Newt Gingrich finds Religion

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, has converted to Catholicism. He has not said publicly why he converted, but his wife, Callista Bisek, is Catholic. Mr. Gingrich has been a Baptist since graduate school.

It was Matt Bai, writing in The New York Times magazine a month ago, who signaled Mr. Gingrich’s conversion and provided some political context:

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 Baptist since graduate school, Gingrich said he will soon convert to Catholicism, his wife’s faith.)

A spokesman for Mr. Gingrich, Rick Tyler, said Tuesday that Mr. Gingrich was not commenting on the conversion, at least at the moment, but may in the future.

Mr. Gingrich was confirmed into the church on Sunday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill and celebrated that night, according to The Hill, with friends at Cafe Milano, one of Washington’s most insider-y dining establishments. His guests included Cardinal McCarrick, the retired Cardinal of Washington.

On the occasion of Mr. Gingrich’s conversion, the Daily Beast listed a dozen other notable converts to Catholicism. They include Jeb Bush and Nicole Kidman.

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, converted to Catholicism in December 2007, facing too many political difficulties of trying to do so while he was prime minister.

Things are a bit different in the United States, of course. While Britain has never had a Catholic P.M., the United States has had a Catholic president. Still, being Catholic can complicate a political career: John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 and a Catholic, was threatened by some bishops with excommunication because of his support for abortion rights.

Mr. Gingrich, who has not run for elective office since he was forced out of Congress in 1999, has toyed with running for president in the past and is much-rumored to be considering a 2012 bid.

It is not clear how his Catholicism might affect his political future. But even before his conversion, Mr. Gingrich was branded a hypocrite in the blogosphere after he wrote in a recent Twitter post that President Obama had “anti-Catholic values.”

Lamenting that Notre Dame, one of the nation’s leading Catholic universities, had invited President Obama to speak at its May commencement, Mr Gingrich noted: “It is sad to see notre dame invite president obama to give the commencement address Since his policies are so anti catholic values.” Bloggers noted that Mr. Gingrich himself had been divorced, twice; the Church does not allow divorce unless the marriage can be proved never to have existed. It is not clear whether Mr. Gingrich’s first two marriages were annulled.

From here.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

56 thoughts on “Newt Gingrich finds Religion

  1. Perhaps Mr. Gingrich can just start his own church and proclaim himself as its head. Isn’t that what Henry VIII did when his marriage relationships conflicted with his religion?

  2. Gingrich to date is little different than many in the church – no obvious difference from the people of the world. What church he attends is not likely to change that – only God can.

  3. It makes no sense to me to annul a marriage which has been consummated. Annulment means something very different than divorce. Annulment makes it as it if never was. But that is a lie. Once married, one is married – regardless of whether one should have done so or not. Otherwise, it is simply adultery. Divorce without meeting the Biblical standards of acceptability and adultery are both sins in God’s eyes. And really, I think Scripture is clear that even if one meets the Biblical standards for divorce, seeking a divorce is NEVER what God wants.

    I suppose the Roman Catholic Church thinks adultery is better than divorce in God’s eyes 0 oh wait, they pretend the marriage never occurred. But in God’s eyes, that just adds lying to the sin of divorce without cause.

  4. Annulment is the process of determining if there was ever a marriage. You’re right, that if they were married in the correct state, there’s no way for that to be dissolved. I’ve given the reasons. To be a valid marriage, there can be no consanguinity, the couple must be open to new life, there must be no deceit, the intention to remain faithful must have been there, etc. Otherwise there was no marriage to begin with.

  5. David, I have known people who had children together and lived together for many years get an annulment – this is especially the case in Latin America, where in some countries divorce has been (or still in) illegal, but annulments from the church are perfect acceptable.

    An annulment is no different than a divorce, with cause. The thing is, Jesus said the only allowable cause was adultery (or according to Paul a pagan spouse abandoning the Christian spouse).

  6. A Church annulment is an ecclesiastical judicial act whereby what was believed to be a canonically valid marriage is declared not to have been one in the first place.
    An annulment does not deny that a relationship, perhaps a long and serious one, existed between the parties. It does not imply that parties were culpable in living together as man and wife or that their children are illegitimate.

