Newt has, we are told, won the South Carolina primary on the backs of evangelicals.  I’ve been an  occasional defender of the demographic against its many critics, but this is all a bit much to take.

The surprise for everyone in this is how the rank hostility toward the “liberal media” has played into Newt’s rise.  The key moment, of course, is the absurd moment when Gingrich lectured John King for raising the minor matter of the accusation that he once asked for an open marriage.  If there was a moment when I have been more disappointed by Republicans, I cannot remember it.  Forget the accuracy of the story for a moment–these were, as has been pointed out once or twice, formerly legitimate inquiries to be made of public officials, as Gingrich knows better than most.

The critiques of all this from Douthat and Doug Wilson are worth reading in full, and my own position is generally of a piece with their respective readings.  Different lines of attack, but both score points.

Despite Newt providing us all with the occasion for the best satire of the political season so far (with gratitude to Ben Domenech), I can see exactly zero upside for evangelicals to support his candidacy.

Two friends emailed me not long after the South Carolina primary saying that they wouldn’t vote for the fellow.  Both under the age of thirty, both done with the charade.

In short, Newt’s serial monogamy and the possibility of the open marriage accusation undermines his legitimacy as a viable leader of those who claim to care about marriage.  There is a little charge known as “hypocrisy,” and the evangelicals foisting Newt upon us have opened themselves to it.  Practices are not incidental to our understanding of a thing:  they are a way of authenticating it, of manifesting its intelligibility and its truth.

The retort is that evangelicals affirm the possibility of forgiveness, and indeed we do.  Gingrich’s repentance for his failures seems genuine, and we have no real reason to question it.  But while salvation may be instantaneous, sanctification is something slower.  It can take a while to add virtue to our faith, particularly if we didn’t have much to begin with (as seems to be the case with Gingrich).  Rejoice, then, with the angels in heaven over the sinner who keeps repenting.  But maybe leave the keys to the nuclear weapons to someone else.

The unstated premise in all this is that what happens in private ought to be taken into consideration when evaluating a candidate.  Set aside the fact that Newt once championed the case:  is it not the same principle that stands beneath the conservative opposition to gay marriage?  It may be the case that Newt has reformed, but he ought to at least grant that the question is still legitimate.

The evangelical support for Gingrich, then, erodes and undermines their moral witness on the question of marriage, making it seem nothing more than platitudes that are conveniently tossed aside for convenience and charisma.

The evangelical writers raised a fuss over the religious right’s recent offering of support to Santorum, and perhaps justifiably so.  But such support is a welcome moment of political sanity (even if offered far too late to be effective, once again) in what is obviously a misguided evangelical political world.  The real tragedy is that no one in South Carolina listened to them.  The evangelical political witness might be more effective if they had.

If you’re scoring at home, then, Santorum’s in the race, and Ron Paul if you must (though you mustn’t).  I like Santorum and have said nice things about him in the past.  His willingness to engage in discussion sometimes leads him to cringeworthy quotes, and he lays on the foreign policy a bit strong.  And there’s the matter of getting in, which he might struggle with.

But he actually brings some substance to the table, a virtue that I would like to further in any way I can.   And if he’s still in it on Super Tuesday, I’ll go caucus for him here in Missouri.  If he’s not, I’ll toss in for Romney (who I will support in the general, should it come down to it), or simply throw away my vote as a silent matter of protest.  But I will not, can not, support Newt Gingrich.  And I’m a little embarrassed that it even has to be said.

Postscript:  My friends John Mark and Frank Beckwith are also worth reading.  I would interact with them more, except I’ve been warding off a cold all weekend and can’t quite bring it together.

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Do some research on the candidacy of our (South Carolina) current governor, Nikki Haley, and I think it will give you insight and context on why so many evangelicals voted for Newt. I find so many blog articles written about SC evangelicals without having any understanding of SC. If they had I think it would change their view a little. SC also has trouble forgiving someone who was a pro-abortion governor. It’s like choosing between a pro-murder endorser or adulterer. Which one is harder to forgive? btw- most of my evangelical friends voted for Ron Paul. I personally don’t endorse any politician publicly (except for Sen. Jim Demint).

    I really enjoyed your book!

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Steve,

      Thanks for the kind words, re: the book. Are you referring to the allegations of affairs? I am familiar with those.

      But you don’t mention Santorum at all, which is really what strikes me as so odd in all this. Why doesn’t he get any love?

      matt

  • Ben

    Well, all I can say is read my blog post today. We will simply disagree with this topic but at least we will still love each other.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Heh. Will do. Thanks, Ben.

  • Matt,
    This argument is absurd.

    Is casting a vote for Romney-a Mormon- giving up on the evangelical witness of the Trinity? Is casting a vote for Santorum- a Catholic- giving up on the evangelical witness of justification by faith alone?

    Newt’s a moral failure. I won’t take the standard tack of “but we must forgive him.” It’s not a bad one, mind you, for Newt did convert to Roman Catholicism after these allegations, stating that he’d been found by Jesus. But his previous moral failings (of which the Oval Office has seen many), are but one consideration in voting for him. What are some other considerations? Views on life and death, views on the economy and other domestic issues, views on foreign policy, and leadership capability. Newt doesn’t score a perfect in these categories, but neither do the other candidates.

    I should say, in finality, that this would all be a lot simpler if we stopped trying to rebuild Christendom and adopted a two-kingdom theology. This is the world of the common kingdom, where an individual Christian can and should exercise the best human wisdom but not have to assume that there’s a “right” Christian answer as to whom to vote for.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Dave,

      I think there are actually differences between the doctrines and someone’s character and practices when it comes to voting. I didn’t spell it out as much as I ought to have, but I don’t think that the argument is “absurd.”

