Absolution for Newt
How evangelicals are finding a way to support Gingrich.
In the years after that, Gingrich wrote two books about “Rediscovering God in America,” and produced two films with that title. He grew deeply involved in the conservative battle to unseat Iowa judges who legalized gay marriage. Gingrich’s network funneled $350,000 into an $850,000 campaign, and the campaign won.
This is why Iowa’s evangelical leaders anticipate that they will need to explain the new Newt to voters and to a doubting media.
“I am very sensitive to looking hypocritical,” says Deace, the radio host who moderated that awkward focus group. “I think Christians have exhausted a lot of political capital this way. We have allowed Republicans to violate moral standards that we don't accept from Democrats. My encouragement to other Christians is this: First protect the integrity of your Christian witness, then put your political activism second to that. If you do that, you’re not trapped by hypocrisy.”
What does that mean for Gingrich? Deace quoted the Prophet Isaiah for advice. From Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” That’s doubling as advice for Iowa evangelicals. Reason together. You like Newt anyway. In the scheme of things, his misdeeds aren’t so bad.
“Take the Apostle Paul, for example,” says Vander Plaats. “He wasn’t just bad before his conversion. He called himself the worst of the worst. He tried to thwart the gospel. He tried to abolish Christianity.” It’s true: Compared to Paul, Newt’s offenses don’t seem that bad. The father of the church reminisced about watching Christians die, consenting to their deaths.
This has all been discussed at the higher levels of evangelical politics; it’s largely been litigated. If you read between the lines of evangelical leaders’ statements, they’re incredibly forgiving toward Newt. Look at the open letter that Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote this week. “A high percentage of Evangelical men are willing to cut you some slack over your turbulent marital history,” he wrote. “The bad news is that Evangelical women are far less willing to forgive and let bygones be bygones.”
How could Gingrich possibly recover? Pretty easily, according to Land. “Mr. Speaker, I urge you to pick a pro-family venue and give a speech (not an interview) addressing your marital history once and for all. It should be clear that this speech will be ‘it’ and will not be repeated, only referenced.”
That’s it. The tone is not just forgiving—it’s hopeful that the evangelical hoi polloi can forgive, too. It’s scornful of a media that evangelicals expect to hassle Gingrich and his supporters for hypocrisy. The media didn’t decide whether Paul had redeemed himself. Evangelical leaders won’t let the media tell them whether they can redeem the new Republican front-runner.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.