The ex-Lutheran Republican primary

Newt Gingrich grew up Lutheran!  So did Ron Paul.  So did Michele Bachmann.  And Jon Huntsman, though a Mormon, went to a Lutheran school in Los Angeles.

That Paul and Bachmann used to be Lutherans is common knowledge, but I did not know about Gingrich.  (The article, below, says that he grew up in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, which has three ELCA congregations, not that that body existed back then.  Paul also was raised in a non-LCMS congregation, as I recall, but perhaps someone else knows the details.  Bachmann was a lifelong member of the Wisconsin Synod until very recently, when she left that church body because her opponents were making much of its teaching that the pope is the antichrist.  Paul is now a Baptist.  Gingrich left Lutheranism in college to become a Baptist and recently converted to Roman Catholicism.  Huntsman, of course, was never a Lutheran, but in any Lutheran elementary school he would have studied the Small Catechism.)

I thank my friend Aaron Lewis for alerting me to these facts and for going to the trouble to find sources for the information (below).

So what are we to make of the fact that four of the seven Republican candidates for the presidential nomination have some sort of Lutheran backgrounds?

Aaron finds a common theme:  “It could be that their proclivity for constitutionalism could go back to the ad fontes mood of the Small Catechism.”

Maybe.  On the other hand, I’m dismayed at the prospect of voting for anyone who can not be trusted to keep his or her confirmation vows!  (“Do you as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”  That confession, by the way, is earlier defined in the rite as holding to the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God and as agreeing with the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as taught in the Small Catechism as being drawn from those Scriptures.)

Probably the ELCA doesn’t use that kind of vow anymore.  I don’t know what the different churches that merged to form that body in 1988 did in the old days.  Does WELS have that confirmation promise?  We Missouri Synod Lutherans do, as does the ELS.  We don’t need to discuss again whether requiring such a life-long promise is a good practice.  But surely if someone makes that commitment, it is a commitment!  To say it is “just a ritual” or “just something we make kids do” is to beg the question:  A promise is a promise, and it is wrong to take it lightly.)

Anyway, what do you make of all of this Lutheran background of the candidates?  (To me, this is not Lutheran triumphalism but rather the opposite!)

Do you see any trace of a Lutheran influence  in any of the candidates?  Are they testimonies of the need for better catechesis than they perhaps received?  Or does this just show that Lutheranism more or less lets people have whatever politics they want?

Newt Gingrich – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

New Gingrich’s Faith Journey

Jon Huntsman–Wikipedia

It’s all true about Gingrich

Peggy Noonan has a good column about the promise and perils of Newt Gingrich:

I had a friend once who amused herself thinking up bumper stickers for states. The one she made up for California was brilliant. “California: It’s All True.” It is so vast and sprawling a place, so rich and various, that whatever you’ve heard about its wildness, weirdness and wonders, it’s true.

That’s the problem with Newt Gingrich: It’s all true. It’s part of the reason so many of those who know him are anxious about the thought of his becoming president. It’s also why people are looking at him, thinking about him, considering him as president.

Ethically dubious? True. Intelligent and accomplished? True. Has he known breathtaking success and contributed to real reforms in government? Yes. Presided over disasters? Absolutely. Can he lead? Yes. Is he erratic and unreliable as a leader? Yes. Egomaniacal? True. Original and focused, harebrained and impulsive—all true.

Do you want evidence he’s a Burkean conservative? Start with welfare reform in 1996. A sober, standard Republican? Go to the balanced budgets of the Clinton era. Is he a tea partier? Sure, he speaks the slashing lingo with relish. Is he moderate? Yes, that can be proved. Michele Bachmann this week called him a “frugal socialist,” and there’s plenty of evidence of that, too.

One way to view this is that he is so rich and varied as a character, as geniuses often are, that he contains worlds, multitudes. One senses that would be his way of looking at it. Another way to look at it: In a long career, one will shift views, adapt to circumstances, tack this way and that. Another way: He’s philosophically unanchored, an unstable element. There are too many storms within him, and he seeks out external storms in order to equalize his own atmosphere. He’s a trouble magnet, a starter of fights that need not be fought. He is the first modern potential president about whom there is too much information.

via Gingrich Is Inspiring—and Disturbing –

Noonan goes on to say that those who have worked with him in the past tend not to support him.  But that those who do are pointing out that he was the last one to actually reform the government.  Her whole essay is worth reading.

Where do you come down on Gingrich at this point?

Did Gingrich divorce his wife on her deathbed?

One of the most troublesome charges against Newt Gingrich is that he served the divorce papers to his first wife in her hospital room where she was dying of cancer.   The increased scrutiny due to his front-runner status in the Republican presidential  race has at least uncovered the evidence that the story is not true.  From the Washington Post:

Although the thrust of the story about his first divorce is not in dispute — Gingrich’s first wife, Jackie Battley, has said previously that the couple discussed their divorce while she was in the hospital in 1980 — other aspects of it appear to have been distorted through constant retelling.

Most significant, Battley wasn’t dying at the time of the hospital visit; she is alive today. Nor was the divorce discussion in the hospital “a surprise” to Battley, as many accounts have contended. Battley, not Gingrich, had requested a divorce months earlier, according to Jackie Gingrich Cushman, the couple’s second daughter.