      As to “views,” his views on leadership are certainly of secondary importance if he was a failure as a leader, right? But you’re right–there are other reasons to disagree with supporting Gingrich, some of which are in the Douthat and Wilson links that I included. I wasn’t interested in recreating those wheels.

      As to 2K, I haven’t argued in the above that there’s a “right” Christian candidate. Only that there are sound and serious reasons why Christians would want to avoid a particular candidate. That is a different line of approach, and not one invalidated by 2K. After all, if a candidate pledged to shut down all the churches, wouldn’t it be okay to say that Christians ought not vote for the fellow *as Christians* and on Christian grounds, rather than asking them to bracket out their unique concerns and simply treat the thing as a matter of secular prudence?

      Best,

      Matt

      • Okay, Matt, I wasn’t as clear as I could have been, so let me back up.

        When I vote, I run through a list of priorities and issues I use in assessing various candidates. First-tier issues concern life and death, namely abortion and war/foreign policy. Usually, if someone is pro-choice, that’s an out-of-hand rejection for me. It does speak to your issue of a particular “Christian objection to a candidate.” The issue here is that I might be more modest as to what might constitute a particular “Christian issue.” Someone’s past, repented of indiscretions are not a Christian issue in a state election.

        The second-tier issues I use to assess a candidate (provided two candidates might agree on the first two) could be termed quality-of-life issues. This involves someone’s views on the economy and entitlements, to name just a few currently prominent issues. And, needless to say, there’s no “Christian answer” on these issues either, save to say there might be better philosophical reasons for supporting some claims over another. As you probably surmise, I’m with you in the “conservative” part of this camp.

        The last tier is my consideration of a candidate’s own personal morality, character, and leadership capabilities. There’s no doubt Newt is a failure here. I’m not sure he’s a good leader, but I agree with him on many more first and second tier issues than either Romney or Santorum.

        So, you could disagree with my assessment of how I evaluate candidates, but my claim is that you could not do so on quintessentially “Christian” grounds. You might place my third tier as your second, for instance. And even still, you couldn’t do so on Christian grounds.

        All the more reason to conclude that any statement equating evangelical moral witness and one of many candidates for a nomination to a national election (notice the many qualifiers?) for one political party is absurd.

        • Matthew Lee Anderson

          Dave,

          I find it surprising that you would evaluate character and leadership capabilities last for the Office of the President. It is an executive office, right? Would you want to work for someone who managed to spit out leadership platitudes but was a terrible manager? I wouldn’t. But the President is different in that regard than even the House or Senate.

          matt

  • I agree with Pastor Strunk. It’s absurd to say that Evangelical support for Newt Gingrich spells “the end of our moral witness on marriage.” Divorce and adultery among Evangelicals have contributed to the end of our moral witness on marriage, not the former Speaker of the House.

    Pastor Strunk has asked some probing questions here: “Is casting a vote for Romney-a Mormon- giving up on the evangelical witness of the Trinity? Is casting a vote for Santorum- a Catholic- giving up on the evangelical witness of justification by faith alone?” The reply to these questions was weak: “I think there are actually differences between the doctrines and someone’s character and practices when it comes to voting.”

    Let me add a couple of questions related to “character and practices”: Does a vote for Romney, who formerly supported abortion and same-sex marriage, spell the end of the Evangelical witness on the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage? Does advocacy for Santorum, who supports the right of felons to vote, spell the end of the Evangelical witness on retributive justice? We could on and on here.

    These candidates are all flawed in one way or another. How we vote for a political candidate is different than how we hire, say, the pastor of our local church. I’m not bringing my Christian checklist to the poll booth. Instead, I’m looking for a principled, pragmatic problem-solver.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Underspecified is not always weak. I didn’t offer a counterargument (yet) for the position–only noted that the distinction between a person’s practices and doctrines is a real one, and it ought to play in this somehow.

      What’s more, you’ll note that I have not ever supported Romney. In fact, I actively opposed his candidacy last time around for some of the reasons you mentioned.

      Besides, both the examples that you raised with Santorum/Romney are about positions they have held and have changed, not matters of character. So it seems like a different case, and so should be evaluated differently.

      And yes, yes, of course evangelical divorce and adultery have undermined our moral witness. Statistically, however, we’re better than the story goes (as i hope you now know, having read Mere-O a time or two). As such, we ought to take the celebrities (and that includes the celebrity politicians) who take up the media airspace and are publicly identified with evangelicals more seriously than you seem to be suggesting.

      • Matt,

        While you may “ever supported Romney,” you did say in the post that you’ll “toss in for Romney (who I will support in the general, should it come down to it)” if Santorum is not nominated by the GOP.

        You don’t think Romney’s former support of gay marriage and abortion are “matters of character”? By that same logic we could also say that Gingrich’s divorces are not matters of character. Sorry, all of it impinges on character.

  • Yes, i am referring to the affairs. The people are not just familiar with them, but couldn’t get away from them. They were relentless attacks on her and I believe they were untrue. The people of SC know of his adultery, but assume the adds and media attacks on him were possibly exaggerated and just politically motivated as they were for Gov. Haley. The political adds by Romney, Ron Paul and Santorum were unethical. Most people I know, except for Ron Paul worshippers, didn’t decide until the day of the election. What I tell my Ron Paul friends is that a vote is not an act of devotion (at least most of the time).

