Leap of faith: the spiritual journey of Newt Gingrich

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.

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42 responses to “Leap of faith: the spiritual journey of Newt Gingrich”

  1. Any time I see a politician highlighted on this blog, I always get uncomfortable, because it’s pretty predictable how the posts will go. There tends to be a lot of anger and conflict as people try to reconcile, or not, their political and religious views.

    I’m not comfortable with politicians who try to wear their religion on their sleeve. Rather, their faith should be obvious from the way they live their lives and conduct their political campaigns. I don’t want anyone to vote for Mr. Gingrich because he’s Catholic, or not vote for him because he’s Catholic. I don’t want to be used in that fashion.

    The is one thing I would like to see in this case. Mr. Gingrich admittedly had many moral lapses before faith came to play such a prominent role in his life. This is wonderful and exemplary, because redemption and forgiveness are beautiful things. However, having walked in the darkness and come to realize the beauty of the light, I’d like to see him now turn to others with kindness, compassion, and generosity…not judging people, just as he hopes not to be judged, but rather reaching out to all with a desire to create a world of light, a world of peace and justice. I’m not sure in the current world of ugly politics, this is possible, but I’d love to see him try. If it’s just business as usual, than I question what value his conversion has had, at least in his public and political lives.

  2. It’s rather convenient now that he’s running for president. I certainly hope he’s “come to Jesus” as they say, but that’s between him and God. What’s a voter supposed to do at this point, throw out forty years of marital infidelity and home wrecking?

  3. Deacon Mike

    I’m glad you’ve joined the blog commentators here! Your first two paragraphs nailed it for me. Thanks!!

    Slightly different twist: some how, somewhere, I read a news commentary that said that the only Republican Presidential candidate that the Obama campaign team genuinely fears is Jon Huntsman. That struck me as fascinating; considering that Huntsman is so far down in the polls. He is also a Mormon but the wider political environment does not seem to care about that affiliation in his case — in contrast to Mitt Romney. Maybe there is a “survival of the fittest” mentality here. Have to wait and see.

  4. I’m worried Newt is taking us all for a ride. I’ve found past conduct is generally (though not 100%) a good indicator of future behavior. He doesn’t seem to have changed very much — takes breaks from the campaign to plug his and his wife’s books, and seems to not be very compassionate.

    I’m with Manny on this one.

  5. Didn’t he also sit and visit with Jesus at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception while waiting for his mistress before he divorced his second wife to marry the current one. I was once tempted to ask him to leave while ushering there but Jesus was scorned for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. He said they needed his help more than others. Perhaps it’s a good thing Newt goes to the Basilica but given his record I would think it better to leave him to God’s mercies and otherwise leave him alone.

  6. What about his latest “blunder” when he said conception begins at implantation? Is he choosing to ignore Catholic teaching that life begins at conception or was he absent from class when this was discussed? I’m troubled by his comment.

  7. I think the question for a voter should not be whether someone is orthodox in every detail of how he expresses his beliefs, but what he is likely to do in office. During the primaries, the voters of each party get to balance policy against electability — sometimes the one who is best on the issues may be unlikely to win, so you go with someone who’s okay and looks like a winner.

    I’d been favoring Romney as the most likely winner with mostly acceptable positions. But when Gingrich had the courage to stand up for a sane immigration policy, my respect for him skyrocketed. Rick Santorum was my favorite on the issues before that, but it didn’t matter, because he can’t win. Now Gingrich is my favorite on the issues. I hope he can win. I’ll be watching the polls between now and the Massachusetts primaries.

  8. Mary M:
    I wonder if Gingrich went through the entire process of RCIA, including classes. (I would love to have been part of the team that presented those classes.)

    He was received into the Catholic Church by now Cardinal Wuerl and has produced with his wife, Callista, a documentary on Pope John Paul II. So, I would not be surprised if Newt thinks that he has the Catholic vote in his pocket, despite his comment implying that life begins at implantation.

    Thanks, Greg, for the update and link:
    “Meantime, in other Newt News, he has revised his controversial remarks about when life begins.”

    I’ve been waiting for four days to hear how he would maneuver himself out of his answer about when life begins, which he gave in the ABC interview with Jake Tapper last week.

  9. HMS,

    Perhaps it will put this blunder in perspective when we note that Mary M. wrote the ridiculous phrase that “conception begins at implantation,” which does not represent what Gingrich said. The issue was embryonic stem cell research, which he opposes; and he misspoke, under the leading questions of the interviewer

    But the real question is what difference does it make? How would this affect anything Newt Gingrich would do in the real world as President? Where will we get another candidate capable of winning the election whose actions as President would be better than Gingrich’s?

