Sunday, January 22, 2012

South Carolina Primaries

Wow.  My prior post about religious bigotry came just the day before the South Carolina primaries.  How timely.  I’m just stunned--and quite sad--about what happened yesterday.
The news analysis today is observing that South Carolina was the first Southern state, as well as the first heavily Evangelical state, to weigh in on whom the GOP should nominate as their presidential candidate.  That fact seems to be the news pundits’ explanation of the stunning results.  They are noting that until yesterday’s results, Governor Romney’s nomination was all but a done deal.  Now there is serious doubt about the outcome. 
Newt Gingrich beat Governor Romney by over ten percentage points.  Representative Paul and Senator Santorum were way behind them.  The mainline media seems to suggest that Southern Evangelicals are the reason for this stunning reversal of fortunes.   If that is true, it makes me very sad for many reasons.
In my prior post, I wrote about lingering anti-Catholic and very virulent anti-Mormon religious bigotry being undercurrents in Senator Santorum and Governor Romney’s respective campaigns.  I think, however, I underestimated in some ways just how strong such bigotry may run. 
In my last post, I described how in many ways Governor Romney is an ideal Republican candidate.  A similar characterization arguably might be used in describing Senator Santorum.  He lacks the private sector business success of Governor Romney.  But during his time in Congress, Santorum was nationally known for his outspokenness on social issues.  Further, he was a Senator, not just a member of the much larger House.  And he is from a large, politically important state, not a state with only a few electoral votes. 
Yet, despite all this, it appears that Evangelical voters in South Carolina did not really embrace him when they cast their ballots.  I cannot fathom why.  Religious bigotry is the only reason I myself can think of, though I’m open to other theories.
The Republican voters of South Carolina have handed Governor Romney a stunning defeat.  They have cut off at the knees a well-organized, well-credentialed, photogenic candidate who previously seemed well-poised to secure the GOP nomination and give President Obama a very competitive race this fall.  I listened to Mr. Gingrich’s speech last night and his South Carolina supporters were vehemently anti-Obama in their tone.  However, they do not seem to realize that they have seriously undercut their ability to defeat our current president’s bid for re-election.
…Newt Gingrich?  Really?!
Before I explain my reaction, let me first make clear that I do not judge Mr. Gingrich for his adultery and other mistakes. 
I agree wholeheartedly with the South Carolina Evangelicals interviewed last night who explained why they did not hesitate to vote for him: he had atoned for his sins and they were forgiven.  Amen!  I agree completely with that sentiment.  Grace is the cornerstone of Christianity.  None of us, no matter how far we stray, is ever beyond the love of God.  Moreover, our loving Heavenly Father rejoices when we return to him.  We don’t return as second-class citizens, but as beloved children returning home.  That was why Jesus came to this Earth--to share that Good News with us.  There is a celebration in heaven when each Prodigal Son returns home. 
Further, Jesus taught us repeatedly not to judge.  That too is a basic tenet of our Christian faith.  I myself have plenty of beams in my own eye that keep me plenty busy.  I have no need to worry about the splinters in Mr. Gingrich’s eyes (or anyone else’s).
So, I am not shocked that Evangelicals in South Carolina would embrace Mr. Gingrich despite the fact that he is a fallen sinner.  We all are.  That is important to recognize.  But when there are other  candidates in the race without all the character baggage (e.g., Governor Romney and Senator Santorum), Mr. Gingrich is a very odd choice for people of faith to choose. 
Although I do not judge Mr. Gingrich in any way, I sadly cannot say that I trust him.  I can rejoice that he says he has repented and has begun a new life.  But that does not mean that I have enough confidence in him to elect him to such an important national office.  Mr. Gingrich has apparently had a long history of unfaithfulness to his marriage vows.  Unfortunately, his lack of fidelity was not the result of a onetime only poor choice, which was immediately regretted and never repeated. 
If someone had repeatedly embezzled from his employers, but had later told me he had seen the error of his ways and was changing his life, I would celebrate with that person.  I don’t think, however, I would necessarily put that person immediately in charge of our church’s treasury or managing my 401(k).  That would not be good stewardship in my opinion.  When one has a history of on-going faithlessness, it takes time to build back one’s trust.  In my analogy, we might let the former embezzler start out by helping other volunteers at our church’s thrift store or working with a team of the Finance Committee to count money from the collection plate.  It would probably be necessary to start small and build up to positions of increasingly greater trust.
Another reason for my surprise at Evangelicals’ apparent enthusiasm for Mr. Gingrich is that he is a career politician.  I apologize if this sounds cynical, and I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble, but politicians are not always honest.  They say what is necessary to woo voters.  Consequently, Mr. Gingrich’s choice of career makes it hard for me to accept on its face everything that Mr. Gingrich tells us publicly.  (I feel that way about all who have been in politics, I’m not singling Mr. Gingrich out.) 
Indeed, while serving as Speaker of the House, he led the charge to impeach President Clinton for lying under oath about an extramarital affair.  Yet, we now know that Mr. Gingrich was himself at that time also engaged in an extramarital affair of his own.  That sort of hypocrisy for political gain is very troubling.
Finally, because of the way Mr. Gingrich left politics in the 1990s, I have to say I found it astounding that he would even bother to run again for any public office.  And I was absolutely shocked when he threw his hat into the race for the presidential nomination.  At the time, I assumed it was a ploy to get publicity for book sales.  (Mr. Gingrich is a prolific writer and has written in whole or in part over two dozen published books.) 
For those who don’t recall, after a thorough investigation, Mr. Gingrich was sanctioned for ethics violations when he was the Speaker of the House.  He was formally reprimanded and fined after a very lop-sided 395-28 vote of his peers.  Leaders in his own party then asked him to step down from his position as Speaker.    Initially, he resisted.  However, after the 1998 elections resulted in a Republican loss of historic proportions, Mr. Gingrich resigned as Speaker and also announced he would leave the House.  He made his announcement the day after his constituents had re-elected him.  Thus, he abandoned his seat almost immediately after voters had entrusted it to him.  Mr. Gingrich left office in disgrace and characterized the Republicans in the House as “cannibals.”  How interesting that he would then seek the GOP presidential nomination a decade later.
I just do not know how Southern Evangelicals could apparently support Mr. Gingrich’s presidential campaign despite his track record: the long history of marital infidelity, political hypocrisy and ethics violations.  I am surprised because such Christians are known for insisting on political candidates of high moral character.  Yet they would reject Senator Santorum and Governor Romney, who would seem to have much stronger evidence of high moral character, in favor of a political insider like Mr. Gingrich.  I just can’t get my mind around this; it makes no sense to me.

Luke 16:10 (Wycliffe Bible)

He that is true in the least thing, is true also in the more [He that is faithful in the least thing, is faithful also in the more]; and he that is wicked in a little thing, is wicked also in the more.

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