Political Animal


December 03, 2011 8:40 AM This Week in God

By Steve Benen

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at evangelical Republicans and their willingness to tolerate — and possibly even embrace — Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

Of all the GOP presidential candidates, Gingrich would appear to be the one least likely to garner evangelical support. He is, after all, a thrice-married adulterer. There were all kinds of fair jokes this week about Christian conservatives bailing on Herman Cain over his alleged infidelity, only to move to Gingrich, who cheated on at least two of his wives.

But among evangelical Republicans, adultery is a bit like college football — it matters whether you lose, but it matters even more when you lose. Dave Weigel had a good report on evangelicals’ evaluations the other day.

They were accidentally disagreeing with Bob Vander Plaats, chief executive of the FAMiLY Leader. “There’s been a sincere life change for Newt Gingrich,” he says. “Now, if Newt would have had a Road to Des Moines conversion this year, it might be hard to take him seriously. But since four or five years ago, he’s shown a very transparent grace and maturity. He’s been married to Callista for over a decade. He’s healed his relationship with his children.”

What happened with Newt four or five years ago? Knowing this is important to understanding how he’s calmed the various Vander Plaatses of the plains. In March 2007, Gingrich called in to James Dobson’s radio show to atone for his sins. The timing was perfect. Gingrich didn’t end up running for president that year. After 2008, Dobson retreated from the active political role he’d taken in the Bush years.

“It’s a very painful topic and I confess that directly to you,” said Gingrich to Dobson. “There were times when I was praying and when I felt I was doing things that were wrong. But I was still doing them.” He had fallen short of his “own standards.” He had moved on. “I’m not trying to be a leader in the sense of rising above my fellow Americans,” he said, “but I am trying to serve, particularly as a teacher and as a developer of solutions.”

In the years after that, Gingrich wrote two books about “Rediscovering God in America,” and produced two films with that title. He grew deeply involved in the conservative battle to unseat Iowa judges who legalized gay marriage. Gingrich’s network funneled $350,000 into an $850,000 campaign, and the campaign won.

That’s proving compelling with evangelical leaders, but the rank-and-file may need some additional persuading. Southern Baptist leader Richard Land published an open letter this week, urging Gingrich to give a big speech addressing his “marital past,” acknowledging misdeeds, and asking evangelical voters for their forgiveness.

No word yet on whether Gingrich would be so inclined, but it’s a campaign angle to keep an eye on.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* President Obama was plenty religious at the ceremonial lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington this week. Even Fox News didn’t complain.

* The chief exorcist for the Vatican believes practicing yoga is “satanic,” and reading Harry Potter novels “leads to evil.” Good to know. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

* Televangelist and Texas megachurch leader Joel Osteen is developing a faith-based reality television show. Seriously.

* A Baptist church in Kentucky this week decided it would not accept interracial couples as members. It’s the 21st century. Just thought I’d mention that. [Update: the church is revisiting its decision.]

* And Fox News apparently believes it’s won the “war on Christmas.” Here’s hoping, then, that the network will shut up about it.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • walt on December 03, 2011 8:45 AM:

    Gingrich knows that nothing evinces Christian humility better than demonizing the least among us.

  • c u n d gulag on December 03, 2011 8:50 AM:

    When he looks at Gingrich, I bet Jerry Sandusky wishes he'd been a boy-raping Republican politician rather than an assistant football coach.

    If you repent and say Jesus forgave you, I think the Republican religious base would forgive anything.

  • DAY on December 03, 2011 8:53 AM:

    Like Fast Food, God is a growth industry; you just have to invent the next taco, wrap, or salt/fat/sugar combo.

  • Linda on December 03, 2011 8:54 AM:

    Religious folk need to discourage children from reading the Potter books. Too hard to distinguish Potter fantasy and make believe from the way-too-similar stories of the Bible. Bright children will see the similarity immediately. Healthy and appropriate questioning will folllow straight away, with no sensible answers available. That is the "evil" to be avoided.

  • c u n d gulag on December 03, 2011 9:09 AM:

    I like the idea of a Christian "Survivor" reality show.