    He’s not running for Pope. IMO, for anybody who is truly pro-life to oppose Newt Gingrich for this mistake would be the height of stupidity.

  10. naturegesetz:
    I am able to cut Mary M. some slack, because I am pretty sure that she meant to write “life begins at implantation.”

    For the record, here is what Newt Gingrich said, when he was asked the question, “When do you think human life begins?”

    “I think that if you take a position when a woman has (a?) fertilized egg and that’s been successfully implanted that now you’re dealing with life… .”

  11. Frankly Newt is a clown. There is dysfunction everywhere he goes. It was his own Republican fellow House members that threw Newt out of the Speakership. Everyone talks about all the ideas he comes up with. Well, he comes up with a heck of a lot of preposterous ideas too. He is incapable of holding anything back. He has to show how smart he is by spitting out every whimsical idea that passes his frontal lobes. And by doing so he undermines his own people. I’ve said that even Mickey Mouse can beat Obama right now. It looks like the Republicans are going to nominate Mickey Mouse.

  12. Well, since he has said in many other forums that life begins at conception well before that interview, I would believe that this one interview was a slip on the word. However, you have to remember that should he win the nomination, he will go up against Obama who supports abortion at every stage, including allowing the baby who survived the abortion murder attempt to be allowed to lay there and die. Obama supports mass murder of babies and Newt is getting hammered for one misquote on if a baby is alive at conception or implantation. Seems desperate was to attack Newt. Newt every year had over 90% pro life record for decade and Obama has zero as most pro abortion president ever. If one cares about life, one cannot vote for Obama. In the next four years the president most likely will appoint judges to solidfy abortion for generation or to begin to wind down federally approved abortion over state laws.

    For all those screaming on other post about welcoming folks into the Catholic Church, there is zero tolerance for many who were screaming for mercy and love and forgiveness. I said we should love them, but that they should not expect the Church to change the rules which I would also hold for Newt. It appears from everything I have found that he came into the Catholic Church and has accepted the need for annulment and has received it so the issue of his two other marriages if that is true are no longer an issue for Catholics if one accepts Church teaching. He is solid on Pro life and often speaks of his belief in the Eucharist. Where is the love and forgiveness some here cried for now as they bash Newt bringing up his past and judging him based on those sins?

    How about looking at him on those issues before us and his views on them? Pro Life, solid. Smaller government, solid. More efficient medicare and medicaid with much of it returned to the states rather than top down control by the central government, solid. Some compassion everyone has been calling for to illegal immigrants that have lived here for a long time shows some compassion while saying we need to look at protecting the border…seems like solid Catholic position and one which he has taken some heat over.

    So why not Newt again…

  13. You are spot on naturgesetz. That was when he closed the deal at least for now with me. I think what he said made sense and was a more solid middle way on immigration. I note that Obama position seems to be open borders and suing any state that was trying to protect itself from bankruptcy. They have set a new all time low for enforcing the laws in numbers they have caught and deported. It will only get worse if he is re elected.

  14. Pagansister, when was the last Republican you voted for? Just curious. I would trust Newt any day before I would trust Obama on anything.

    Newt’s faith is simply part of his life journey. He has always been inquisitive about everything and anything. Anyone who has followed Newt at all can see this and in fact some bash him for this curiosity and not staying on message. It would seem to run for office in this country, you have to pick 3-4 things and no matter what anyone asks, answer with one of those things and never depart the carefully planned message. Newt is a danger that some fear because he is not constrained to staying on this election method of keeping the voters lined up. He is also one who shares details on many issues while some simply talk about change and leave it open to what that means to the dismay of many. Newt has an obvious love of this country and knows its history and founding principles very well and supports them. Obama it seems very obvious does not have that same love for this country. Newt wants everyone to have a better life, Obama wants to put us into catagories and determine who will win and lose.

  15. Manny, of those who revolted against Newt, which ones do you think are doing a better job today of representing conservative values in current leadership. Do you believe that John Boehner is a better leader than Newt? Remember, that when Newt got involved in the house, it had been under permanent control of the Democrats for 4 decades. He lead the revolution that changed that and along the way made some enemies who were comfortable as the minority and not rocking the boat. Anyone who comes into any organization that entrenched for that long and changes leadership in a very few years is doing many things very well.

