This post is coauthored by Andrew Walker and Eric Teetsel
In recent days, Mere Orthodoxy has played host to several essays on Newt Gingrich. Matthew Lee Anderson—a friend and co-laborer in the effort to engage young evangelicals with conservative ideas—and Jerry Walls have stated their unequivocal opposition to voting for him. For them, a lifetime of personal vanities, grandiose policy proposals, character flaws, and serial adultery disqualifies Newt from receiving support from evangelicals. Even worse, were evangelicals to support Gingrich, it would potentially contradict our Christian witness (especially regarding marriage), making evangelicals “opportunistic hypocrites.”

Matthew states,

“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.”

Jerry Walls uses even more forceful language to express his opposition,

“But we do need a President who can lead with moral authority and address moral issues with the sort of credibility that comes from a history of integrity. Newt has forfeited the ability to do that by his multiple betrayals and deceptions, and therefore the right to ask us to support him with election to our highest public office.”

We disagree.

Evangelicals can support Newt Gingrich in good conscience without descending to an “impoverishment of standards.”

We are not endorsing Gingrich as the best Republican alternative to President Obama.  Nor are we asking evangelicals to overlook his moral shortcomings. A man’s character matters and there are legitimate concerns about Gingrich’s. Chief among these concerns is his pride. One political observer we know has said, “If you want to understand Newt, watch Lawrence of Arabia.” Yikes. You could argue that his pattern of adulterous behavior extends not from aberrant sexual desire, but from pride.

We take issue with the notion that adultery disqualifies an individual to serve as our Commander in Chief.

To employ a standard of Christian witness as they Matt and Jerry do, the anti-Gingrich crowd must also end their support of Mitt Romney. As Martin Cothran aptly noted on his blog:

“Adultery is a violation of one of the Ten Commandments and is a mortal sin. On the other hand, I would rather not have a person who is a polytheist in the White House either. Mormonism is essentially polytheistic, a violation of another of the Ten Commandments, and also a mortal sin.”

He continues,

“But there is an important difference between the two scenarios above–the Gingriches and the Romneys. It is that the former are repentant, and the latter are not. And so I’m not clear on how unrepentant and continuing violation of the first commandment is less problematic than the repentant violation of the sixth commandment.”

From our position, Matthew and Jerry have taken themselves out of the 2012 presidential race altogether. And while Romney may not be the focus of this article, the flaws of Gingrich can be transposed onto Romney. Though Romney may not be a Christian, equal measures of rogue ambition and political flip-flops (on abortion and gay marriage, issues, we might add, that Gingrich has been consistent on) may likewise disqualify him on the same grounds of personal character flaws that are applied to Gingrich. If the quest for power has led to problematic personal decisions for Gingrich, then Romney’s vacillating political philosophy makes him culpable to the charge of self-serving pragmatism.

Further, Romney’s Mormonism is a damning sacrifice of evangelicalism’s doctrinal witness since Mormonism denies the Trinity. If Christian witness is the standard-bearer of potential support, Romney must be subtracted from evangelical consideration, as well. Otherwise, evangelicals are supporting an individual, who, though faithfully married, undermines the essence of true Christianity. From our perspective, enthusiastic evangelical support for Romney may, alternately, present us as “opportunistic idolaters.”

The result is that evangelicals can cede or weaken their moral and Christian witness on marriage by supporting Gingrich, or they can completely abdicate their Christian witness by supporting a non-Christian. It’s a lose-lose equation for the anti-Gingrich establishment.

We don’t believe Barack Obama’s potential re-election is an eschatological evil, nor a Gingrich election a celestial eon. It’s an imperfect election with imperfect candidates voted for by imperfect citizens. Evangelicals will not have sold out if they support Newt. They’ll simply be voting for an imperfect individual. We’ll only sacrifice our moral witness if we stake our moral witness on Gingrich’s example. We don’t.

Our understanding of Christian witness should in no way be dependent on the man in the Oval Office.  Whether it’s Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama we are mistaken if we hold to hope that our  president will lead the charge for Christendom. Presidents can only ruin our moral witness if we expect them to be our moral exemplar. We don’t.