    Your post doesn’t bother me as much as http://www.johnmarkreynolds.com/ post titled. “Mitt Romney, a Latter-day Republican.” I think he made huge sweeping judgments without backing them up. It may be well written and a little witty, but…
    btw- wait until your state starts getting adds and mailors. Your mind my change a little. Your respect for all of them will come down a few notches.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Steve, this is a really good hypothesis about why evangelicals went for Newt. Thanks for adding it to the mix here.

  • Andrew Murray

    Matt,
    I truly appreciate your thoughts on this. I have been personally embarrassed for my fellow Evangelicals regarding their support for Newt Gingrich. Maybe most Americans don’t care about a person’s character when choosing a leader, but Evangelicals should. Period. Ron Paul and Santorum have proven themselves full of character. Neither is without significant flaws, but a vote for Gingrich (or to a large extent Romney) seems to be a vote for a charade. The charge of hypocrisy is a very serious one. I believe that Jesus was the hardest on these folks out of all. Hypocrisy comes from a deep-seated pride that refuses to embrace humility. Gingrich’s attacks on the “liberal media”, using his children to defend his actions, and two-faced employment of attack ads make me suspicious about any claim of repentance. I think this quote best sums it up:

    “It can take a while to add virtue to our faith, particularly if we didn’t have much to begin with (as seems to be the case with Gingrich). Rejoice, then, with the angels in heaven over the sinner who keeps repenting. But maybe leave the keys to the nuclear weapons to someone else.”

    I will now be more diligently on my knees praying for humility and wisdom – for myself, our leaders, and our country.

  • You are exactly right about Newt. Given his egregious marital infidelity, it’s unbelievable to me that Christians would vote for him. (And he still extols the sanctity of marriage, what a joke.)

    What put him over the top in SC were his comments about President Obama ‘putting’ people on food stamps, his statement that Blacks should prefer jobs to handouts, the poor’s lack of work ethic, and attacks on the ‘liberal media’ tapped into a well of resentment among White evangelical voters that would not sway a thoughtful person like yourself.

  • Kevin Allen

    It is clear to me this is all about the “800 lb gorilla” in the caucuses (the real reason Evangelicals are for ‘anyone-but-Romney’) – Romney’s Mormonism. It appears Evangelicals will even flirt with Obama’s re-election rather than get behind a viable, well-funded Republican candidate.

    • Great point. But, assuming you’re an evangelical, why would you be willing to vote for a Mormon, whose religious beliefs do not line up with your own?

      • Randall Gremillion

        This is an apples to oranges debate so there is no clear answer. It seems fairly obvious at this point that Santorum (perhaps the most “agreeable” candidate from the standpoint of Christian morality) and Paul would be unable to secure the nomination, so support for them is best thought of as a “protest” vote rather than choosing a candidate for the general election. That leaves Gingrich – an brilliant and seemingly repentant man who can electrify an audience but is egotistical, unfocused and power-hungry and, and Romney – an upright businessman groomed for the presidency seemingly from birth but with a troubling faith, no clear philosophical vision and and plastic and insincere manner. Not to cherry-pick from Scripture but we are told not to put our faith in princes but also to be wise as serpents. I do not see a clear mandate here.

        • I guess you have to make it a question of values–which candidate do you think would best represent your values? (Probably not Newt.)

  • **The real tragedy is that no one in South Carolina listened to them. The evangelical political witness might be more effective if they had.**

    First, let’s remember that the “evangelical political witness” is pluriform, not uniform. So, we should not expect that all Evangelicals will support the same candidate.

    Second, tragedy or not, Evangelicals in SC did not listen to the Evangelical leaders who backed Santorum because the postwar Evangelical coalition has brown down, leaving the leadership weak and ineffectual, as James Davison Hunter noted:

    “As a former president of the National Association of Evangelicals said when asked who the most influential people were giving leadership the Evangelical movement, ‘My answer, I think, is nobody. And that’s just part of the problem. It’s amazing the lack of leadership. Evangelicalism is a bunch of personalities who either are so hung up on their own kingdoms…or are so anti-intellectual that [issues of vision and leadership] are just out of their purview” (qtd. from TO CHANGE THE WORLD).

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Right. I get this. Which is why the evangelical support for Gingrich is symbolically important. In the absence of viable leaders, Gingrich becomes the de facto standard bearer within the media (the way Bush did for many people). And therein lies the rub.

      • Christopher Benson

        I don’t think “Gingrich becomes the de facto standard bearer [of Evangelicalism] within the media” because he’s a political pundit, not a religious leader. Moreover, he’s Catholic, not Evangelical.

  • Scrumpy

    Matt,

    What exactly is your central argument here? For the life of me, I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be.

    Obviously you think that evangelical support for Newt is unjustifiable. In fact, you take this to be so obvious that you are “embarrassed” that it even needs to be stated, let alone argued for. If so, arguing for it should be rather easy. Yet the arguments you offer appear to be either incomplete, puzzling, or both.

    1. You say that “Newt’s serial monogamy and the possibility of the open marriage accusation undermines his legitimacy as a viable leader of those who claim to care about marriage.” But why? How so? You don’t really explain. What you do say is that evangelicals who support Newt have thereby opened themselves up to the charge of hypocrisy. But what is the hypocrisy supposed to be, and why are they vulnerable to it? You don’t explain. Nor is it obvious. Where is the hypocrisy in those voters who think marriage is of great value supporting a person who (i) also promotes that view and (ii) publicly denounces his own past behaviors that were inconsistent with that view?