    Dynamic leaders have ideas and some are good and some are bad. Good leaders also recognize when something is a bad idea and make a change admiting it was a stupid mistake. Newt did the ad with Pelosi on global warming. Newt believed that we should be serious about finding out about this issue and not just brush it off while at the same time don’t do anything stupid like the democrats cap and trade solution. I would agree that anything that could impact the entire planet deserves to have an honest evaluation. He says doing the ad was a mistake because of how it was used. We now have a president who seems to have zero ideas and when he does something like ObamaCare, refuses to admit it has become a major job killer and that it will cost billions more than projected.

    We are in a real mess in this country. Please, lets elect someone that thinks and comes up with ideas but is also willing to say they were a mistake and make changes. We do not need a status quo like Romney or an empty suit socialist like Obama, but someone with fresh ideas and the courage to take them out to the people and sell them on what needs to be done. There are no easy solutions folks and there will be pain. If we keep kicking the can down the road, the solutions become even harder. I can’t believe we are attacking someone for having too many ideas. The President does not get easy problems, but those that are hard and in many cases seem to be without solutions. We have been laying stagnant for a number of years on some very important issues and we need new blood, new ideas, new thoughts.

  16. Absolutely John Boehner is a better leader than Newt. Newt is a crank. He throws out ideas with no plan of action. He is completely undisciplined. He has no management skills whatsoever. If Newt won the primary, Obama gets a second term because the middle of America will not vote for him. Electing Newt in the primary is to bring a soap opera to the general election. His personal life will be the talk.

  17. There is a good chance that Newt will get the nomination. Really is down between Newt and Romney. The question is if Newt or Romney can defeat Obama and if elected which can do a better job as president. For my self I rather have Newt than Obama, but I will vote for the Republican nominee whomever gets elected. I can not in good conscience vote for the Democrats. I guess am a single issue voter, except that the single issues get piling up: Abortion, Stem Cell, Contraception, Tax Spending, Euthanasia, Death Panels, Education Indoctrination in public schools, Big Government, and many more issues. And of course either Democrats or Republicans will have to face a bankrupt country with no money for federal services or military defense if the deficit crisis is not solved.

  18. I am in the anti-Newt camp in all this; I think he is basically unstable as a politician, though he is smart; and I am not much influenced in his favor by the fact that he’s Catholic (though it is interesting). One thing I am curious about, though, is his multiple marriages etc (not that much discussed) and exactly why they were annulled. They are mostly his business. But as a Catholic I realize I don’t know myself exactly when a marriage contracted in good faith etc. (everyone understands what they are doing, has sufficient maturity etc) is invalid or annullable. What exactly is the dividing line between sacramental and nonsacramental marriage and is every nonsacramental marriage invalid? (And can you just get ‘married’ left and right as often as you want so long as it is nonsacramental, but then if it is sacramental and breaks down you are stuck for life?) )

  19. Bill McGeveran —

    The question about why Newt’s first two marriages were annulled is not just “mostly” his (and his wives’) business. It is their business, period. IOW it’s none of your or my business. Also, it has nothing to do with whether he is a good candidate for president. The questions we need to think about are, “What can we expect him to do if he becomes President? Is that better or worse than those he’s running against? And, for the primary, how electable is he?”

    The general question you ask about annullability of marriages would take a book to answer, but one thing is that if one of the parties didn’t understand the nature of marriage as indissoluble, then the commitment was defective. Our society teaches us that “if it doesn’t work out,” or if “I don’t love you anymore,” then divorce is the right thing to do. People may have heard the words of scripture, but most Protestants, of all stripes, felt that divorce was no problem. (Evangelicals are coming to realize that it’s unscriptural, but that seems to be a fairly recent development.) So Newt probably went into both marriages with the idea that he would have grown up with: we hope it lasts, but divorce is always an option. Eminently annullable, I think.

  20. I don’t think Newt was in the Catholic Church in his first two marriages. Those marriages were probably not Catholic and therefore are not an impediment to his third Catholic marriage. If he got a civil divorce from his prior marriages then there would be no impediment to a “first” Catholic marriage.

  21. I didn’t ask or pray for anything. He asked me who the better leader is. We might have issues with Boehner, but Newt was a horrendous leader. Throwing out ideas without a plan, being petty, and undermining your own side is absolutely horrible leadership. As far as i can tell newt has a radio talk show host persona in a politician’s body. If he got elected it’s good bye House and Senate.