Whether thrice-married or happily married for 44 years, casting one’s vote in favor of a candidate is not a carte blanche endorsement of the person as a whole, but the recognition that an individual’s governing philosophy aligns with your own. We prefer a candidate who acted wrongly (indeed, continues to act wrongly) than one who, at the very core of his being, believes wrongly about matters of public policy, such as Barack Obama.

We don’t place faith in the past of Newt Gingrich. Nor of his present. We don’t place faith in the faith of Newt Gingrich. We place measured sobriety in a Gingrich presidency that he’ll elect Supreme Court justices who see marriage as something written into Natural Law irrespective of his own abysmal experiences in upholding his own. We place measured sobriety in a Gingrich presidency that he’ll have the moral resolve to help end abortion. We place measured sobriety in a Gingrich presidency that he’ll reduce our national debt and put America on the path towards solvency.

We wonder whether such swift denouncements of Newt Gingrich are sprung from an inward desire to have a president who really accomplishes something for Christianity; someone who validates our cause and lends dignity to our truths. This is problematic. Evangelicalism, when given the opportunity to shine on the national stage, usually fails. And because cultural Christianity has failed so greatly in offering an enduring cultural witness (partly, because we’ve reduced our witness to politics), Newt Gingrich fits the profile for assuaging the wrath of a failed evangelicalism that yearns for another chance at stardom and legitimacy. Refusing to vote for Newt Gingirch represents an over-reaction to an evangelicalism that longs to be pristine.

Posted by Andrew Walker

  • Greg

    For the record, I have no skin in the Gingrich-Game. Not interested.

    But I am interested in this….

    Perhaps the Mere-O contributors (fer and agin Newt) could offer us a list of their past sins (drugs, pre/extra-marital sex, drunkenness, violence/arrest record, etc.) and deconstruct whether those qualify or disqualify them to contribute to an Evangelical blog.

    A Final Note: This sentence struck, “We don’t place faith in the faith of Newt Gingrich.”

    Apparently innocuous, this statement directly contradicts the Moderator’s past statement that all contributors to Mere-O assent to the Creed. To cherry-pick out an individual—any individual—who also assents to the Creed, and disassociate from that individual strikes a chord of tone-deafness.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Greg,

      Snarkily put, which it seems like we can count on from your corner, but it’s a good question and one I ruminate about frequently. And the problem of transparency/visibility already came up in a somewhat more cordial way in my helpful back and forth with Chris Bowyer in a previous thread. But there are responsibilities on the reader’s side as well. Character bleeds over into the little things, and if there are things about us that you think make us unqualified to write, then you have the choice of confronting us (initially privately, I would think, in accordance with Scripture) or going and reading elsewhere.

      As to the creed business, there are three ways to read the line. (A) We don’t share every part of Newt Gingrich’s faith, or (B) We don’t share any part of Newt Gingrich’s faith. You have taken (A), but that just seems unfair. Shockingly, the writers aren’t Catholic. Which means they do not affirm all that Gingrich affirms. But that is a different thing from not assenting to the creed, which is how you read them.

      Which is to say, unless you’ve already predetermined to read them in a particular way, I don’t see why you would conclude what you’ve concluded.

      Best,

      matt

    • Andrew Walker

      Greg,

      Nowhere in our intention were we aiming to draw out the Catholic v. Protestant debate. The statement is to be interpreted more broadly. We weren’t insinuating a slam against Catholicism.

      How about this: “We don’t place faith in the faith of George W. Bush.” What we mean is that we don’t look to a president’s faith to be sufficient grounding for discrediting his moral compass, and by effect, the moral compass of adherents who share his faith in the country.

  • Eric

    (C) is “Newt’s faith isn’t our conduit to God.” And that’s what we meant.

    • Andrew Walker

      Yes, well said.

  • Note: I do not support Gingrich for the nomination.

    “Even worse, were evangelicals to support Gingrich, it would potentially contradict our Christian witness (especially regarding marriage)…”

    Our Christian witness on marriage has been in shambles for a long time. Newt is too late to undo it. Evangelical churches regularly wink at divorce and remarriage in their midst and if anyone actually wants to get a grip on the problem read http://tinyurl.com/y9p4vez

    The world sees our witness more clearly. At the end of the 20th Century a syndicated columnist noted regarding homosexual unions and churches: “I think in due time this thinking will change, just as most churches’ opposition to divorce, for example, has changed.”

  • Bonnie

    Thank you for expressing so well what I believe.