    2. Anticipating a response concerning forgiveness and the possibility of character redemption, you reply that sanctification takes time and so we should “leave the keys to the nuclear weapons to someone else.” Nuclear weapons? What does that have to do with anything? Are you saying that past marital infidelity indicates that a person is (more) likely to sell the launch codes or use them to launch unjustifiable nuclear attacks? If so, make the argument. If not (and I assume not), then what does that have to do with what you were talking about–namely, that voting for Newt would be hypocritical for those who say they care about marriage?

    3. You go on to say that “The unstated premise in all this is that what happens in private ought to be taken into consideration when evaluating a candidate.” You then suggest that this is “the same principle that stands beneath the conservative opposition to gay marriage.” First, I don’t see how the latter has anything to do with the former. Nor do you explain what you take the connection to be. Perhaps you could do so. Second, I agree that a candidate’s private life ought to be taken into consideration when evaluating him or her. But how do you get from there to your conclusion, which is that evangelical support for Newt is unjustifiable? There are some pretty important premises missing from your argument. You should state them and then argue for them.

    4. You conclude that “The evangelical support for Gingrich, then, erodes and undermines their moral witness on the question of marriage, making it seem nothing more than platitudes that are conveniently tossed aside for convenience and charisma.” In my view, this is where you go off the rails. Your argument relies on something like the following general principle: “If a voter votes for a candidate who does not have a good track record (whether in public or private) on some value/issue X, this shows that this voter does not really care about X.” As David Strunk alludes to above, however, this principle is absurd. Voting for a candidate who is not a proponent (or, for whatever reason, not a good proponent) of X does not show that X isn’t really important to me or, as you say, that my espoused support of X is nothing more than platitudes that are conveniently tossed aside for convenience or charisma. Rather, it shows that I care about more than one issue! There are a number of things that evangelicals (also being citizens, parents, students, soldiers, and workers) care about in addition to (and perhaps more than) the degree to which the rest of society shares their view of marriage. Thus, when deciding which candidate to vote for, there are a number of concerns that an evangelical voter may take into consideration. I fail to see how any is unjustifiable, embarrassing, or hypocritical.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Scrumpy,

      Great thoughts, all of ’em, and appreciate the feedback. Hastily, but hopefully more later:

      1) Where is the hypocrisy in those voters who think marriage is of great value supporting a person who (i) also promotes that view and (ii) publicly denounces his own past behaviors that were inconsistent with that view?

      Denunciation without a cost is not enough, and in an environment where authenticity trumps all inevitably carries with it the ring of being used to pursue political power. I am personally happy that Gingrich has reformed, and that he denounces his own marriage, etc. But that’s not a justification for voting for him.

      “Nuclear weapons? What does that have to do with anything?”

      Rhetorical flourish, friend. Rhetorical flourish. I think it seems clear in Scripture that if a man can’t manage his own household, we ought not let him manage the household of faith. I think the church is vastly more important than the political realm, but the political realm is still ridiculously important (see: the existence of nuclear weapons). So we can make the argument analogously: character matters for political governance in a similar fashion that it matters for governing the church.

      You write:

      3. You go on to say that “The unstated premise in all this is that what happens in private ought to be taken into consideration when evaluating a candidate.” You then suggest that this is “the same principle that stands beneath the conservative opposition to gay marriage.” First, I don’t see how the latter has anything to do with the former. Nor do you explain what you take the connection to be. Perhaps you could do so. Second, I agree that a candidate’s private life ought to be taken into consideration when evaluating him or her. But how do you get from there to your conclusion, which is that evangelical support for Newt is unjustifiable? There are some pretty important premises missing from your argument. You should state them and then argue for them.

      Good points. I said that all badly. The premise beneath gay marriage is that what happens in private stays in private. That is almost the exact same logic that’s on offer here with Newt.

      4) Voting for a candidate who is not a proponent (or, for whatever reason, not a good proponent) of X does not show that X isn’t really important to me or, as you say, that my espoused support of X is nothing more than platitudes that are conveniently tossed aside for convenience or charisma. Rather, it shows that I care about more than one issue!

      I agree there are a number of concerns that evangelicals should take into account. However, Douthat’s point that Newt’s platform of “grandiose ideas” is actually pretty shallow. And frankly, the above argument would have more sway with me if someone would say why Newt is being preferred to Santorum. Because when it comes to policy and substance, they don’t seem that different.

      More on all of this, no doubt.

      • David Strunk

        One of my central points in all my comments was to show the inconsistent link Matt portrays between someone’s faith and the way they should vote. If you notice, Matt, you are no longer making this argument, and seem to be conceding on this point. I’m not saying character doesn’t matter, I’m saying it doesn’t necessarily determine our vote. Your appeals to Douthat and your other arguments in the comment thread reveal that you are really just bringing to bear your common wisdom. Thats right; common wisdom, a la two kingdoms. You don’t like Newt but you can’t make a decisively Christian claim against voting for him. And even if you did and called people wrong for voting for him, you’d be violating Christian liberty.

        • Christopher Benson

          Amen, brother Strunk. Preach it!

        • Matthew Lee Anderson

          I don’t understand this, Dave. No one here thinks that bringing our faith to bear on a vote means that we have to ignore “common wisdom” (what is that, exactly, and how is it different from uncommon spiritual wisdom?).

          As to making a “decisively Christian claim” against voting for him, that was never what I set out to do. I think that doing so undermines and erodes evangelical’s moral witness on the matter of marriage, but that’s a different claim.