  22. naturgesetz:
    I’m going to call you on this:
    You wrote:
    “The question about why Newt’s first two marriages were annulled is not just “mostly” his (and his wives’) business. It is their business, period. IOW it’s none of your or my business.
    Then, you wrote:
    “So Newt probably went into both marriages with the idea that he would have grown up with: we hope it lasts, but divorce is always an option. Eminently annullable, I think.”

  23. Rudy:

    wrong answer.

    If John Doe and Jane Smith are both baptized Lutherans (or any baptized Christian) and they get married in a Lutheran (or other religious) ceremony, their marriage ceremony is considered just as valid and licit and sacramental as if they were both Roman Catholics getting married in a Roman Catholic ceremony. THUS, if our Lutheran friends above — John and Jane — divorced, and either of them wanted to get married to a Roman Catholic in a Roman Catholic setting, their LUTHERAN marriage would have to be the subject of a CATHOLIC tribunal adjudication and be properly annulled.

    NOW, if either of the couple were NOT baptized — in any Christian denomination — OR if they were not married in a religious ceremony in any denomination — then your insight would be true.

  24. You sorta got me, HMS. Note, however, that I’m not saying that my hypothesis is the actual ground in either case. I still say we aren’t entitled to know the actual ground, just that it’s not difficult to see that there could have been good grounds.

  25. So, based on what Deacon Norb says (thanks, Deacon), I guess the church is saying (1) that only Christian religious marriages are valid. Or maybe (2) that while marriages that are not Christian religious ones may be valid, they are not sacramental and therefore are dissoluble….I can see the logic of it in either case, but it still seems odd that one can so easily escape the consequences if and only if a marriage is not a Christian religious one…. The nature of the commitment seems like a separate matter; it seems like a non-religious, non-Christian marriage could still be fully committed.

  26. Now another twist.

    James Brown — a baptized Roman Catholic — can marry Jane White — a baptized Lutheran (or baptized in any other Christian denomination) in the non-Catholic parish-church of the bride/bride’s-family and witnessed by her pastor PROVIDING that James seeks and obtains his own Bishop’s approval FIRST.

    If James did not seek such permission in advance, that marriage — whether the bride is baptized or not — can be annulled using a simple Catholic tribunal process called “Defect of Form.” I have heard of cases where this type of church annulment can be processed in a matter of hours — providing all the paperwork is ready in advance.

    IF James does want his Roman Catholic tradition to recognize his long-standing “Defect of Form” marriage ceremony and to grant it sacramental status, he has two options: (1) actually go through a Roman Catholic ceremony to vaildate his already existing marriage (sometimes called a “renewal of vows” — thus avoiding a lot of ugly talk); or (2) he can file for a “SANATION” where the marriage tribunal does a review of his case and recommend to the bishop to determine that a sacramental status “existed at the roots.” In this second case, no formal “renewal of vows” is required.

  27. To answer you question, Mark, I vote for the person, not a party. I’m an Independent, as I refuse to give my loyalty to a party. The last election (state) I did vote for a Republican.

  28. It’s very LONG time until November 2012 and the Presidential election. Lots can happen. Leads in the Republican hopefuls will change back and forth before the party votes. Newt and friends have a long way to go—

  29. Of course the Mark Shea’s of the world help put Obama in the White House. We have a two party system and those who throw their vote away because they do not have the perfect Catholic candidate are defacto supporting Obama. It is as simple as that. He supports Ron Paul and says he will not support either Obama or the pro life republican if he does not get Ron Paul which is not going to happen. Not sure we want a president who thinks it was the US fault for 9/11 attack or that we can have an isolationist foreign policy in today’s world.

    And once again, for all those who posted on the welcoming post on the Catholic Church, this rant from Mark does not show mercy, forgiveness, or even give Newt the honest acceptance of his conversion to the Catholic Church. It is far worse than any rant I have seen on this or any other Catholic site. He says that Newt’s daughters story on what happened was a lie and as far as I know has no proof of that at all. Remember, the leftist attackers had the story she was near death and that also proved to be untrue. And never fear, Mark and his waterboarding is tortue crusade will only allow those who are in full agreement with him on every aspect of that issue.

  30. Which presidential candidate did you support from the Republican Party as an “independent?” In the last presidential primary, I voted for a democrat since the republican deal was decided before it arrived in my state. I voted for Hilary because I did not think McCain was going to win and she was far safer for this country than Obama. We could not invent a worse president than Obama and if elected again, he will be free of any restraint in his destroy america and kill babies policies. If he gets in, we can only be saved if we have both houses in republican hands to limit his damage potential.

