Are We Electing a Pastor in Chief?

When Governor Perry dropped out of the race on Thursday and endorsed Newt Gingrich, he had this to say:

“Newt is not perfect, but who among us is? There is forgiveness for those who seek God, and I believe in the power of redemption.”

Who could argue with that, especially those of us who are Christians? Well, forgiveness isn’t really the issue. Newt has not wronged me or most who will read this. We have not personally met him or anyone in his family and his past marital infidelities have not personally affected us. There was no need for him to ask for your forgiveness or mine. Certainly, just as when a pebble is dropped into a pond and there is an ever widening circle of ripples, Newt’s adultery and associated bad behavior affected many, many people in his life, so it is likely that there are many people he should have begged for forgiveness when he came to the point in his life where he had a religious conversion (2009) and repented of his former misdeeds.

Pastor John MacArthur explains the difference between a mere apology and repentance:

“Genuine repentance always involves a confession of wrongdoing and a willingness to make things right. An apology often takes the form of an excuse.

“The word apology comes from the Greek apologia, which literally means “a speech in defense of.” Apologies are often nothing more than self-defense: “I’m sorry if you took offense, but . . .”

“Genuine repentance is properly expressed in an admission of wrongdoing and a plea for forgiveness: “It was unthoughtful of me to say that. Will you forgive me?”
Be wary of using merely apologetic language in place of genuine repentance.”

For what it’s worth, wife #2 in this sordid saga, Marianne, has said that she is still waiting for an apology from Newt.

Gingrich told the crowd at the S. Carolina debate on Thursday, “Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I had in that period who knew us said the story is false.” He said this in response to CNN moderator John King’s question about the “open marriage” allegations Marianne leveled against him in her Nightline interview.

And here’s where we get to the distinction between “presidential candidate Newt” versus “husband Newt.”  Obviously, in almost any divorce situation, there will be a certain amount of ‘he said, she said.’ The conversation about whether Newt asked his wife for an open marriage was most certainly not made in the company of “every personal friend” Newt is hiding behind in his denial, so his denials are not credible, unless, based upon Gingrich’s reputation and trustworthiness, we believe him to be a truthful person. The same goes for Marianne’s allegations.

And therein lies the crux of the problem. Newt tells us he’s a changed man. He tells us he’s had a religious conversion. He tells us that we can believe what he says. Only what he says seems to change from year to year and even week to week and he demonstrates behavior that is inconsistent with the devout Catholic he proclaims to be.

So it’s not a matter of whether we forgive Newt. It’s a matter of whether we trust him.

While I’d like to take him at his word and I ardently hope for his sake and the sake of his family that his repentance and conversion are sincere, I have serious suspicions that the New Newt has much in common with the Old Newt.

I have previously documented Newt’s flip-flops in recent years (sometimes within the same week) on stem cell research and when life begins and on climate change. Here are a few more:

  • Paul Ryan’s budget plan
  • Health insurance mandate
  • No fly zone in Libya
  • Criminal court trials for suspected terrorists
  • Publicly criticizing Freddie/Fannie while personally profiting as a lobbyist historian
  • Endorsing liberal Dede Scozzafava

It’s not being uncharitable or judgmental to ask why Newt has flip-flopped so often (and so quickly) on so many important issues in recent years. Francis Beckwith, a Catholic professor (and admirer of Gingrich) wrote that he would not endorse him for president. Though he believes that Newt’s conversion is sincere, he says his Catholic doctrine teaches that,

“…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.”

Which brings me back around to Marianne. While the CNN debate made for a good show and we all enjoyed watching Newt gnaw off John King’s shin, Newt’s actual words betrayed a man who has an ugly underbelly. As he was finishing up King’s shin and moving up to his kneecap, he said this:

“Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

For whatever reason, Newt chose not to acknowledge that he was the one who caused the “painful things.” He seems to place his adulterous affairs in the same category as losing a loved one to cancer or having a child with a disability.  To make it worse, he rips CNN for using “trash like that” in a presidential debate.