Further, Gingrich did not serve his wife with divorce papers on the day of his visit (unlike a subpoena, divorce papers aren’t typically “served”). Gingrich’s marriage to Battley had been troubled for many years before it dissolved 31 years ago, both parties have said.

via Aspects of Gingrich divorce story distorted – The Washington Post.

Still, he has been married three times.  His second divorce came in 1999 and involved an extra-marital relationship with a congressional staffer who is now his third wife.

Do you think these transgressions should disqualify him from the presidency?

Newt as front-runner, so attacks begin

Newt Gingrich, according to some polls, has pulled ahead of Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.  So, following form, the news stories are digging up unfavorable material about him.

But there is a difference this time:  The stories are about how he has violated conservative orthodoxy:  His think tank to propose free market solutions to health care issues once suggested–or maybe even came up with the idea–of mandatory insurance coverage, a hallmark of Obamacare.  He once proposed a cap and trade policy to control pollution.  He believes or once believed in global warming.

But these attacks may have a different effect:  They may make him more electable.  They show him not to be the conservative attack dog that he has been stereotyped as being.  Rather, he comes across as a pragmatic problem solver who is not as ideological as people might fear.

The problem is that Republican primary voters are dominated by us conservative purists.  Whereas the voting public is scared to death of conservative purists.  So we have the dilemma of anyone the Republicans may be willing to nominate cannot win, and anyone who could win cannot get the Republican nomination.

The fact is, Newt Gingrich is an idea machine.  He just churns them out.  (Notice, for example, in the link below, his idea about how school janitors.)  And think tanks, which he has been running, are idea factories.  Not all of the ideas work or survive long after further reflection.  (Who knows if his janitor idea would work?)  But Newt is certainly a creative guy with a massive intellect.  And certainly our problems today call for those skill sets.

And though one might fault him for having once proposed ideas that conservatives now oppose, no one would surely classify Newt as a liberal or even a moderate.  If Newt and Mitt Romney both fall short of conservative purity, surely Newt would be more acceptable, wouldn’t he?

Then again, there is the character issue.  Newt has been married three times, has been unmasked as an adulterer, has a reputation for arrogance and for not being disciplined.  He has expressed remorse for his misdeeds and has recently converted to Catholicism.  Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a Mormon, and in accord with that non-Christian religion, he lives a very moral life.   His character, by all accounts, has been stellar, with a strong marriage and a strong family, and no external vices that anyone can see.  The man doesn’t even drink coffee.

What do you think?  Newt or Mitt?

Gingrich defends himself, says he can handle scrutiny – The Washington Post.

And now Newt’s turn

Here is the pattern:  A Republican presidential candidate rises to the top as the alternative to Mitt Romney.  Whereupon he or she gets knocked off the pedestal.  Now it is Newt Gingrich’s turn:

Two polls out Friday show former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s campaign gaining traction. And both polls show there’s plenty of room for the race to change dramatically: 17% of respondents are undecided.

Newt Gingrich talks to a breakfast crowd during a campaign stop at the Circle Restaurant , Friday, in Epson, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

A McClatchy-Marist poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents finds that Mitt Romney’s poll numbers remain steady – he generally garners the support of about a quarter of the Republican and Republican-leaning voters. That puts him in the lead, with Mr. Gingrich in second and former front-runner Herman Cain close behind.

By the numbers: Mr. Romney, 23%; Mr. Gingrich, 19%; Mr. Cain, 17%;Texas Rep. Ron Paul 10%; Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 8%, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, 5%. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum got 1% apiece.

“Romney is still where he’s been. It’s fair to say this is a battle for the anybody-but-Romney candidate,” said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College. “Gingrich has now begun his 15 days of fame. Whether he is able to maintain that, as others have fallen, is the question. He may be the only one standing when this is all said and done.”

via Polls: Gingrich Grows on GOP Voters – Washington Wire – WSJ.

Gingrich has his own womanizing baggage, but he doesn’t have brain freezes.  Would you consider him?

Notice that if you add up the percentages for all of the non-Romney candidates, the total comes to far more than Romney’s consistent 20-something percent.

OK, what about Newt?

The consensus of yesterday’s discussion here on the last Republican presidential debate is that Newt Gingrich had the best performance.  He is certainly conservative, experienced, creative in his problem solving, and very, very smart.  (It is said of him that the only preparation for a debate that he needs is a Diet Coke.)  So why not rally around him as the alternative to Romney?

Social conservatives and the Christian right turned against him because of his multiple marriages and his womanizing past.  But he is a recent convert to Catholicism.  He says his life is turned around.  Shouldn’t Christians accept that?  (Catholic question:  In Protestantism, a conversion to Christianity means that one’s previous sins are swept away.  In Catholicism, do his previous divorces and remarriages prevent him from receiving Holy Communion?)

The other thing against him is his reputation as an undisciplined campaigner, blowing through his fundraising and losing practically his whole campaign team.  He claims, though, that traditional campaigning like that is obsolete, that television and the internet–not kissing babies and pressing the flesh–are where elections will be won now.   Surely with the Republican party machinery behind him the practical aspects of campaigning could be taken care of.  He would surely acquit himself well in the debates with President Obama.

OK, I’m grasping at straws here.  But what would you think about Newt?