Francis Beckwith asks conservative Christians an uncomfortable and awkward question:
Are you prepared for America to have a First Lady who was a home wrecker and was once the President’s mistress (if Gingrich were to become President)?
Beckwith presses the point because he was unsatisfied with Gingrich’s fiery answer to a character question in last week’s GOP debate in South Carolina. Instead of addressing a question about past infidelities, Gingrich opined about everyone knowing what it’s like to go through “personal pain.” Beckwith responds:
The Speaker is, of course, correct that “every person in here knows personal pain.” No one doubts that. But, in this case, the personal pain suffered by his ex-wife was inflicted by Gingrich. For this reason, the appropriate response for the Speaker should have been something like this, “Every person in here knows personal pain, just like the pain suffered by my ex-wife. And, I am ashamed to admit that I am the one who caused this pain. So, I don’t at all disparage her for what she has said about me. That’s the man I was: self-absorbed, uncaring, thinking myself as someone above the moral law. My conversion to Catholicism, and the absolution I received for my sins, was the first step on my way to becoming the man I ought to be.”
I think Beckwith’s point is that he is looking for evidences of genuine repentance in Gingrich, but he’s not seeing it.
Perhaps Gingrich truly is repentant in spite of his less than satisfying answer in the debate. I would like to take him at his word that he has sought “forgiveness.” But in some ways, that is beside the point. It is true that all candidates are sinners and that there will never be a perfect candidate. Yet the question that we have to ask is not whether or not someone has a pristine past or present forgiveness, but whether or not they will have the credibility to represent the causes we care about most.
In the coming years, our country will be facing the gay marriage issue head-on. The way things are going, it’s conceivable that gay marriage could become legal in every state of the union over the next five to ten years (maybe sooner). It will be a distraction from the fight for traditional marriage if the standard-bearer and chief spokesman has been compromised on precisely this issue. Impenitent answers like the one Gingrich gave last week only reinforce the impression that there may be some hypocrisy when it comes to the sanctity of marriage. I still think Ross Douthat’s question is the right one:
The real issue for religious conservatives isn’t whether they can trust Gingrich. It’s whether they can afford to be associated with him… A religious right that rallied around Gingrich would be putting the worst possible face on its cause and at the worst possible time.
There are many factors to weigh in choosing a presidential candidate, and I recognize that these are prudential judgments that Christians may disagree about. Having said that, I believe the character issue is still relevant in spite of those who are suggesting otherwise.