  • I agree that when the choice comes down to Gingrich vs. Obama or Romney vs. Obama, I will be able to, in good conscience, vote for the best man of the two, knowing that each candidate has flaws. However, we’re not there yet. And the president of United States is an example and a role model, for better or for worse. So why should I support Romney or Gingrich right now? I believe, out of the four candidates still in the race for the Republican nomination, Rick Santorum would be the best nominee, even though I don’t agree with him on all issues, either.

  • Messrs. Walker and Teetsel:

    Please clarify. Do you believe that “evangelicals can cede or weaken their moral and Christian witness on marriage by supporting Gingrich, or they can completely abdicate their Christian witness by supporting a non-Christian”?

    If I understand your logic correctly, I am guessing the answer is “No” because “presidents can only ruin our moral [and theological] witness if we expect them to be our moral [and theological] exemplar.”

    While I agree with your assessment of Obama, who is misguided about matters of public policy, I think you are mistaken to support a Gingrich candidacy. From a pragmatic point of view, he would lose in a general election to Obama. No current Republican candidate is more electable against Obama than Romney, period. Thankfully, it appears, Gingrich’s campaign will suffer a mortal blow in the Florida primary. Romney, then, will be able to build momentum in subsequent states to secure the party’s nomination.

    However, my main purpose here is not to talk GOP strategy. A refusal to vote for Gingrich on the exclusive grounds of his marital infidelity represents more than “an over-reaction to an evangelicalism that longs to be pristine.” Your argument is not strong enough. Messrs. Anderson and Walls are wrong to bind the conscience of Christians on a matter that is left to our wisdom and discretion, which will lead Christians to various decisions, none representing “the Christian view.” Here, I can do no better than quote Reformed theologian David VanDrunen, who offers a cautionary note about Christianizing:

    “Christians are Christians seven days a week, in whatever place or activity they find themselves, and thus they must always strive to live consistently with their profession of Christ. At the same time, we should be careful about how we use the term “Christian” to describe our education, work, politics, or other cultural endeavors. While Scripture has significant things to say about all of our cultural endeavors, it does not tell us everything about any of them. Scripture provides a general, big-picture perspective about these endeavors but does not ordinarily provide specific instructions about how to pursue them in an excellent and socially beneficial way. God therefore leaves much to the wisdom and discretion of Christians as they make their way in the common kingdom and interact with unbelieving colleagues. Every Christian has the obligation to make morally responsible decisions about his cultural endeavors. But Christians must also be on guard against condemning other Christians’ decisions about matters for which Scripture does not bind the conscience. We should be modest about claiming our own decisions and views about such things as the Christian view” (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, p. 162).

    Mr. Benson

    • Christopher,

      Can you give me an example of theological reasoning about a particular question that Scripture is silent on that you do think is valid for Christians to engage in? What about embryonic stem cell research? Or even more particularly, the question of whether America ought to have invaded Iraq? Would making arguments about such things that are informed by Scripture be illicit?

      Also, just FYI, the above post has mischaracterized my position on the matter, a fault which I take responsibility for. Clarity comes at the end of a discussion, rarely at the beginning. Full response on Monday.

      Matt

      • Matthew,

        If you had merely presented an argument, based on biblical wisdom and discretion, about why Evangelicals should not vote for Newt Gingrich, I would have not have raised any objections. But it seems you were trying to bind the conscience of all Evangelicals, as if their moral witness depended on opposition to the Gingrich candidacy. Therein, I believe, lies your mistake. From the general biblical principle about marital fidelity, we cannot then make a specific instruction as if it is “the Christian view” not to vote for a political candidate because of past adultery. In short, you made a strong claim when a modest one would have been better. As VanDrunen says, “Every Christian has the obligation to make morally responsible decisions about his cultural endeavors. But Christians must also be on guard against condemning other Christians’ decisions about matters for which Scripture does not bind the conscience.”

        Christopher

        • Matthew Lee Anderson

          Christopher,

          And what does “bind the conscience” mean? Seriously, how is it different than making an argument on an area that Scripture is silent on that is normatively binding on all people? Can a Christian claim that other Christians ought not engage in embryonic stem cell research, even though the point is found nowhere in Holy Writ? (I’m really asking you this–it’s not a rhetorical question). If so, how is that any different than “binding their consciences”?

