Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land has penned an open letter to Newt Gingrich, telling the Republican presidential
candidate that he must address his past infidelity and marital history if he is to win over evangelical voters — particularly evangelical women.
The former speaker of the House, Gingrich has been married three times. He was married to his second wife, Marianne, when he had an affair with a congressional staffer during the 1990s. That staffer, the former Callista Bisek, is his current wife. He divorced his second wife in 1999 and his first wife in 1980.
In the open letter, posted in The Christian Post, Land said he has “conducted more than 200 informal focus groups with Southern Baptists” across America in the last three years. The takeaway from those focus groups, Land said, is clear.
“The good news is, as you know Evangelicals are a forgiving people, who having experienced redemption and forgiveness in their own spiritual lives, are most often willing to extend it to others who ask for it,” Land wrote. “Consequently, a high percentage of Evangelical men are willing to cut you some slack over your turbulent marital history. The bad news is that Evangelical women are far less willing to forgive and let bygones be bygones. There is a large and significant gender gap on the issue of your two previous marriages. My research would indicate a majority of men, but less than a third of Evangelical women are currently willing to trust you as their president.”
Land added, “Mr. Speaker, if you want to get large numbers of Evangelicals, particularly women, to vote for you, you must address the issue of your marital past in a way that allays the fears of Evangelical women. You must address this issue of your marital past directly and transparently and ask folks to forgive you and give you their trust and their vote. Mr. Speaker, I urge you to pick a pro-family venue and give a speech (not an interview) addressing your martial history once and for all. It should be clear that this speech will be ‘it’ and will not be repeated, only referenced.”
Land acknowledged that Gingrich is “extremely bright, knowledgeable, experienced on the issues” and is “fully able to go toe-to-toe with the formidable campaigner President Obama has amply demonstrated that he is.” Land also applauded Gingrich’s proposal for a series of in-depth Lincoln-Douglas style of debates with Obama if Gingrich wins the nomination. But Land said that for evangelicals, Gingrich’s past would be a stumbling block.
“You need to make it as clear as you possibly can that you deeply regret your past actions and that you do understand the anguish and suffering they caused others including your former spouses,” Land wrote. “Make it as clear as you can that you have apologized for the hurt your actions caused and that you have learned from your past misdeeds. Express your love for, and loyalty to, your wife and your commitment to your marriage. Promise your fellow Americans that if they are generous enough to trust you with the presidency, you will not let them down and that there will be no moral scandals in a Gingrich White House.”
Land concluded, “Such a speech would not convince everyone to vote for you, but it might surprise you how many Evangelicals, immersed in a spiritual tradition of confession, redemption, forgiveness and second and third chances, might.” Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.