The New York Times Magazine recently ran a profile of Newt Gingrich. Buried in this story was some interesting information that missed many readers I feel sure: A Baptist since graduate school, Gingrich said he will soon convert to Catholicism, his wife’s faith.
Religion reporter Sarah Pulliam writes: "At a moment when the role of religious fundamentalism in the party is a central question for reformers, Gingrich, rather than making any kind of case for a new enlightenment, has in fact gone to great lengths to placate Christian conservatives. The family-values crowd has never completely embraced Newt, probably because he has been married three times, most recently to a former Hill staff member, Callista Bisek. In 2006, though, Gingrich wrote a book called Rediscovering God in America—part of a new canon of work he has done reaffirming the role of religion in public life. The following year, he went on radio with the evangelical minister James Dobson to apologize for having been unfaithful to his second wife."
A longtime pastor of St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, the Rev. G. Avery Lee (who died earlier this year) wrote to The Times-Picayune newspaper in 1994 about Newt Gingrich's faith. Lee said in that 1994 letter: "He was not a member of any church. He said that in his study of political theory he noted how much influence the church had on political theory and asked if I could explain (this to him). We talked often. Newt began coming to church. To make it short, I baptized him (by immersion) into the membership of the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church." I never knew this about Newt until I read Pulliam's report at the Christianity Today Web site several days ago.
Lee also wrote that Newt Gingrich, "Found a liberal approach to both theology and sociology (@ St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church). . . . Whether our teachings had any effect or not, he was at least exposed to the basic Baptist principle of freedom: personal freedom before God, an open mind before an open Bible, the separation of church and state, and compassion toward other people as sinners saved by the grace of God. He also may have learned that we Baptists fuss and fight a lot with each other. It has been suggested by some that in baptizing him, I didn't hold him under long enough." (You have to admit Pastor Lee had a sense of humor!)
I wonder how many Protestant fundamentalists feel now that Newt Gingrich has made it known that he is becoming a Roman Catholic. For me it says that he has been thinking about the shape and form of Christian faith deeply in recent years. I have no idea what prompts men like Gingrich to do what they do but when they take faith more seriously I have to applaud them, and pray for them even more. The same can be said for the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair. Mr. Blair, you may recall, also entered the Roman Catholic Church, where his wife had been a member, after he left public office.
Let us pray for both these men. They represent very different political philosophies but are now very open about confessing their faith in Christ. This should remind all of us that God's grace is at work in ways that usually we cannot see, especially when they are in public places of elected leadership. Many public figures seem to leave political life before they take their personal faith more seriously. I wish this were not the case but with some it clearly is the case. I am reminded by this just how hard it really is to be a public Christian and a political leader at one and the same time. Let us pray for all those who profess faith, before or after they serve in positions of government and political power. And let us remain cautious about any political figure who seeks to use religion to gain out vote.