  31. Manny, what are the ideas that so concerned you while he was the leader in the house? I hear some throw these things out, but would love to see a list? What on the contract for America was a bad idea? Everything on the list that brought about a Republican takeover of the house was brought up for vote under Newt. Some got stalled in the Senate. all passed the House under Newt leadership. Newt tried to get Clinton to cut the spending and Clinton with the support of the MSM won on the shutdown of government (during which Clinton was dabbling with Lewinsky while sending our troops to attack a milk factory). He did force Clinton to abandon his move for HilaryCare and forced Clinto to accept welfare reform for the first change since 1965 in that area. Clinton balanced the federal budget because of the Republican takeover under Newt control of the house. One might argue the impeachment, but after it was established that the president lied under oath, the house was forced to take action and the house voted to impeach so it was not only Newt there. Please give some facts on his leadership. After hearing these cries from those who love to demonize Newt, I went back and looked at the year by year accomplishments while he was speaker and could not find the issues folks are screaming about.

    How about some fact folks…

  32. Great post on reality Rudy…I will never vote for a Democrat as long as they are the party of death. Someone here said I was fixated on numbers with the abortion issue and it was not about numbers. I think it was Kenneth on another post. It is always about numbers. If Hitler had killed 10 Jews during the war, we would not call it a holocaust. Every time the death camps come up you hear 6 million number and when a Anglican suggested the number might have been inflated, he was chastised. When the Democrats want to pass obamacare, they used the numbers without insurance. When 4000 babies are being slaughtered in the womb, it is about numbers and when you have 54 million dead innnocent babies it is a holocaust that makes the 6 million death camp murders seem pale in comparison.

    If Catholic care about the deaths, they can end it by sending emails to the Democratic Party that they will not be supported as long as they support abortion in any way. If they are faced with losing about 50% of the Catholic vote in this country, they will change or be eliminated from existence. Then maybe a new party can emerge with other Catholic values that would be attractive to a large majority of Catholics. As long as we support abortion party of death, they will continue to kill and those who support them will have to invent new reasons as all of us do when we know we are sinning against God.

  33. It is my understanding that Newt’s first marriage was annuled when he came into the Church. Because the second marriage happened while he was still considered married by the Church, it was annuled at the same time as part of the first annulment. He was then married in the Catholic Church.

    Not voting for Newt as a marriage counselor. One of the greatest presidents of all time was Reagan and he was divorced and did not have the greatest of family situations. Ike was rumored to have a war romance. JFK had so many women and had the Secret Service involved in the covering up of the mess that it created some concern over security issues especially after the JFK sponsered attempt to have the mob kill Castro. Clinton was at a minimum a sexual harrassment poster boy and at worse was accused of rape. Bush I and II seemed to have stable marriage relationships.

  34. “Mark”:

    This is a good overview of the Gingrich divorce-in-the-hospital story right here.

    There appear to be at least three versions of the divorce story, and some inconsistencies among them.

    Dcn. G.

  35. Which presidential candidate did I support in the Republican party last time around? Certainly wasn’t McCain. Had Hillary been the candidate for President, I would have voted for her. I voted for President Obama, and will do so again. IF Newt actually gets to be the Republican candidate (LONG way to go, and front runners will come and go) I couldn’t vote for him any more than I could have voted for McCain. No one in the current Repubican line up does it for me. I’m not displeased with President Obama. He most certainly isn’t perfect, and I don’t always agree with him—but the possible candidates for the next election—scary.

  36. Good point about how long we have until the Nov 2012 election. There is, after all, still time for Newt to realign his budgeting priorities with the social justice teachings of the church.* We can hope and pray that Newt takes this part of church teaching to heart. (Several popes in a row have written at some length about this. Come to think of it: Jesus talked a good deal about what we owe the poor…)

    * I’m referring here to his approach to the national budget — tax breaks for the wealthiest, even at the expense of human service and health care cuts to the poor — rather than than to Newt & Calista’s personal budget issues (such as having a revolving account at Tiffany’s for $500,000, despite the fact that they live a “thrifty” lifestyle, as Newt told Bob Schieffer last spring). [Sorry — couldn’t resist! When you have that sort of account for jewelry and you call yourself thrifty …hey, folks are going to remember that one!]

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