    Divorce destroys something that was; Annulments recognize that something never was. That is not just semantics. It’s a matter of precision and hence a matter of truth. Thoughtful people will avoid treating things like divorces and annulments, which are similar in some respects, as if they were similar in all respects.

    However much other Christian denominations discourage divorce among their members, the Catholic Church is the only one that flatly prohibits divorce and remarriage for its people. Folks leave the Catholic Church all the time over its refusal to approve a second marriage for them. That’s painful and sad, but the Church is not going to change its teachings in this matter, because it has received those teachings from Christ himself.

    Annulments, however, look at something very different. A declaration of matrimonial nullity is made only when, upon careful investigation, it is proven that what occurred between the parties was not a marriage in the first place. Some confusion on this point, maybe even some incredulity, is to be expected. But it is not right to read into Church practice an assumption that the Church, at no small cost to the Body of Christ, expressly rejects.

  7. The Biblical basis is Mark 10:9 “What God has joined together, let no man separate.”

    What an annulment is is an examination and finding that God did not join these two people together. Based on the criteria I wrote of before.

  8. David,

    I realize the RCC has a strict set of criteria one must aupposedly meet and the claims must supposedly be investigated before an anulment is granted. The thing is, it is obvious to me that people lie when the criteria are not met but the want to end their marriage, and the inveatigation is nominal, perhaps because the investigators either dont care, are in colusion with the lying anulment seekers, or are incompetent. I know folks, in fact worked with them, who had been married 14 years, had a child together & wanted a divorce so she requested an anulment and got it.

    But regardless if the RCC puts in place the most stringent criteria, the people are not following, nor enforcing, the rules. This makes it easy to end a marriage. While this goes againt church teaching, it nonetheless occrs with too much frequency This is an example of church teaching being informerly ignored by both laity and leadership and something else being done/taught in place of church teaching.

    But even if the rules were followed and enforced, God said He hates divorce and has laid out criteria (adultery or abandonment by unbeliever). The church can call it whatever they choose (call it Fred for all I care), but anulment is still divorce. The fancy criteria and description are lttle more than window dressing for divorce. When two people get married and then do not remain married, then one or both are dead, or they are torn asunder in divorce. Anulment was invented by the church to be able to get/grant divorce without calling it divorce.

    The Pharisees added to what God had said, making it difficult for people to enter the kingdom of God. It strike me the RCC does something similar.

  9. Again, you must separate “what some people do” from “What the Church teaches”. For example, Nancy Pelosi is a baptized, confirmed Catholic. That doesn’t mean she’s in line with the Church’s teaching, and it doesn’t mean she’s held up as a role-model of piety. This is sort of like how people who don’t approve of homosexuality will bash Disneyland because they have people walking around the park some weekends wearing shirts that say “Disneyland 40th annual Gay Pride Weekend”. Disneyland does nothing but take money for tickets allowing entry into the park. They don’t espouse the lifestyle.

    Our Church is founded on obedience-first, obedience to God, second to the Church which speaks for Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit. If a validly married couple lies to get an annulment, how is the Church responsible? They’ve done their due diligence with the facts that were presented to them. Ultimately, God will be the judge. And we leave it up to God to decide.

    When Jesus came, he elevated matrimony to the same status it had originally possessed between Adam and Eve—the status of a sacrament. Thus, any valid marriage between two baptized people is a sacramental marriage and, once consummated, cannot be dissolved. Jesus, therefore, taught that if anyone so married divorces and remarries, that person is living in perpetual adultery, a state of mortal sin.

    He said, “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18; cf. Mark 10:11–12).

    Paul was equally insistent on this fact, declaring, “Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives. . . . Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive” (Rom. 7:2–3).

    This applied, of course, only to sacramental marriages—those between baptized people. For marriages involving an unbaptized party, a different rule applied (1 Cor. 7:12–15).

