Christianity,  Politics

An Uncomfortable and Awkward Question

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.


  • Andrew

    Beckwith is right, but what are our alternatives at this point? It’s either Newt or Mitt according to the media. There doesn’t seem to be a decent candidate in the field. I kept waiting for someone else to enter the field, but it looks like that’s not happening… You wanna run?

    • Denny Burk

      Andrew, we don’t have perfect candidates, but neither do we have perfect alternatives. My point is simply that Christians should factor in character issues like the one cited in the South Carolina debate. They’re relevant.

      • Andrew

        I’m not looking for a perfect candidate. Just a viable option. I’ll take any of them to Obama, but have a hard time getting excited about the GOP’s B-Team. Newt’s character issues are definitely troubling.

  • Paul

    1) actually, you do have another alternative: the only viable candidate running for the presidency that has been an upright family man from the start: Obama.

    2) Of course this somehow gets tied into the marriage equality debate. Denny, you are right to note the blatant hypocrisy that a Gingrich presidency brings to the debate. But, you stop short. Standing for “the sanctity of marriage” without absolutely fighting for enforced adultery laws in every state and territory in the US is also the height of hypocrisy. It’s ok for Kim Kardashian to be married for 72 days, but not for a committed couple to be married for life. It’s not a legal snafu for a man to walk out on a marriage as soon as it becomes difficult (another way of looking at an outstanding character flaw on Gingrich’s part), but it’s a legal snafu if Gary wants Larry in his hospital room as he takes his last breaths. So, Denny, chop chop. Call your congressman in Kentucky. Call Rand Paul after he’s done arguing with the TSA. Get anti-adultery laws on the books! Change starts at home!

    2a) Unless there were to be a Constitutional amendment allowing for gay marriage in all 50 states, it will never happen. There’s this thing called the 10th amendment, and since there are states that already have constitutional bans on gay marriage on the books (I don’t know how many off the top of my head, but there are a handful). You would need something that would nullify a state’s constitution. Like a federal amendment. And the southern and western states will never let that come to pass. The fear of gay marriage in all 50 states is a non-issue.

    • Andrew

      1) Obama’s personal marriage history may be better than Gingrich’s, but he consistently undercuts marriage and family in his policies on gay marriage, DOMA, abortion, schools, etc. No one is defending Gingrich.

      2) You’re right. Divorce needs to be harder and there need to be penalties for adultery, which I believe there are some already.

      2a) I hope you’re right, but am afraid not…

      • Paul

        DOMA and gay marriage are largely one and the same at the federal level.

        The few states left that have adultery laws almost always refuse to prosecute. That’s why it becomes national news when there is a prosecution in one (AZ just put someone in jail after a husband filed charges). Oh, and no-fault divorces need to go the way of the dodo as well. Those have done more damage to the state of the American family than 3% of the population having the right to marry EVER will. And re: a federal amendment to allow gay marriage, I AM right. The closest we could possibly ever see in our lifetimes MIGHT be the recognition of marriages performed in other states throughout the country.

  • T.J.

    Is the church prepared to have a murderer named Saul become the Apostle Paul? Forgiveness and repentance are central to the Christian faith. Gingrich has acknowledged his failings, said he has asked for forgiveness, and we must take him at his word. King David committed adultery and murdered a man. We all consider him a good king. Andrew Jackson married a married woman. Alexander Hamilton had an affair. We should hardly be shocked by powerful people’s sin.

    America is now a post-Christan nation. Without political coalitions our views would never win an election. The religious right has allied itself with big business, fiscal conservatives, and right leaning libertarians. Without such action we cannot have influence in Washington. Al Mohler could never win an election. . . not even for dog catcher.

    Coalitions are a messy business. We are trying to elect a president, not a pastor. While political leaders do have spiritual influence, our minority status forces us into coalitions. The religious right has made great progress in our nation. The abortion issue is moving our direction. State marriage amendments have passed in a majority of states. . . everywhere it has been placed on the ballot. Prison reform and longer sentences have lowered crime. The supreme court now has four solid conservatives. One more conservative justice and Roe vs. Wade is reversed. As anyone can see, we have made great progress in the political realm by working with Republicans.

    Newt has his demons and is not a perfect man. That said, he is the only candidate who can motivate the base of the Republican Party. Winning elections boils down to voter turnout. Romney cannot motivate his own mother. Santorum is better than NyQuil. Paul is a nut and would let Iran have nuclear weapons. Newt, as imperfect as he is, is our best choice for beating Obama.

