Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Newt-ering of Righteousness

As I write this on Saturday evening, January 21, 2012, the early returns from South Carolina’s Republican primary election indicate that Newt Gingrich has won a victory over Mitt Romney and the other two contenders, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. As one who finds all four of the candidates unqualified I should probably refrain either from gloating over, or bemoaning, the result. But I think the behavior of those voters in South Carolina who self-identify as “Evangelical Christians” needs to be noted and questioned.

My long-time conviction is that a Christian (of any stripe) should be free to vote as they wish. That, thankfully, is the case in our land. But that does not mean that I consider the actions of all Christians in the voting booth to have equal moral standing. We are free, both under United States law, and under the Law of God to be wrong, and to act, based on wrong – even sinful – motivations. The exit polling from South Carolina is reported to be showing that Gingrich’s victory is powered, to a large degree, by Evangelical Christians, more than half of whom voted for him. That is their “right”, but they are wrong.

Evangelical Christians are singled out – and single themselves out – during elections because of their professed desire to elect men or women of higher moral character than that which they perceive to have been the case with past presidents or with the current president, Barack Obama. In the past that desire has prompted them to oppose Catholics (John Kennedy and John Kerry), and in this election, Mormons (Mitt Romney and John Huntsman), all of whom are assumed to be of lower moral character by default since they are not “born again Christians”. Interestingly, Evangelicals, this time around have thrown their weight behind two Catholic candidates, Rick Santorum, a life-time Catholic, and Newt Gingrich, a late-comer to the Catholic faith, joining the church only after his marriage to his third wife and long-time mistress, Calistra who is a life-time Catholic.

If you find these voters behaviors a bit incredible – or maybe repulsive – join me at vomitorium. I do not wish to imply that it is wrong in any way for an Evangelical Christian to support a person of another religion or even another branch of the Christian religion. I believe that there are good, moral people in all of the world’s major religions who would strive with all their might to serve all the people of this nation if they were elected its president.

(Evangelicals have long believed that the majority of their non-believing neighbors and fellow citizens are “good moral people”, but have insisted that being a “good moral person” falls short of being one redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The issue with Evangelicals has never been that non-believers couldn’t make good teachers, businesspersons, doctors, mechanics, politicians, but rather that they were not true followers of Christ.)

The thing that troubles me about the apparent result in the South Carolina election is that Evangelicals seem to have preferred a serial adulterer to any of the three other candidates, all of whom, as far as we know, have been faithful to one wife all their life. I know that Mr. Gingrich has “been to God” for forgiveness (and I believe that anyone who sincerely goes to God for forgiveness, receives it). But Mr. Gingrich’s conversion came too conveniently, just in time for this election, and his conversion to Catholicism conveniently allows him to continue his adulterous relationship with the woman who was his mistress while he was still married to his second wife, who had been his mistress while he was married to his first wife. (Pardon me. I need another trip to the vomitorium. Come along if you need to.)

The history of our country is littered with flawed men who served as President. Many of them were unfaithful to their spouses but it would be hard to name more than one or two others whose record of unfaithfulness was as despicable – to use a word Mr. Gingrich seems to like – as that of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich.

I can only conclude that those Evangelicals who voted for Mr. Gingrich have priorities other than moral uprightness when selecting their leaders. That is their privilege as Americans. Other things being nearly equal, it should not be their choice as followers of Christ.

In the end, next November, all Americans will be called upon to choose between two flawed men. (We have all sinned and fall short of what God intends us to be.) It may be that the most flawed man, in a moral sense, will make the best leader for our country at this time. But if that were the case, those voting for him, who call themselves Evangelical, should leave the voting booth in sack cloth and ashes, weeping for the awful choice they had to make.

I believe that there are other reasons besides his marital infidelity that disqualify Newt Gingrich for the Presidency, but for Evangelicals who profess to be lover’s and defenders of righteousness and followers of Jesus Christ, that infidelity alone should have caused them to turn to any of the other candidates, be they Mormon (Mitt Romney), Catholic (Rick Santorum), or Lutheran-turned-Baptist (Ron Paul).

Sadly, other priorities trumped righteousness in South Carolina today.

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