Bob Walker, Gingrich’s senior political adviser said in advance of Marianne’s interview, “That was a very bitter divorce, and you’re talking about somebody who is still, probably, very bitter.”

I don’t know what kind of religious counsel Newt is receiving, but the fact that a woman he was married to for 18-years is still so bitter all these years later as a result of his sin against her should cause him great sorrow. As John MacArthur said, true repentance includes “confession of wrongdoing and a willingness to make things right.” Instead, Newt lashes out and refers to her story as “trash like that” to level a blow against moderator John King and gain the approval of the crowd. There is no cause for cheering and scoring points when discussing adultery and the death of a marriage.

Doug Wilson, perhaps said it best (the entire blog post is well worth reading) when describing Newt’s response to King:

“Newt, in bellicose mode, wasn’t having any and said to him, on the contrary, “your network decided to lead off with this question, and it was Disgraceful, Appalling, Reprehensible,” or whatever words of high dudgeon he used. “How dare you bring moral indignation into a presidential debate! I’ll show you moral indignation.” The audience was at first agape, and then it roared to its feet. Is he not whacking a liberal? What’s not to like? Despicable is not serial adultery. Despicable is asking about it.”

For many, these serious character issues will not be a problem. For me, it’s a problem. I want a president who I can reasonably believe will do what he promises to do. One who our allies believe they can trust. Is it too much to ask for a man of character in 2012, or is that an outdated notion? When the history of the next presidency is written, will it tell the story of another Lyndon B. Johnson, or will we elect a Reagan?

Peggy Noonan, in an essay about President Reagan, for whom she was a speechwriter, said this:

“In a president, character is everything. A president doesn’t have to be brilliant; Harry Truman wasn’t brilliant, and he helped save Western Europe from Stalin. He doesn’t have to be clever; you can hire clever. White Houses are always full of quick-witted people with ready advice on how to flip a senator or implement a strategy. You can hire pragmatic, and you can buy and bring in policy wonks.

“But you can’t buy courage and decency, you can’t rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him. If he does, they will give meaning and animation to the great practical requirement of the presidency: He must know why he’s there and what he wants to do. He has to have thought it through. He needs to have, in that much maligned word, but a good one nontheless, a vision of the future he wishes to create. This is a function of thinking, of the mind, the brain. But a vision is worth little if a president doesn’t have the character–the courage and heart–to see it through….”

We are the greatest country in the world. We’re not electing a Pastor in Chief, but moral character is an important element in leadership. Moral failure in a president will not only damage the Republican party for years to come, it will demoralize and harm the country I love. Newt is not a risk worth taking.

Update: I thought I should add, as a matter of full disclosure, that if I had the opportunity to vote in a meaningful primary (as a Super Tuesday voter in Ohio it’s doubtful that I will), I would vote for Rick Santorum. Out of the four candidates remaining, I believe he would govern the most conservatively (using Reagan’s 3-legged stool as the standard) overall. I recognize his record as a senator is not perfect. Comparing the Club for Growth’s White Papers of the candidates, he’d be far, far better than Romney and somewhat better than Gingrich. But moreover, I believe what he is telling me. I don’t look at the man and think he will say whatever it takes to get elected. I can’t say that about Gingrich and Romney.

I also cannot discount Santorum’s strong, consistent dedication to conservative social issues. There may be no one else in the political arena more articulate or better qualified to debate the issue of the right to life for unborn children. I’ve heard him take down Al Sharpton and he would destroy Obama in a debate on this issue. On the eve of another anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I believe our country is ready to have that conversation. States across the country are passing laws restricting abortion and in Ohio, we are close to passing a law that would ban abortion for babies found to have a heartbeat. We need a president we can count on to appoint federal judges and Supreme Court Justices to uphold those state laws and to fight for a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution. We need a president who can make the case to the American people that life begins at conception and that every life is precious and has a natural right to exist and be protected.  I believe Rick Santorum is a man who would do that and he will have my vote on Super Tuesday.


Cross posted at Bold Colors