    • Paul

      Newt’s your best choice for beating Obama if and only if a race depends solely upon the base. But the base of each party is only 30% of the electorate, tops. It’s the other 40-45% of swing voters. It’s that 40-45% that will have you wishing that y’all had voted for Huntsman when you had the chance, come November 7th.

    • Christiane

      Newt will not defeat Obama.
      I think you know that.

      ‘best chance’ is about all anyone can say, honestly . . . but here’s the thing:
      the Republican Party did not field its best people . . . the ones who could have beat Obama


    • Joshua

      There are perfectly good reasons to doubt someone when they talk about forgiveness and repentance, especially if they don’t bear fruit of the spirit. Let’s not be naive – Gingrich is running for political office. He’s not the apostle Paul. If he repented and converted to Catholicism, and then became a missionary, then we would be having a different discussion. Doubting a politician’s authenticity shows discernment, not lack of belief in true forgiveness and repentance. The fact of the matter is, Gingrich directly stands to benefit by garnering votes from a voting base that is predominantly Christian.

      Nevertheless, Denny’s point still stands. Even if he’s telling the truth, it doesn’t change the fact that he has zero credibility to speak on issues like the sanctity of marriage. That’s just reality, and we need to face it. If we nominate Gingrich, we as Christians will have zero room to talk about things like the importance of family or the sanctity of marriage. The only response we’ll get is, “Well, you obviously don’t believe in it enough to let that affect who you vote into public office.”

    • Joshua

      And Ron Paul isn’t a nut for his positions on foreign policy. North Korea has a nuclear weapons program. They’re not trying to build a nuclear weapons program- they already have one. Why hasn’t anything been said about them? They’re just as Crazy as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This just goes to show the inconsistency with which people approach foreign policy.

      At least Ron Paul has shown consistency in his ideals. That’s more than can be said about almost every other candidate, especially Gingrich and Romney.

  • Stephanie

    Andrew, there IS another viable option! Ron Paul, who is a believer, has a consistent pro-life voting record. AND he has always been married to same woman. He is the ONLY candidate who has a consistent voting record that isn’t tainted by special interest groups. Gingrich is a joke, & Romney was just pro-choice a few short years ago. The ONLY real option is Ron Paul.

    • Joshua

      Stephanie, I whole-heartedly agree with you.

      Unfortunately, despite receiving consistent support (especially from members of the Armed Forces, interestingly), he just doesn’t have enough support. Apparently, even though he is one of the only authentic conservative running (actually believes in small government and laissez faire economics), and even though he’s remarkably consistent in doing the things he says and practicing what he preaches – Conservatives just don’t like his views on foreign policy.

  • Stephanie

    Ron Paul isn’t perfect, but he truly seems to be our best option.

    The most ironic thing about Gingirch is that he led the charge against Clinton.

  • Kelly

    Interesting….Romney is a menber of a cult (sorry…I am calling it like it is) that believes that God was once a man, and that WE can become Gods someday, and that the 10 lost tribes moved to North America, and that a new and “complete” gospel was given to their founder, and that Jesus and Satan are spiritual brothers….shall I go on? And, THAT group of facts…the idea we can become Gods, and the staggering blasphemy that God was once a man like us, abotu the faith of Romney says this loud and clear to the world.

    1) The backbone of the Christian Right, is broken, if they honestly will rally to someone who believes such things…even if that person is a personable and nice man (which by all account Romney is. Most Mormons I know ARE nice and personable)
    2) That those oppose him, forgiven or not, must have so much baggage as to be UNELECTABLE in the general election, where unlike conservative women in SC who vote in primaries, will not be so forgiving, in order for Romney to even look like the better of the two choices
    3) That victory in this election means so much to the Christian Right that almost ANY flaw will be overlooked.

    As per Paul and Santorum, at this point, Paul admits he is just in to change the platform…but a vote for him would be a principaled vote for some people, and Santorum is just shy of delusional at this point. Like or not, its a two man race for the Republican nomination, and the two men in the running are a Mormon, and thus freaks out a lot of people and most liberals, and…Newt.
    In short, the two men who could and will wake up the democratic base.

    I did not see this coming. I ain’t unhappy about it, but, I did not see it coming.

    • Joshua

      Kelly, don’t take this as a personal attack, but I have a slight criticism of your comment.

      All Christians believe that God became a man. Not in the way that Mormons do, but still.

      “The word became flesh.”