    You could have contestant all showing how much Jesus love and protects THEM through a series of trials, each one an episode.

    In the first - snakes:
    All of the contestants have to french-kiss a cobra, and then do the Mambo with a black mamba.
    And finally, walk through a pit of venomous snakes and part them like the Red Sea.

    In the second episode, survivors from the first one get in the water (unless they can walk on it, in which case they win) and wrestle a Portuguese Man of War.

    Then, they get into a shark tank full of Great White's and swim around wearing a replica of Lady Gaga's meat dress.

    'Who Will Jesus Save In Today's Episode?'

    Now THAT would be a reality show I would finally watch!

  • RepublicanPointOfView on December 03, 2011 9:20 AM:

    That is JoeL Osteen!!!

    Just another attack and show of disrespect for the favorite preacher of our wealthy wing of the republican party. Joel preaches the truth that great wealth is a sign of favor from God.

    You godless, Jesus hating progressive should learn from the teaching of Our Lord Jesus as taught by Pastor Osteen.

    It is easier for a camel to fit thru the eye of a needle than for a poor man to go to heaven.

  • j on December 03, 2011 9:29 AM:

    I only saw a small clip from the lighting of the National
    Christmas tree - I learned one thing - Obama can sing!!!

  • Oh my on December 03, 2011 9:37 AM:


    There it is. For those who ever wondered about the price tag of evangelical leaders.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on December 03, 2011 9:54 AM:

    re Mr. gulag...

    It is our low rent, low information voters who go for the snake handler, tongue talking bottom feeder Baptist preachers!

    Pastor Osteen teaches the Prosperity Gospel.

    As Pastor Osteen teaches us that great wealth is a sign of God's favor, his religious reality show will probably be more of the flavor of:

    Reality participants A & B are from an inner city ghetto. Reality participants C & D minimum wage burger tossing equivalents. Reality participants E & F are middle income wage slaves. Reality participants G & H are the son & daughter of a multibillionare.

    In our first episode, our participants go shopping and the participants who bring back the least are booted off the show.

    In our second episode, our participants have a party and the participants who display the most jewelry get to select those to be booted from the show.

    In our third episode, our participants take vacations and those who take the worst vacation are voted off the show.

    In our final episode, our remaining pairs of participants make donations to the Lakewood Church and those who make the biggest donation are declared the winners of the competition.

    Naturally, the competitive part of the reality show provides further proof that great wealth is a sign of God's favor! Of course, for all voting on elimination from the show votes are unlimited and for sale.

  • SYSPROG on December 03, 2011 9:59 AM:

    I think these 'christians' will be mightly surprised when they show up at the pearly gates with a cross in one hand and a flag in the other. Not MY God by any stretch of the imagination!

  • c u n d gulag on December 03, 2011 10:20 AM:

    Republican POV,
    Yeah, you're right about Osteen.

    But which show would you rather watch?

    I'm going for the poor fools in Lady Gaga meat dresses hoping they can pull an aching Great White shark tooth, like the fable of the guy pulling the thorn out of the lion's paw, or depend on having an angel shut the shark's mouth like God did for Daniel in the lion's den.

    Maybe some other Evangelical Church can take up my "Survivor" reality show.

  • dj spellchecka on December 03, 2011 10:22 AM:

    from a new pew study of differences between europeans and americans...[i don't think steve wrote this up]


    American Christians are more likely than their Western European counterparts to think of themselves first in terms of their religion rather than their nationality; 46% of Christians in the U.S. see themselves primarily as Christians and the same number consider themselves Americans first. In contrast, majorities of Christians in France (90%), Germany (70%), Britain (63%) and Spain (53%) identify primarily with their nationality rather than their religion.
    Half of Americans deem religion very important in their lives; fewer than a quarter in Spain (22%), Germany (21%), Britain (17%) and France (13%) share this view.

    Moreover, Americans are far more inclined than Western Europeans to say it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values; 53% say this is the case in the U.S., compared with just one-third in Germany, 20% in Britain, 19% in Spain and 15% in France.