          As to the “violating Christian liberty,” we probably disagree over how that gets worked out. These are matters of moral prudence, of trying to discern the *obligations* on us as Christians and citizens and acting accordingly. Liberty doesn’t preclude that work at all, and it’s that which I’d like to get down to (and which the suggesting undercuts).

          matt

  • Scrumpy

    Matt,

    That was a quick reply! Glad to see the cold you’re warding off hasn’t slowed you down too much. Okay, some thoughts:

    Re:1. You write: “I am personally happy that Gingrich has reformed, and that he denounces his own marriage, etc. But that’s not a justification for voting for him.”

    Perhaps not. But that’s not really the point here. You argued, not merely that evangelicals shouldn’t vote for Newt because of his past infidelity, but that evangelicals who do vote for him are open to the charge of hypocrisy. That is the claim I was taking issue with there. The fact that Newt (i) publicly defends the value of marriage and (ii)publicly denounces his past infidelity is not, of course, enough to show that it would be a good thing to vote for him, but it is enough to show that there is nothing hypocritical about evangelicals (who claim to value marriage) voting for him for any number of reasons. Indeed, on that point, it is more than enough. Imagine for a moment that Newt had not denounced his past transgressions or that he supported federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Even in that case, there wouldn’t necessarily be anything hypocritical about an evangelical who values traditional marriage voting for Newt, nor would it show that such an evangelical doesn’t genuinely value traditional marriage, for reasons I laid out in (4) above.

    Re: 2. You write: “So we can make the argument analogously: character matters for political governance in a similar fashion that it matters for governing the church.”

    Even supposing that the character of elected officials matters, it isn’t at all obvious that it matters “in a similar fashion” to the way that it does for leaders of church. If you’re going to offer an argument from analogy, then you have to actually make the argument. It isn’t enough to simply stipulate the two things being compared are analogous. You need to show that the role of the president is, in the relevant respects, similar enough to the role of a church leader that we can rationally infer from the fact that character matters in a certain way for church leaders that it matters the same way for presidents. Off the top of my head, though, I can’t see how this argument is supposed to go.

    Re: 3. You write: “The premise beneath gay marriage is that what happens in private stays in private. That is almost the exact same logic that’s on offer here with Newt.”

    This strikes me as wrong on both counts. First, the bit about what happens in private stays in private seems like the sort of thing one would appeal to in arguing for, if anything, the decriminalization of certain activities. But obviously that isn’t what’s at issue in the gay marriage debate. There’s no activity that gay couples currently engage in that is against the law (at least, not in most states), including having weddings. Proponents of gay marriage are pushing for same-sex couples to be allowed to enter into a certain kind of legal relationship (with a legal status) that carries with it certain benefits. They make this argument on the grounds of equal treatment. The “what happens in private stays in private” business wouldn’t make any sense here.

    Second, neither Newt nor his supporters are making this sort of claim either. He isn’t saying, “Yes, I’m a cheater, but that’s my private life so it’s irrelevant.” On the contrary, he says, “Yes, I was a cheater. It was wrong, I’ve repented, asked forgiveness, and I’m not like that anymore.” Now, maybe you believe him, maybe you don’t. In either case, the “what’s private stays in private” line is nowhere to be found.

    Re: 4. You write: “I agree there are a number of concerns that evangelicals should take into account. However, Douthat’s point that Newt’s platform of “grandiose ideas” is actually pretty shallow. And frankly, the above argument would have more sway with me if someone would say why Newt is being preferred to Santorum. Because when it comes to policy and substance, they don’t seem that different.”

    That’s fine. But note the difference between the following two questions: (1) Why should evangelicals (or anyone, for that matter) vote for Newt rather than one of the other candidates? (2) Are evangelicals who support Newt thereby hypocrites?

    I’m happy to have a conversation about (1). What I was taking issue with in my earlier comments, however, was your affirmative answer to (2), which was really the central claim of your post. All your replies have to do with (1) whether one should (all things considered) vote for Newt. I still haven’t heard a defense of the view that it is hypocritical for an evangelical (who values marriage) to vote for Newt. Perhaps you no longer wish to defend that claim?

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Scrumpy,

      I’m taking bullets for the team here. I’m just trying to draw my cold out as long as possible.

      Let’s start at the bottom, because I’m crazy like that.

      (2) Are evangelicals who support Newt thereby hypocrites?

      Supporting Newt seems incredibly tone-deaf to the genuine objections that most people have against evangelicals on the issue of marriage, namely, that we are in fact hypocrites. We look past our own serial divorces and affairs and decry the push for gay marriage by those outside our midst.

      Now, does that mean that evangelicals who vote for Newt will be hypocrites? Not necessarily. You might vote for the guy because it will turn him *into* a newt. You might vote for Newt because of all sorts of reasons. But evangelical social conservatives bring a distinctive voice to the public square, a voice that is predicated on *prioritizing* certain issues over others. Those are, I think, the right priorities and we can have that argument if we want to. I know that if evangelicals don’t prioritize them, no one else will. But that means that any sort of witness on the *importance* and *gravity* of that particular issue in public will be, at a minimum, called into significant question. That’s ESPECIALLY true when you have Santorum hanging out right next door, wondering what he did to not win people’s eye despite having virtually the same substantive policy positions as Gingrich.

      Look, the article writes itself: Evangelicals supported a “thrice married ‘champion of family values.'” Oh, wait. That’s a quote from an article that’s already been written. And it will get written again, and again, and again. And unlike previous times, when I have vociferously defended evangelicals, I can’t see a way through it.