      That’s the only thing I disagreed with, though. Again, not a personal attack. (It’s so hard to communicate tone when writing on a blog!)

    • Joshua

      And I didn’t see it coming, either. I have supported Ron Paul for a while now, but as you said, it’s on principle. I know that he won’t win, but I’m going to stick to my convictions.

      I just don’t get how this could happen, and I’m frankly not happy about it.

  • Andrew Lindsey

    Ron Paul’s voting record is not as consistent as the above commenter would have us believe.

    Paul voted NO on a law that would make it a crime to harm a fetus during another crime, he voted NO on a law restricting interstate transport of minors to get an abortion, and he voted NO on the related issue of banning human cloning.

    In short, if there is a situation in which Ron Paul must make a decision between limiting the powers of federal government or making sure that pre-born lives are protected, it seems certain that he will choose limiting the powers of federal government every time.

    • Paul

      I can’t believe you’re making me defend Ron Paul: Rep. Paul understands that there is a difference between being an ideologue and being a representative who takes an oath to upholding the constitution as best as they see fit. I may not agree with his view of upholding the constitution, but there’s no denying his consistency in that regard.

      Being that Rep. Paul takes the idea of strict constitutionalist to its natural extreme, his votes fall right in line with that. You can’t claim to be an originalist only when it suits you. I believe that the constitution is a living document, meant to be viewed through a current lens. Sometimes, that’ll work in my favor. Other times, it won’t.

    • Joshua

      Trying to paint a picture of Ron Paul as inconsistent is a losing battle in my opinion. Overwhelmingly, compared to other candidates, he has stuck to his convictions, and has demonstrated to the public that he does not let special interest groups determine his views. In a presidential candidate, that is commendable.

      I wonder why abortion has become the end-all, be-all in determining someone’s character or conservative credentials. The fact is, apart from some exceptions (exceptions that, by-the-by, other candidates make as well, Ron Paul is against abortion and is pro-life. Let’s not overlook the fact this this is man who has delivered upwards of 4,000 babies – that’s as pro-life as pro-life gets.

  • Andrew Lindsey

    “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Haven’t you read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry— how he entered the house of God, and they ate the sacred bread, which is not lawful for him or for those with him to eat, but only for the priests?'” (Matt 12:3-4 HCSB)

    Keeping to the letter of the law is not always commendable. Previous to the Civil War, a “strict constitutionalist” would have been bound to treat slaves as 3/5 persons, which provided the legal basis for denying their rights to life and liberty. And now the right to life for the unborn is being denied: they are being treated as less than fully human. Any law that would help reverse this situation is a just law. The federal government should protect the lives of all persons within this nation.

    • Paul

      I didn’t say Ron Paul was commendable. I said that he was the logical endpoint for strict constitutionalists. As a US Representative, your first and foremost holy document is the US constitution, not The Bible. When people get that confused, that’s when they get into trouble (see Rick “I was the most corrupt Senator in the Senate two years in a row” Santorum for proof). Man really cannot serve two gods, and politicians, especially at the national level, have their own gods to deal with. Hoping that they’re really after God’s own heart is hoping in vain. This is why I just vote for the folks that I think will do the best job of governing. Not the guy who will try to legislate morality. Not the guy that will try to kill every brown person with access to oil. Just the guy that will make sure that the FAA has enough money to hire sober air traffic controllers and maybe do something about our absolutely backwards health care system.

  • Joshua

    Dr. Burk, in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t often agree with your perspectives, but on this issue, I find myself eating my words.

    “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.”

    Bingo. This critique gets to the heart of the issue.

    I’m not sure it is a criticism that will have very much sway, however. Over the last week, I’ve seen numerous people post pledges to vote for anyone except Obama. I think this sentiment is reflective of the fact that many Americans are allowing their judgment to be overwhelmed by their dislike of Obama.

    As unpopular as this next comment may make me on this blog, I must say, I do think Ron Paul is a legitimate alternative, even though I don’t think he stands a chance. Despite consistent support, he just doesn’t have enough of it. He has an overwhelmingly consistent track record, is an Evangelical, faithfully married to the same women (I think for over 50 years now, but I’m not sure), and is pro-life. Though, this should be said – he probably will not interfere with any gay marriage bills (and I agree with his reasoning).

    All that’s to say, I agree with your assessment that character does matter, even though I don’t agree most of your conclusions (I think homosexuality is a sin, but I don’t think it is beneficial to stand opposed to the LGBTQ community on the point of gay marriage.

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