After the candidates circled their wagons in Iowa and the dust had finally settled, it was Santorum by 34 votes. Newt Gingrich came in a distant 4th with only 13% of the vote. You may have wondered if Newt really had the heart to blaze the grueling trail to the presidency.
If his team was hoping to do better in ‘Newt’ Hampshire they were bitterly disappointed as he came in a distant 4th again. Prospects for winning the nomination were pretty dismal going into South Carolina without having broken into the top three in the previous two contests.
Newt’s campaign boasts something the others can’t. Last summer he went on vacation with his lovely wife only to return to a campaign that was in shambles with his staff jumping ship as if it were the Costa Concordia. The political pundits declared the Newt campaign dead in the water. But Newt did what all evangelicals love to relate to, he resurrected. As if one miraculous resurrection were not enough, after being declared dead again after Iowa and New Hampshire, Newt experienced a second resurrection in South Carolina.
Newt Gingrich shellacked Mitt Romney by winning 40% of the vote surpassing his opponent by a whopping 13%. The media’s bobbleheads were in a tizzy to try to explain what had happened. Most all of them could drone on about how Newt captured the evangelical vote but nary a one could explain why evangelicals have a heart for Newt. Hadn’t Newt been reprimanded by the House ethics committee for being reckless in regard to following the House rules back in 1997? Didn’t he receive enormous amounts of money for consulting Freddie Mac (FMCC) in 2006, the same Freddie Mac that needed billions of taxpayer money to bail them out after the company foolishly approved an ocean full of high risk loans?
The pundits pondered how evangelical Christians could jump on board the Newt band wagon when he has been married three times and divorced twice? Newt graduated from Baker High School in Columbus, Georgia, in 1961. He married Jackie Battley, his former math teacher in 1962 when he was only 19 years old and she was 26. They had two daughters together. In 1980 Newt and Jackie were divorced amid many spiteful and unproven accusations.
Newt married Marianne Ginther six months after the finalization of his divorce with Jackie. Marianne accused Newt of requesting an “open marriage” and timed the release of her accusation to coincide with the closing moments of the South Carolina primary. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Newt denied he ever made the request and refused to bicker with his former wife. Newt and Marianne had divorced in 2000 having had no children. Later that same year Newt married his third wife, Callista Bisek, 23 years his junior.
The debris that litters the life of Newt Gingrich looks like the landscape in Birmingham after the tornados of April 2011. The political career of such a man should be buried deeply, very deeply under all the trash. So, what happened in South Carolina? Why would evangelical Christians vote for a man carrying so much baggage?
Evangelical Christians would never condone such behavior but they find it refreshing that Newt is humble and honest about his past transgressions. Newt is not denying the failures of his past. He is not splitting hairs over the meaning of the word ‘is’. He is not vehemently denying his shortcomings and then making cameo appearances on national television to explain away his iniquities. Newt simply says, “On my bleakest days (referring to his moral failures), I knew that my sin was sin.” He goes on to describe his remorse and repentance and declares himself forgiven by a merciful Savior.
Christians are taught to forgive others just as they have been forgiven. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal. 6:1) Christians are aware that many of those who are casting stones at Newt Gingrich live in glass houses with closets full of skeletons. They are not too troubled by that because “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Who hasn’t participated in a stoning at some time in their lives? Isn’t there a period in every life when each one realizes he/she is “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean?” (Matthew 23:27)
Evangelical Christians find themselves supporting Newt Gingrich because they know the power of forgiveness. Newt claims he has been forgiven. Christians have all experienced the shame of sinfulness. Truly born-again Christians have received the grace of forgiveness that radically transforms a worthless life into a life that boasts eternal value. Newt garnered so many evangelical votes because Christians felt they had ‘been there, done that’.
Would Christians react the same way to a liberal candidate who had committed such surly transgressions and sincerely repented? Absolutely, with unequivocal certainty! Would Christians vote for him? Not without evidence that he had been “transformed by the renewing of his mind”. (Romans 12:2) True repentance causes the old to become new. Conversion to Christ brings extreme change to one’s worldview.
A converted Christian candidate will no longer be an advocate for the murder of the unborn. A truly born again Christian will no longer promote sinful lifestyles of sexual promiscuity under the guise of acceptable alternative lifestyles. Those who are authentic Christ-followers will repent of their sin and pursue a life that is characterized by righteousness and holiness. Christians desire to fill an obligation to vote for the candidate whose worldview best matches theirs.
Newt Gingrich won the hearts of evangelical Christians because he is an imperfect man who found forgiveness in the perfection of Christ. They accept his claim that he is forgiven. They see him as a man who has been broken and then repaired. They hope and pray that he has experienced complete restoration and that he will be faithful to his promise to “uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse.” And they hope he will also demonstrate such fidelity to the God he serves.
In South Carolina, the evangelical Christians demonstrated that their hope that Newt was being honest was greater than their fear he was but another wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Kevin Probst - Teaches History, Government and Apologetics at the high school level in Columbus Georgia.