      Re: 3, you write: “Second, neither Newt nor his supporters are making this sort of claim either. He isn’t saying, “Yes, I’m a cheater, but that’s my private life so it’s irrelevant.” On the contrary, he says, “Yes, I was a cheater. It was wrong, I’ve repented, asked forgiveness, and I’m not like that anymore.” Now, maybe you believe him, maybe you don’t. In either case, the “what’s private stays in private” line is nowhere to be found.”

      Okay, fair enough. Except can he say that he’s added virtue to his repentance? Because the vitriol that he directed against John King for putting his past to a question doesn’t bode well for anyone. Again, no reason to think that the repentence isn’t genuine. But repentance and forgiveness shouldn’t be enough to support reinstalling someone with MORE power than they had before. The logic here is bizarre, as though the asking for forgiveness just makes everything in the past go away. But that’s not how Christian salvation works (in my experience, or in the Bible!). It takes years of undoing, years of learning new habits, years of changing, maturing, growing. We have reasons to think that Newt hasn’t changed, namely his stage performances. And none to think he has.

      Re: 2, you wrote:
      Even supposing that the character of elected officials matters, it isn’t at all obvious that it matters “in a similar fashion” to the way that it does for leaders of church. If you’re going to offer an argument from analogy, then you have to actually make the argument. It isn’t enough to simply stipulate the two things being compared are analogous. You need to show that the role of the president is, in the relevant respects, similar enough to the role of a church leader that we can rationally infer from the fact that character matters in a certain way for church leaders that it matters the same way for presidents. Off the top of my head, though, I can’t see how this argument is supposed to go.

      Okay. It’s a blog comment. So I didn’t write the book on statesmanship and the need for virtuous leaders in a democratic republic for a healthy and flourishing civic order. Guilty. As. Charged.

      But am I supposed to presume from your suggestion that you don’t know what a case would begin to look like that you don’t see any reason at all why the character of a President might matter for the execution of his office, and why the repeated inability to hold fast to the marriage vow might weigh against a man’s character? The relationship between the President and the people is, as any relationship is, covenantal. It is built on a form of trust, that the words will be met with reality, that the person making promises will not let them go unfulfilled. If a person *repeatedly* fails to honor some of the most significant words they have yet uttered, how does that bode any better for the President?

      More to come. Who knew all this could be so much fun. Most fun I’ve had at Mere-O in a long time.

      Matt

      • Scrumpy

        Matt,

        Some more thoughts:

        In response to my charge that you hadn’t provided adequate (or any) reason to think that the character of a president matters “in a similar fashion” to the way that the character of a church leader matters, you write: “Okay. It’s a blog comment. So I didn’t write the book on statesmanship and the need for virtuous leaders in a democratic republic for a healthy and flourishing civic order. Guilty. As. Charged.”

        Just wanted to break in to say that this made me laugh. Fair enough :)

        You continue: “But am I supposed to presume from your suggestion that you don’t know what a case would begin to look like that you don’t see any reason at all why the character of a President might matter for the execution of his office, and why the repeated inability to hold fast to the marriage vow might weigh against a man’s character?”

        I certainly agree that the character of a President matters. I just don’t think it matters in the same way that it does for a church leader. A significant part of the role of a Christian church leader is to instruct and encourage others to live a virtuous Christian life, part of which includes modeling such a life. I don’t see this as part of (certainly, not a significant part of) the role of the President. That’s not a job I’m counting on the President to do.

        You write: “Supporting Newt seems incredibly tone-deaf to the genuine objections that most people have against evangelicals on the issue of marriage, namely, that we are in fact hypocrites. We look past our own serial divorces and affairs and decry the push for gay marriage by those outside our midst.”

        I just don’t see it. If anything undercuts the evangelical message of the importance/sanctity of traditional marriage, it is, as you point out, the failure of evangelicals (and their leaders) themselves to treat it as such. I find it implausible that the marital history of the presidential candidate evangelicals choose to support is at all likely to in any appreciable way (and I mean approaching nil) either contribute to or detract from the effectiveness of that message.

        You write: “But evangelical social conservatives bring a distinctive voice to the public square, a voice that is predicated on *prioritizing* certain issues over others. Those are, I think, the right priorities and we can have that argument if we want to. I know that if evangelicals don’t prioritize them, no one else will.”

        This strikes me as wrong, and perhaps it is the root cause of much of our disagreement. It seems to me that that the voice of evangelical social conservatives is predicated on *valuing* certain things, or taking a particular stance on certain issues, but not on politically *prioritizing* certain issues/values over others, and certainly not in such a way that there are some issues that automatically trump all others. (And rightly so, in my view.) I take it to be part of evangelical social conservatism that, for example, traditional marriage is important (of special value), abstinence before marriage is important, minimizing/eliminating drug use, pornography, and prostitution is important. I do not take it to be part of evangelical social conservatism, however, that electing officials or putting into place public policies that support or further these things is *more important* than, say, increasing liberty by reducing the size of government; solving the debt crisis; strengthening the economy; reducing spending; reforming entitlements; fixing immigration; lowering taxes; minimizing fraud, waste, and corruption; improving education; fighting judicial activism; securing religious freedom in schools, hospitals, and churches; and protecting us from terrorism.

        Judging by the primaries so far, evangelical social conservatives don’t appear to think that prioritizing those issues in that sort of way is part of their platform either. And since it’s not–since their message is that traditional marriage is important but *not* that it is more important for our elected officials to support traditional marriage than it is for them to fix the government and help the economy–it does not undermine that message for them to say: “Well, we think supporting traditional marriage is important, and Romney and Santorum score better on that count. But we also think it is important to reduce the size of government, balance the budget, lower unemployment, etc.; and we think that Newt scores much better on that count. And when we weigh up all the factors, we think that the country would be better off with Newt in the White House than Romney or Santorum.”