  • dj spellchecka on December 03, 2011 10:25 AM:

    and in other "twig" news

    Earlier this year the Air Force Academy dedicated an $80,000 outdoor worship center — a small Stonehenge-like circle of boulders with propane fire pit — high on a hill for the handful of current or future cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of "Earth-based." Those include pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths.


  • dj spellchecka on December 03, 2011 10:36 AM:

    turns out that kentucky church which usually has 35-40 people in the pews vited 6-3 to ban interracial couples..

    the man who brought up the issue won't say why but he does say {of course} "i'm not a racist......"


  • joanneinDenver on December 03, 2011 10:59 AM:

    Newt needs to apologize to his first and second wives. They are strangely silent.
    i wonder if the evangelistic world knows that newt's new found religion is catholic.

    newt seeks to be the first catholic president since kennedy.

  • T-Rex on December 03, 2011 11:18 AM:

    Re Newt, Christian repentance is the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card, and the best part is that you can do it again and again, like the pedophile priests who tearfully confessed to their superiors, swore never to do it again, and got reassigned to new parishes where they continued to work with youth groups.

    As for the "War on Christmas," note Fox's use of the progressive present, "We are winning . . . " They will never use the perfect tense, "We have won." That's the secret of maintaining a state of perpetual war. Always claim progress, but always also keep people afraid of the threat that has not yet been completely defeated.

    BTW, Captcha had the gall to give me a word in which not only was there a diacritical mark I couldn't possibly type, but one of the letters was partly cut off so that there was no way to tell whether it was an e or a c. There's gotta be a better way.

  • c u n d gulag on December 03, 2011 11:24 AM:


    Newt's about as Catholic as he is Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu.

    Newt's his own religion.

    Newt's his own Messiah.

    And Newt's ego is GOD, just without the "d."

  • chi res on December 03, 2011 11:35 AM:

    @T-Rex re: better way

    Click on the refresh button just to the right of "type the two words". Gives you a new captcha; takes two seconds; not rocket science.

  • Mark Combs on December 03, 2011 11:47 AM:

    Did anyone read the comments on the yahoo news follow-up to the "no mixed race marriage" story? I wish I hadn't; I just ate breakfast. Click and save it for the next time Uncle Harry snorts and says racism is dead...

  • Anonymous on December 03, 2011 12:41 PM:

    Religious folk need to discourage children from reading the Potter books. Too hard to distinguish Potter fantasy and make believe from the way-too-similar stories of the Bible.

    What on earth are you talking about? Have you read any of either the Bible or the Harry Potter books?

  • Texas Aggie on December 03, 2011 1:01 PM:

    Looking at the photo of the priest who has the problem with Harry Potter, one is reminded of Lord Voldemort. Either he resents the implication or he is the second coming of Lord Voldemort and needs to be exorcised himself.

    For those who say that he can't help the way he looks, everyone over 40 is responsible for his face. - A. Lincoln

  • chi res on December 03, 2011 1:12 PM:

    reading Harry Potter novels “leads to evil.”

    My 12yo son started reading HP and next thing I know he's looking at computer pron and masterbating. No coincidence, I think.

  • Quaker in a Basement on December 03, 2011 3:41 PM:

    A Baptist church in Kentucky this week decided it would not accept interracial couples as members.

    I recommend the congregation review the Old Testament account of what happened to Miriam, Moses' sister.

    When Moses married an Ethiopian woman, Miriam complained. God smote her with the leprosy.

  • ericfree on December 03, 2011 5:43 PM:

    "...calmed the various Vander Plaatses of the plains." Most felicitous political phrase of the year.

  • Anonymous on December 03, 2011 7:58 PM:

    The chief exorcist for the Vatican believes practicing yoga is “satanic,” and reading Harry Potter novels “leads to evil.” Good to know. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

    The linked article indicates that Fr. Amorth is the past chief exorcist for the Vatican. You seem to be changing the facts to make a more dramatic statement here.

  • NoMorals on December 04, 2011 9:50 PM:

    The linked article indicates that Fr. Amorth is the past chief exorcist for the Vatican. You seem to be changing the facts to make a more dramatic statement here.

    Oh yes, he looks a lot less silly now that we know hes not overseeing exorcisms anymore.