Can Christians Afford To Be Associated with Gingrich?

Pro-life and pro-marriage voters have a slate of flawed front-runners to choose from in the GOP primary. Ross Douthat argues that this presents a unique problem to Christians, especially with respect to the rise of Newt Gingrich. He writes:

The real issue for religious conservatives isn’t whether they can trust Gingrich. It’s whether they can afford to be associated with him.

Conservative Christianity in America, both evangelical and Catholic, faces a looming demographic challenge: A rising generation that is more unchurched than any before it, more liberal on issues like gay marriage, and allergic to the apocalyptic rhetoric of the Pat Robertson-Jerry Falwell era. To many younger Americans, religious conservatism as they know it often seems to stand for a kind of institutionalized hypocrisy — a right-wing Tartufferie that’s incensed by the idea of gay wedlock but tolerant of straight divorce, forgiving of Republican sins but judgmental about Democratic indiscretions, and eager to apply moral litmus tests only on issues that benefit the political right.

Rallying around Newt Gingrich, effectively making him the face of Christian conservatism in this Republican primary season, would ratify all of these impressions. It isn’t just that he’s a master of selective moral outrage whose newfound piety has been turned to consistently partisan ends. It’s that his personal history — not only the two divorces, but also the repeated affairs and the way he behaved during the dissolution of his marriages — makes him the most compromised champion imaginable for a movement that’s laboring to keep lifelong heterosexual monogamy on a legal and cultural pedestal…

Of course Christians are obliged to forgive a penitent, whatever his offenses — though a cynic might note that it’s easy for an adulterer to express contrition once he’s safely married to his mistress. But one can forgive a sinner without necessarily deciding that he should be anointed as the standard bearer for the very cause that he betrayed. Contrition is supposed to be its own reward. There’s no obligation to throw in the presidency as well.

In a climate of culture war, any spokesman for conservative Christianity is destined to be a polarizing figure. (Just ask Tim Tebow.) But a religious right that rallied around Gingrich would be putting the worst possible face on its cause and at the worst possible time.

His candidacy isn’t a test of religious conservatives’ willingness to be good, forgiving Christians. It’s a test of their ability to see their cause through outsiders’ eyes, and to recognize what anointing a thrice-married adulterer as the champion of “family values” would say to the skeptical, the unconverted and above all to the young.

Read the rest here.

I’m sympathetic with Douthat’s concern, but I would tweak his framing of things just a little bit. The GOP may face a credibility problem with Gingrich, but Christians should not. Christians do need to beware who they set forth as the “standard bearer” of their deepest convictions, but it is a mistake to appoint any politician to carry that standard. Don’t get me wrong. I hope and pray that we can get the best candidates possible—those who are competent and who hold core convictions in line with our own. Does character count? Yes. Do core beliefs matter? Absolutely. But to expect candidates to set the world to rights and to make all things new is to expect way too much. No matter who I vote for, I am not expecting that person to usher in the kingdom of God or to be the walking fulfillment of Christian virtue. As a Christian, I am not looking for the GOP to elect a messiah. That job is already taken.

9 Responses to Can Christians Afford To Be Associated with Gingrich?

  1. Brent Hobbs December 12, 2011 at 1:37 am #

    Supporting a candidate for political office doesn’t mean we endorse him as any kind of religious spokesman or role model.

    All other things being equal I prefer someone who’s married faithfully, a good father (or mother), honest, upstanding morally, humble, good sense of humor, kind to animals, and is a Virgina Tech football fan.

    But we don’t normally get to choose from perfect candidates. I’m not choosing a champion for family values. I’m choosi g a president. Sometimes those coincide. And it’s good when they do. But when they don’t I dislike being accused of compromising my Christian convictions if I support a political candidate who’s not the ideal in every way.

    (Not that Denny is saying that, but I think Douthat is.)

  2. Bruce H December 12, 2011 at 1:47 am #

    Christians shouldn’t be politically driven. We live in a country that has elections every 4 years and sometimes it comes down to choosing the lesser of 2 evils. Politics will always be contrary to God’s characteristics. The heart of the king is in the Lord’s hand regardless of who actually wins anyway. If I have to vote for Gingrich, I will.

  3. Don Johnson December 12, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    On politics, I am very used to voting anti-pessimal, voting AGAINST the worst of the top 2 possible candidates. I do not have to endorse everything the person I vote for says, he or she just has to be less worse than the other, considered as a whole.

    Voting for the optimal choice is a dream that I do not expect to happen, so one needs to let go of that fantasy and disregard Douthat’s claims.

  4. Barry Applewhite December 12, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Denny,
    You have said in conclusion: “As a Christian, I am not looking for the GOP to elect a messiah. That job is already taken.”

    It is sad for a Christian of your standing in the community to abuse the word “Messiah” in this fashion. Not only does it demonstrate disrespect for the One who is the Messiah, but it continues the dialogue of hate that permeated the previous election. Jesus does not stand for hate and neither should you.

    -Barry

    • KRC December 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

      Not quite sure what you are talking about. I think Denny is referring to Jesus….not, to quote McCain, “that one.”

  5. Alex Humphrey December 12, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I’m with you, Denny.

    Supporting a candidate isn’t the same as making him the figurehead of Christianity (though, some groups will work very hard to do that).

    That being said, I still have a lot of issues with voting for Gingrich. If it came down to him or Obama, I’m not sure who I would vote for.

  6. Bruce H December 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    If you are talking about the primary, no. I think Rick Santorum would best fit the mold now.

  7. Jeni Majors December 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Barry, when I read that last line, I took it to be referring to Jesus.

  8. Nigel Hunter December 12, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Denny-

    You skipped one of Douthat’s more valid warnings, the idea of association as ascribed by others. It is not something to be hamstrung by, but it cannot be ignored. Whether Christians, especially evangelicals, like it or not, the GOP has become a less-strange bedfellow. Gingrich’s infidelities and divorces create a series of questions that are more than red herrings and must be addressed if Christians are going to vote Republican because that party holds stronger positions on family and marriage, even if their candidate does not.

    The issue then becomes about how closely Christians are going to be tied to the Republicans and who is going to control the narrative. Unfortunately, outside of WORLD Magazine, there aren’t any prominent and respected outlets doing anything like that. FOX News is writing the narrative from a politically conservative position and, I would offer, is a significant part of the problem.

    Thank you for linking to this story. There are good issues presented that I’ve needed to think through.

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