        • Matthew Lee Anderson

          Scrumpy,

          Glad you liked the “blog comment” line.

          “I certainly agree that the character of a President matters. I just don’t think it matters in the same way that it does for a church leader. A significant part of the role of a Christian church leader is to instruct and encourage others to live a virtuous Christian life, part of which includes modeling such a life. I don’t see this as part of (certainly, not a significant part of) the role of the President. That’s not a job I’m counting on the President to do.”

          Right. So this might be one point of disanalogy. Not saying that they are equivalent in every respect. But I don’t think “modeling” is the only respect in which a man’s marriage might bear into our consideration of his candidacy for President. After all, how a man acts in marriage reveals his character. If he cannot keep the marriage vow, then I think we should be rightly wary of the other vows he makes.

          But let me think through this more. After all, “representation” in political philosophy is, as you know, a contested category. I haven’t read the literature on it, but I’d be curious to think through it more in light of the various ways in which a head of state might represent his people. After all, if America elected a stoner, wouldn’t that be indicative of *something* about the American people? And wouldn’t it shape the American people in a particular way?

          “I just don’t see it. If anything undercuts the evangelical message of the importance/sanctity of traditional marriage, it is, as you point out, the failure of evangelicals (and their leaders) themselves to treat it as such. I find it implausible that the marital history of the presidential candidate evangelicals choose to support is at all likely to in any appreciable way (and I mean approaching nil) either contribute to or detract from the effectiveness of that message.”

          Well, if perception is any guide, then the facts are against you. After all, if everyone in the world thinks that it detracts from our message, then doesn’t it? Even if it’s unjust that they would perceive the situation that way?

          “It seems to me that that the voice of evangelical social conservatives is predicated on *valuing* certain things, or taking a particular stance on certain issues, but not on politically *prioritizing* certain issues/values over others, and certainly not in such a way that there are some issues that automatically trump all others.”

          Sociologically, this is (as you point out) clearly the case. The question is whether it should be. I actually do think that there does need to be a sort of prioritization that goes on. We’ll have a problem of the criterion, and I’m not sure we could go about it any other way than piecemeal. But, but….I think that evangelical social conservatives *do* prioritize one issue over every other (namely, life) and I think that is appropriate. That’s the only one I’m going to really earnestly defend. But I’m also working through the relationship between views of life and views of marriage, as I think there is a deeper connection there than is often articulated. And that makes me want to include marriage near the top of that list.

          In some ways, the fight about Santorum’s tax policy is simply this one: should a tax policy further a social vision that prioritizes business and industry for economic health and flourishing, or should it further a social vision that prioritizes families and homes instead (so, more tax breaks for families with children and more taxes on industry–not a zero sum game, of course, but you get the point). In that sense, there is a genuine prioritization of occurs because Santorum thinks families/marriage are not simply one issue among many, but the foundation of society.

          I may write something about that all here soon. There was a good discussion over at First Things on it, though, a week or two ago.

          matt

  • Something that should be noted: There are two reasons Gingrich’s serial monogamy is a problem: 1) It’s serial monogamy. 2) It’s reflective of a larger problem in Gingrich’s life: Namely, the pathological inability to hold himself accountable to any moral standard larger than his own (anesthetized) conscience. Consider the remark about jailing politicians who received money from the failed lenders in 2008, consider his attacks on Clinton for infidelity while he himself was having an affair, consider the demagoguery with which he’s treated pundits, and so on and so on. Gingrich’s infidelity is problematic in itself for any Christian who takes marriage seriously. It isn’t a definitionally disqualifying problem, but it’s a serious problem. But if he showed any signs of repentance or even basic shame, we’d have reason to say that he may be fit to serve. It’s the total inability to feel any sense of shame that disqualifies him in my mind.
    2) There’s a similarly-superficial reading of Romney happening here. The problem with changing his view on abortion isn’t simply changing his view on abortion, it’s that he has proven over time that his platform is for sale. He can be made to adopt any position, if doing so will give him something he wants. I’ve seen lots of smarmy, plastic politicians in my life but Romney is the worst of them all.

    Ultimately, what it comes down to is that I can’t trust either of them. I feel like I can trust Ron Paul. I can trust Santorum (trust him to do completely insane things in the Middle East, but at least the dude is honest). I even feel like I can trust Obama in a manner-of-speaking: He’s a center-left politician with a pragmatic bent who knows how to play Washington. I don’t necessarily like those things with him, to be clear, but he’s not going to surprise me and I know what I’m getting from him. (Basically, I’m saying the same thing Dr. Reynolds was saying in his fifth and sixth points of the ten good things he had to say about him.)

    Anyway, my two cents, take them for what they’re worth.

    • Andrew Murray

      Exactly. Well said.

    • “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” – Psalm 103:11-12

      Jake:

      Let me state this from the beginning. The purpose of my reply is not to defend the Gingrich candidacy for president. My opposition to him does not relate to his marital record.

