detaching oneself from those things that may provide an occasion for sin.
It seems to me that a man whose sins arose as a consequence of the pursuit of political power and the unwise use of it after he became Speaker of the House should not be seeking the most powerful office in the world.
Newt Gingrich, to be sure, changed my life, and I am grateful for that. But it is far more important that Gingrich’s new life change his soul, and for this reason, I will not support him in the Republican primary.
This raises the intriguing question of whether Beckwith holds the US President to higher moral standards than the Pope:
Of course, one has to use Wikipedia with a grain of salt, but just as a matter of principle, if we assume this is historically accurate for the sake of argument, should sexual immortality disqualify a man from being the US President even though it shouldn’t disqualify a man from being the Vicar of Christ?