Newt Gingrich speaking at New Hampshire event
Addressing an issue some regard as a hindrance if he runs for president, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich confessed to evangelical leader James Dobson in a radio interview airing tomorrow to moral failing regarding two previous marriages and said he has “gotten on my knees and sought God’s forgiveness.”
Dobson’s Focus on the Family provided WND with a transcript of Gingrich’s remarks, which will be broadcast tomorrow on the group’s daily program as the second of a two-part segment.
Dobson asked Gingrich about his personal life at the end of a discussion about the former congressman’s book, “Rediscovering God in America.”
Gingrich said the subject of his two divorces, including an affair that took place as he led impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, is a “very painful topic and I confess that to you directly.”
Dobson told Gingrich he knew him to be a “professing Christian” with whom he has prayed, but said that when they discussed the subject privately in Washington a few weeks ago, “you spoke of it with a great deal of pain and anguish, but you didn’t mention repentance. Do you understand that word, repentance?”
Gingrich replied, “Absolutely,” adding he was raised Lutheran and became a Southern Baptist in graduate school.
“I believe deeply that people fall short and that people have to recognize that they have to turn to God for forgiveness and to seek mercy,” Gingrich said. “Somebody once said that when you’re young you want justice and that when you get older you want mercy. I also believe that there are things in my own life that I have turned to God and have gotten on my knees and prayed about and sought God’s forgiveness. I don’t know how you could live with yourself and not end up breaking down if you didn’t find, try to find, some way to deal with your own weaknesses and to go to God about them.”
The transcript provided to WND reads:
DOBSON: Let me ask you about your family life. This is very, very personal and delicate and I appreciate your willingness to address it again. But you’ve been married three times under some circumstances that disappointed some of your supporters. And there are some questions associated with that era that remain unanswered with regard to an affair or maybe more than one. Would you take a run at that for our listeners?
GINGRICH: Yeah. And it’s a very painful topic and I confess that directly to you. And it has some elements of it that I’m not in any way proud of.
In fact, some elements that, in the past, you know, I wouldn’t … I’m now a grandfather. I have two grandchildren: Maggie who’s 7 and Robert who’s 5. And I think you get to a point – I’m 63 years old now – and you get to a point in life where you look back and there’s some elements you want to caution your children and grandchildren not to follow you on. And things you need to learn. And I was married very young and had my first daughter when I was very young. In fact, at the end of my freshman year in college. I have two wonderful children and we’re very, very close. And after a period of time, about 18 years, things just didn’t work out and it’s difficult. Although we do share both our two daughters and we share the two grandchildren. I then remarried and went through a very difficult time, some of which was covered even in news media coverage, and we had a big difference about public life. And that was, frankly again, very painful.
I think what I found difficult in going through all this is that I don’t believe in situation ethics and I don’t believe in saying, “Well, this was right and that was wrong” and then changing the rules according to my behavior, according to what … you know, to justify what I’ve done. And I’d have to say in all honesty, as I said to you the other week, there were times when I was praying and when I felt I was doing things that were wrong. But I was still doing them. And I look back on those as periods of weakness and periods that I’m not only not proud of, but that I would deeply urge my children and grandchildren not to follow in my footsteps.
DOBSON: On that occasion I asked you a pretty bold question. And I appreciate the fact that you didn’t seem offended by it. But I asked you if the rumors were true that you were in an affair with a woman obviously who wasn’t your wife at the same time that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were having their escapade.
GINGRICH: Well, the fact is that the honest answer is yes. But it was not related to what happened. And this is one of the things the Left tries to do and one of the places, where frankly, I think the way this report of the special counsel was written weakened the case.
The president of the United States got in trouble for committing a felony in front of a sitting federal judge. He was involved in a sexual-harassment lawsuit in which his behavior was a direct question of whether or not the woman who had accused him was telling the truth. The president of the United States, who was a Yale-graduated lawyer, had been attorney general of his state, knew better, deliberately committed perjury. Perjury is at the very heart of our legal system. And is very often punished very intently by the courts. I was very aware of this because of the very painful thing you’ve raised, which is I had been through a divorce. I had been through depositions.
I had once had a lawyer tell me, “Well, you can just fudge on this,” and I said, “No! You can’t fudge on this!” You’re at the very heart of our legal system. If you don’t tell the truth under oath the whole system breaks down. And the challenge I was faced with wasn’t about judging Bill Clinton as a person. I’m not going to cast the first stone, and I clearly know that I can’t cast the first stone.