      Is Mr. Gingrich’s serial monogamy a problem? Yes, indeed. But is it worse than any other pattern of sin? No. In fact, we are all serial sinners. That should flatten any feelings of self-righteousness that may enter our evaluation of Mr. Gingrich. He is the first to admit that he did not hold himself accountable to a moral standard higher than himself. You are neglecting to mention, either through ignorance or intention, Mr. Gingrich’s repeated public confessions of regret and shame for his sin and immaturity. He has spoken about how Jesus got hold of him and changed him. Only God knows whether his repentance is sincere. Neither of us are qualified to judge his heart. As Christians we must believe, as the Psalm above says, that God removes our transgressions and Christ redeems our lives. When you are 68 years old like Mr. Gingrich, should others bring up your sins from 20 years ago? After cataloging a host of flagrant sins, St. Paul says: “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Such were some of you. That is you, me, and, yes, Mr. Gingrich by all accounts. We must hold out the very real possibility of his sanctification. Mr. Gingrich’s marital infidelity can no more disqualify him from holding the office of presidency than St. Paul’s zealous persecution of the early church would disqualify him from evangelizing the Gentiles unless, of course, we deny that a washed man is a new man – not a perfect man, but a new one nevertheless. New not even by our eyes, but the eyes of the One who responsible for his newness.

      Regarding Mr. Romney, I, too, am troubled by his fluid views on important issues over the years. That either demonstrates a nimble, open mind or fickleness due to the political opportunity. Here again, we are faced with a decision. Do we accept the man as he is now or do we return to the man as he was? Is it possible that he has come around to earnestly upholding traditional marriage and the the sanctity of the unborn child? Your perception about his plasticity is just that: a perception. Sure, you can try to marshal “evidence” for the plasticity but it really amounts to nothing more than perception-based reality. There are many conservatives and Evangelicals who perceive that Obama is a European socialist, a Kenyan anti-colonialist, or a Saul Alinsky radical. They might try to marshal “evidence” in favor of this perception but it’s still a perception. How can we determine reality? That’s the question.

      • Matthew Lee Anderson

        Goodness. Can’t we have one knockdown dragout around here without it becoming a referendum on determining reality? The final bit of your last paragraph is so beside the point as to not be helpful. If his perception is wrong, then get about proving it, rather than reminding us of our philosophy 101 classes.

        But to the substance: St. Paul left public life for a long spell to set about reforming himself. If Mr. Gingrich would like to do the same, that would be wonderful. Of course, he didn’t. He lobbied. And made a fair amount of money making speeches, making films, and the like. So the analogy needs a little work before we trot on about ‘forgiving and forgetting.’

        But let’s remind ourselves, since you mentioned it earlier. We currently hold as a society that felons cannot vote, that the privilege is one of the consequences for their action. They can repent, be forgiven, etc. but the consequences do not go away. Can’t we simply say that repentent rogues ought still not be President, as long as we can do better?

        • I asked if St. Paul should have been disqualified from preaching the gospel to Gentiles because he persecuted the early church? No. A washed man is a new man. So too, should Newt Gingrich be disqualified from the office of presidency because of his marital infidelity? No. A washed man is a new man. Do their sins have consequences? Yes, of course. But those consequences, in and of themselves, do not necessarily preclude them from carrying out their vocations. You observed “St. Paul left public life for a long spell to set about reforming himself” but wrongly assume that Mr. Gingrich has not reformed himself. By his own account (http://www.newt.org/answers#Personal), Mr. Gingrich has sought reconciliation with God. He claims to have put off the old self and put on a new self. One proof is his faithful and felicitous marriage to Callista since 2000. What bothers me is the stinginess of Evangelicals who are unable to forgive a repentant man for his “former manner of life,” however corrupt and deceitful. There are a lot of other reasons to oppose the Gingrich candidacy for president but his marital infidelity is not one of them. And why? Let me repeat: a washed man is a new man.

          • Matthew Lee Anderson

            Christopher,

            A simple question: if an alcoholic converts, gives up the bottle for a decade, and then wants to return, what would you advise them?

            matt

  • Will Barrett

    Obviously evangelicals are voting for Newt, but where are the evangelical leaders backing him in large numbers? I’m not seeing it.

  • Pingback: Repharasing The Question | Article VI Blog | John Schroeder()

  • Will Barrett

    An additional thought, and I’ll preface by noting that I am an unapologetic supporter of Mitt Romney – if Gingrich has to be held to account for his marital problems, then Ron Paul needs to answer for those newsletters.

  • Who needs my little South Carolinian “hypothesis” when you have Christopher Benson and David Strunk commenting:-)

    Here’s a little video to watch just for fun: http://youtu.be/1p00ASxejlE

  • David Strunk

    Whoops. Looks like I started this mess. ;) All of it is very clarifying.

  • Matt –

    I’m curious to know if you are holding presidential candidates to a higher standard than religious leaders. You recently did an interview with Ryan Dobson whose divorce is rumored to be the reason Focus on the Family wasn’t interested in making him the new face of FOTF and hence the reason for James Dobson’s departure to start a new ministry.

    James Dobson has clearly functioned as a leader of the Evangelical movement and now apparently wants to pass the torch to Ryan. Should Ryan’s divorce disqualify him from leading a para-church ministry? From being considered a leader of the evangelical movement at large?

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Good question. I didn’t know about that, but googling suggests that Ryan was opposed to it, didn’t want it to happen, and the like. If I meet him someday, I’ll ask him over dinner.

      But no, I don’t think divorce does on its own. It is, if nothing else, a different case than the sort of serial adultery and (potentially) request for an open marriage that Gingrich suggested. But if you remember for Haggard, for instance, he got written out of the evangelical leadership for his scandal, and rightly so. He’ll never be in evangelical leadership again, and I think that’s appropriate.

  • Kenneth Follis

    Catholics and the Gingrich Candidacy: The Beginning of our Moral Witness on the Sacrament of Marriage and Reconciliation.