          In short, you’ve thrown out the phrase “binding the conscience” as a trump card, but it seems to be (in matters of moral discernment) an unhelpful one. Appealing to conscience is not an argument over what the conscience ought or ought not affirm.

          Also, what happens if the stronger argument actually turns out to be true? That evangelicals’ moral witness is undermined by their support for Gingrich (as it seems to have already been, given that they are once again the object of jokes, etc)?
          What of our “conscience” then?

          Best,

          Matt

          • Christopher Benson

            I fault you for binding the conscience, or, to follow the etymology of the word, inducing guilt-consciousness on a matter where there where there is not a single decision or deed of moral goodness or blameworthiness. On the question of whether evangelicals should vote for Newt Gingrich, I maintain the conscience is at liberty to choose in favor or against his candidacy based on general principles provided in the Bible rather than specific instructions (e.g., “Do not vote for serial adulterers”). In other words, the conscience can be clear — or without reproach — if a person favors Gingrich because other factors beyond marital fidelity must be considered and weighed for the leadership position he seeks. 

          • Matthew Lee Anderson

            Christopher,

            Again, I appreciate the accusation (which I take seriously). But I am curious to hear you defend it, rather than repeat it! : )

            In short, what is the difference between the application of “general principles” to voting for this person or that, and the application of “general principles” to a question on which the Bible is also silent, namely embryonic stem cell research?

            Are there any candidates that a Christian ought not vote for, and that we could say a Christian ought not vote for?

            One other point: I’d note that it’s actually impossible for me to “bind” someone’s conscience, given that I have no authority over them, pastoral or otherwise. I can make the case that someone ought not do it, but that is a very different thing than speaking from a position of pastoral authority in making that case. If I was saying all this from the pulpit, then the charge might apply. But even then, I’d still have the above questions over when and why it’s problematic to say “ought” about things over which Scripture is silent.

            Best,

            Matt

  • joshMshep

    Refusing to vote for Newt Gingrich represents a wise and circumspect decision based on everything we know about his unpredictability on both policy and PR
    Look closer at Rick Santorum, now there’s a leader

  • Christopher Benson

    Matt ––

    You originally argued that Evangelical support of the Gingrich candidacy ends their moral witness on marriage. Therefore, no Evangelical should vote for Gingrich. I object to that hardline argument because where you insist there is only one Christian course of action (opposition to Gingrich), as if the Bible specifically offers instruction not to vote for serial adulterers, I maintain there are at least three acceptable courses of action for the Christian voter: support, opposition, or abstention.

    Here is the main question: Does a biblically-shaped conscience – “that quality of human consciousness that allows one to be aware of moral and immoral categories of thought and behavior” – dictate one course of action on this matter? I say “No” and you say “Yes.” I accuse you of binding the conscience on a matter where there is liberty under Christ. Put differently, you are trying to induce guilt where I believe the conscience is free. I am not sure what else I can say.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Christopher,

      I think you’ve summarized my point badly, but let’s not haggle. I’ll restate it in the morning. Besides, the end of evangelicalism’s moral witness on a matter gives one (to me) sound reason why a Christian ought not vote for Ginrich. You have concluded from all that that I think that “there is only one Christian course of action.” That’s an overreading. If I said that somewhere, can you point me to it?

      However, I would point out that if you continue to persist in accusing me (or anyone else) of eroding people’s Christian liberty, it would behoove you to work the whole thing out a bit more so as to be prepared for questions like mine. I have asked you several times how what I have said is any different than other issues not explicit in Scripture, and every time you have ignored the question. Last time I pointed out the difference between pastors exercising authority and me making arguments, a distinction that you have also ignored. I assure you I am not meaning to be difficult. It is only that you have accused me of a very serious thing, and I am interested to know whether the accusation is true. So far, I haven’t been given any reason to believe that it is beyond your restatements of your original claim.

      Also, your charge that I am “trying to induce guilt” is disheartening. Certainly we can inquire about whether there’s a morally normative course here without psychologizing each other or imputing morally suspect motives, can’t we?

