His faith has played a prominent role in his candidacy — and could be part of his growing appeal among religious conservatives. Huffington Post takes a closer look:
As former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s starcontinues to rise ahead of GOP Republican primaries, he has had less time for what in recent years has become a calming, soothing Sunday tradition: sitting in the pews at the cavernous National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, praying to Jesus and the Virgin Mary during noon Mass while listening to his wife sing in the choir.
The ritual, he has said in interviews, makes “the week go better.” His faith and connection to God has made him “the most relaxed” that he’s ever been. And through the church, he says, he has come to realize that “you cannot explain this country if you erase God from the picture.”
Over the three-decade span of his career, Gingrich has played a host of roles: shrewd slayer of Democrats, welfare reformer, compassionate conservative and ethically tarnished Republican leader who resigned from Congress. But Gingrich, who faces his first big test next month as the prospective front-runner at the Iowa caucuses, has in recent years carefully carved another role for himself: a religious conservative in fear of an increasingly secular America.
During Gingrich’s years as House Speaker in the mid-1990s, pundits typically characterized his relationship to religion as a mere flirtation that other politicians also engaged in at their convenience. But today, Gingrinch runs a campaign in which faith plays a central role, and few doubt that his commitment is authentic.
That commitment includes speaking candidly about his own spiritual transformation from Southern Baptist to Catholic two years ago — and Gingrich’s religious gravitas could be a boon to his campaign in Iowa, where 40 percent of caucus-goers were evangelicals during the last presidential election. Rick Perry is already running ads in the state in which he proudly declares his own religious commitment.
Since announcing his candidacy, Gingrich has stumped at prominent churches, given speeches to conservative evangelical and Catholic groups, and made promoting the notion of the United States as a nation founded upon Christian values a hallmark of his campaign.
At a November forum hosted by the The Family Leader, an influential Iowa religious right organization, Gingrich broadly endorsed religion as the solution to the nation’s ills. “A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have,” he said, referring to a Supreme Court decision that struck down school prayer.
While religion has long played a role in presidential elections, it has reared its head in this contest in a way it rarely has before. “I think there’s now an evangelical tri-lemma,” Texas pastor the Rev. Robert Jeffress, who has made headlines for calling Mitt Romney’s religion a cult, said in an interview to Slate before Herman Cain suspended his campaign. “Do you vote for a Mormon who’s had one wife, a Catholic who’s had three wives, or an Evangelical [Cain] who may have had an entire harem?”
A Gingrich spokesman did not reply to a request for comment for this article, but Gingrich has spoken out in various venues about his faith. “People ask me when I decided to become Catholic,” he said in the spring at a breakfast gathering of prominent conservative Catholics in the capital. “It would be more accurate to say that I gradually became Catholic and then realized that I should accept the faith that surrounded me.”
Meantime, in other Newt News, he has revised his controversial remarks about when life begins.