Because I have, in fact, as I think every member of every jury in America, has had weaknesses and if that was the standard our whole system would collapse. That’s not the standard. The standard is in a court of law, should somebody who’s popular get away with committing a felony? And if this week it’s perjury, and next week it’s theft, and the week after that it’s having somebody beaten up, then what morning do we end up as a corrupt country like Nigeria where the corruption is so deep that it eats at the very fabric of our society?
And I drew a line in my mind and again, our listeners may not agree with me. But I drew a line in my mind that said, “Even though I run the risk of being deeply embarrassed, and even though at a purely personal level I am not rendering judgment on another human being, as a leader of the government trying to uphold the rule of law, I have no choice except to move forward and say that you cannot accept felonies and you cannot accept perjury in your highest officials.”
DOBSON: Well, you answered that question with regard to Bill Clinton instead of referring to yourself. May I ask you to address it personally? You know, I believe you to be a professing Christian and you and I have prayed together, but when I heard you talk about this dark side of your life and when we were in Washington, you spoke of it with a great deal of pain and anguish, but you didn’t mention repentance. Do you understand that word, repentance?
GINGRICH: Absolutely. And I answered … maybe it was the way the question was posed in terms of how the cross-parallels of the two things. In terms of my own life, let me say that I was raised initially as a Lutheran and I ended up converting and becoming a Southern Baptist when I was in graduate school at Saint Charles Avenue Baptist Church with Dr. Avery Lee, who was just a great, great preacher and moral leader. And so that’s my background.
I believe deeply that people fall short and that people have to recognize that they have to turn to God for forgiveness and to seek mercy. Somebody once said that when you’re young you want justice and that when you get older you want mercy. I also believe that there are things in my own life that I have turned to God and have gotten on my knees and prayed about and sought God’s forgiveness. I don’t know how you could live with yourself and not end up breaking down if you didn’t find, try to find, some way to deal with your own weaknesses and to go to God about them.
DOBSON: Well, I appreciate your allowing us to delve into that. Obviously the reason that I ask is that you are a national leader, despite the fact that you’re not in public office at this time. And many of the concepts and ideas that you’ve expressed, last time and today, are things that I agree with, and I think it’s really important and will be for many of our listeners to know your responses to that point of disappointment back there someplace. And I really appreciate your willingness to do so.
GINGRICH: Well, if I could just for a second, let me just say that I think that the most important form of leadership is to be a servant. And there are times that I have fallen short of my own standards. There’s certainly times when I’ve fallen short of God’s standards and my neighbor’s standards.
But I think my job is to try to do for my country and on a very personal level for my children and for my grandchildren and for their future, try to do everything I can to be a servant in helping this country deal both with, with the domestic challenges to our very identity and that’s what “Rediscovering God in America” is all about and to foreign challenges to our very survival. And I hope, you know, within that framework, as you know, you and I have worked together for many, many years.
GINGRICH: I hope that people will see me in that context. I’m not trying to be a leader in the sense of rising above my fellow Americans, but I am trying to serve, particularly as a teacher and as a developer of solutions, and as somebody who is trying to find how we get through the next 10 or 15 years in a way that makes us safe and free and prosperous, and gives our children and grandchildren the kind of extraordinary freedom that you and I have had.
DOBSON: Well, it’s a pleasure talking to you. I enjoy every time we have a chance to be together and I think our listeners have really learned a lot today and I hope we can continue the dialogue.
GINGRICH: I look forward to it. And I’m always available for you because of the extraordinary work you’ve done across this entire country.
DOBSON: God’s blessings to you, my friend.
GINGRICH: Thank you.
Gingrich told WND in an interview in Washington last month he would not allow himself to make a decision about a presidential run until Labor Day, arguing the campaign cycle has started “way too early,” shifting the focus from talking about solutions to fund-raising. At the moment he is engaged in what he describes as a grass-roots, locally focused effort to apply conservative solutions to problems, and, ultimately, “force change” on Washington.
Last month, Gingrich’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, told WND he wouldn’t comment on Gingrich’s personal life, but offered, “If he were to run, it may be that Christian conservatives would find him inadequate. But if they like all that Newt stands for – and I think they do – he would offer to train their candidate in all the issues he thinks are important. I’m sure that Newt would be happy to share all he knows with the conservative candidate, if it were not him.”
Meanwhile, Rev. Jerry Falwell announced Gingrich will be the graduation speaker at Liberty University, the evangelical school founded by the Baptist minister.
Falwell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he considers Gingrich a longtime friend.
“He is also one of the brightest men I know in public life today,” Falwell said.
Falwell said Gingrich will speak on “Rediscovering God in America.”
“I wanted our young people to hear him,” Falwell told the Richmond paper. “In my opinion, he will announce for the presidency sometime this year.”