      Best,

      Matt

      • Christopher Benson

        Matt,

        We’re at an impasse. I think you’re making this more complicated than it needs to be. Simply put, you claim that ALL Evangelicals should oppose a Gingrich candidacy because it would end their moral witness on marriage (see the title of your blog post on January 23rd). The word “end” is very strong, and, in my view, overstated. Divorce and adultery have done more to “compromise” (my preferred word choice) the moral witness of Evangelicals on marriage, as Mark Galli wrote in a CT article on gay marriage:

        “We cannot very well argue for the sanctity of marriage as a crucial social institution while we blithely go about divorcing and approving of remarriage at a rate that destabilizes marriage. We cannot say that an institution, like the state, has a perfect right to insist on certain values and behavior from its citizens while we refuse to submit to denominational or local church authority. We cannot tell gay couples that marriage is about something much larger than self-fulfillment when we, like the rest of heterosexual culture, delay marriage until we can experience life, and delay having children until we can enjoy each other for a few years. In short, we have been perfect hypocrites on this issue. Until we admit that, and take steps to amend our ways, our cries of alarm about gay marriage will echo off into oblivion.”

        My claim is that Evangelicals (or Christians) have a range of acceptable options available to them, none of which would be a reproach to their conscience because they have the freedom in Christ (a) to vote for Gingrich, (b) vote against Gingrich, or (c) to abstain from voting. Where you seem to have framed the conversation in terms of right/wrong I prefer prudent/imprudent or wise/foolish. In other words, I do not think there is only one right course of action and none other.

        I am sure we both agree with VanDrunen that “every Christian has the obligation to make morally responsible decisions about his cultural endeavors,” which would include voting. Where it seems we disagree – and correct me if I am wrong – is that I would not condemn (or judge) other Christians’ decisions about a matter (e.g., who to vote for in an election) for which Scripture does not bind our conscience. A modest argument would not have raised an objection form me, such as: “Evangelicals may not to want to vote for Gingrich because it could (rather than will) compromise (rather than end) their moral witness on marriage, but I recognize there are other criteria in voting that may lead Evangelicals to other decisions.” Instead, as I understood your argument, you said: “Evangelicals should not vote for Gingrich because it will end their moral witness on marriage.” Do you notice the difference? To quote VanDrunen again, “We should be modest about claiming our own decisions and views about [voting for Gingrich] as the Christian view.” Had you presented “a Christian view” rather than “the Christian view,” I would not caution you against binding the conscience of Christians.

        P. S. I deliberately did not answer your other questions because I want to keep the discussion focused on the matter at hand.

        • Matthew Lee Anderson

          Christopher,

          Well, then, we are at an impasse, though I insist that these things are far more difficult than you claim they are. You have so far used “conscience” as something of a bludgeon, and it’s a most unhelpful one if you’re not going to specify just how it works. I raised the other examples to try to see how what I was doing was any different than what happens on matters of stem cell research, for instance, because if the form of argument is exactly the same than I take it that you’d be left saying that it’s up to Christians’ “conscience” to determine whether to go about such research or not. That is, to me, a most unsavory position. But it’s one that yours leads to. So it’s not immaterial to the discussion at hand, but is rather right at the heart of it.

          I appreciate your point about the word choice. Thank you.

          Best,

          matt

          • Matthew Lee Anderson

            Also, it’s worth pointing out that “conscience” is a far more contested category than you seem to be treating it. I, for one, don’t view it as providing moral knowledge of any sort except as retroactive. So it can tell us when things have gone wrong, but doesn’t help us in deliberations. I think this view comports well with the New Testament’s use of synderesis. I specify some of the problems with the commonly accepted view in the early part of my book, which may be of interest to you.

            Best,

            matt

  • To return to the discussion at hand….On the one hand, I can appreciate the nuance of these authors’ argument. However, I want to reserve the right ultimately not to be called an imbecile or unpatriotic to the “conservative cause” if I decide I wouldn’t vote at all if Ex-Speaker Gingrich and President Obama are my two choices. I’m not suggesting that is the thrust of their argument. However, I feel this needs to be clarified for those more on the Walls/Anderson side of the debate.

    Here’s a monkey wrench to throw into the Newt’s morality v. Romney’s religious discussion: How do we feel about several of our Founding Fathers, who we conservatives often quote, yet who also were Deistic in religious outlook and slaveholders simultaneously? It seems to me that how one would want to frame their answer to that question might prove fruitful in the ongoing dialogue.

    JW