Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary on Saturday. Now he is officially a contender for the GOP presidential nomination. Three different primaries and three different candidates have won the first three contests. It still looks like Gov. Romney will be the nominee, if only because he is on the ballots on all the states and Gingrich is not. But South Carolina has chosen the GOP nominee in every election except one since 1976. This one might be the exception, as the numbers of delegates and states such as Virginia do not favor Gingrich.
Now the lens of the press and the public is clearly on Gingrich. The “values voters” seemed to not care about Gingrich’s personal life. To these “values voters,” it is better to have someone who is against gay marriage, even if he has had three marriages of his own and at least one six-year affair.
Gingrich railed at the CNN debate about the question on his previous marriage. He said, “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that! Every person in here knows personal pain. 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!” He got a standing ovation for it.
Before being questioned at the debate, Gingrich spoke about his former marriages on an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. He said, “And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situational ethics, I was doing things that were wrong and yet I was doing them.” He went on to say, “I do believe in a forgiving God. And I think most people, deep down in their hearts, hope there’s a forgiving God,” he said. “Somebody once said that when we are young, we seek justice, but as we get older, we seek mercy. There’s something to that, I think.”
I am glad Gingrich has made peace with God. However, the religious tradition that I come from says that God will forgive people once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kipper), but that does not mean the offender is forgiven from any sins. Yom Kipper means that God will forgive you for sins against God, but not against others unless that person forgives you. Then, and only then, you will get the forgiveness of God.
People with whom I spoke in South Carolina, who were in the Gingrich camp, were convinced he had transformed, become a Catholic and was now on the straight and narrow. It was “between him and God,” someone said to me.
Between him and God? Is that really what we want as a nation? Don’t get me wrong: Newt Gingrich is brilliant. He’s a big thinker and has interesting and unusual ideas. Ideas are wonderful, but if someone’s transformation does not mean making it right with the person they’ve injured, is that a person we want in the White House?
The implications of that kind of thought process is what scares me. If his relationship with God is what can make things right, then how about the very hard work of going to the person you have injured and having the guts to speak to that person and to make it right? He might have done that, but clearly his first wife is still feeling very injured. If he, in fact, has asked for forgiveness, then he should have said so.
We don’t expect our presidents to be perfect. We all have flaws, as Speaker Gingrich said, but most of us think how someone treats their family members, how honest they are and how they handle themselves when they make mistakes are microcosms for how they conduct themselves at work and in politics.
Newt Gingrich may be able to sleep with himself at night because he has the forgiveness of God. But without the knowledge of how he asked for forgiveness from his former wife, it is doubtful that the American people will let him sleep in the White House.