    In the midst of the Greco-Roman culture, which allowed for easy divorce and remarriage, the early Church Fathers proclaimed Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage—just as the Catholic Church does today in our modern, secular, easy-divorce culture (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1614–1615). Other denominations have modified their teachings to accommodate the pro-divorce ethos that dominates modern culture, but the Catholic Church preserves the teaching of Jesus and the early Christians.

    While their ex-spouses are alive, the only time that a baptized couple can remarry after divorce is when a valid sacramental marriage never existed in the first place. For example, for a marriage to be contracted, the two parties must exchange valid matrimonial consent. If they do not, the marriage is null. If the competent authority (a diocesan marriage tribunal) establishes this fact, a decree of nullity (commonly called an annulment) can be granted, and the parties are free to remarry (CCC 1629). In this case there is no divorce followed by remarriage in God’s eyes because there was no marriage before God in the first place, merely a marriage in the eyes of men.

    If, however, the parties are genuinely and sacramentally married, then, while in some cases there may be good reasons for them to live apart and even to obtain a legal separation, in God’s eyes they are not free to remarry (CCC 1649).

    This is not a commandment of men, but one that comes directly from Jesus Christ. As Paul said, “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)—and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10-11).

    Fortunately, God will ensure that the sacramentally married have the grace necessary to live out their marriage vows and either stay married or live continently. The sacrament of matrimony itself gives this grace. Whenever we face a trial, God ensures that we will have the grace we need. As Paul elsewhere says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

  10. When the laity does things against what the church teaches, it is easy to separate what people do from the chuche teachings. But when leadership are complicit in going against what the church teaches, and other leaders do nothing to correct them, then it is a practical teaching of the church if not technically approved.

  11. The ones I’m thinking of have approved anulment for those who have been married (in the church) for a number of years, had children together and then decided they were not happy being married.

    I still dont see a difference between divorce and anulment, even though I understand what the church says. To me, they are just different causes for the same thing. One pretends it never existed, but the truth of the matter does not change – they were married. Its like the church tried to get arond what the Pharisees did, concerning divorce, by setting up some rules and saying if you meet them, then it was never a divorce to begin with.

  12. Not being happy is not a reason the Church gives for annulling a marriage.

    You may not agree with it, but the careful consideration that there was never a marriage IN THE FIRST PLACE is not the same as the divorce that was allowed in Mosaic law that Christ preached against.

    Again divorce destroys something that was, annulment admits that something never was.

    Personally, I disagree with annulments and divorces. I think that you made a decision to enter into the marriage, you have to work your way through it. In a case where one party doesn’t want children, most of the time, the other spouse knew it, and even so, thought they could change the other’s mind. Then when they couldn’t, they went for divorce and annullment. But I do understand how the Church thinks in this regard.

  13. I’m sure Mr. Gingrich has had his previously marriages annulled. But your comment about Henry VIII shows what you know about Catholicism. Henry was a Catholic in a Catholic marriage and wanted a divorce. The Church wouldn’t give it to him.

    Newt, I’m sure, has been influenced by his wife, and their marriage will be sacramental before he’s baptized, I’m sure. Or it already is.

  14. I am aware that Henry was a Catholic in a Catholic marriage. I am also aware that the Church refused his request, and Henry broke from the Church in essence setting in motion the English Reformation. My point was that like many of us, Henry put his desires ahead of his faith when the two conflicted.

  15. I would contend that Henry put in motion the English Reformation. Wycliffe and his band, and those of Tyndale were stirring the pot. Henry took advantage of the Reformation going on around him to create the Church of England.

  16. What’s really funny is that you don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t just get an annulment. You go through a process where an examination of your marriage takes place. If it can be determined that there was no marriage, you are granted an annulment. It means that one or both parties were not free to marry in the first place.
    Reasons are limited to:
    Psychological state precluding ability to consent
    No intention, when marrying, to remain faithful to the spouse (simulation of consent)
    No intention, when marrying, to have children
    Deception of one party by the other in order to obtain consent, and if the partner had been aware of the truth, would not have consented to marry
    Abduction with the intent to compel marriage (known as raptus), constitutes an impediment as long as he/she remains in the kidnapper’s power.
    Failure to adhere to requirements of canon law for marriages, such as clandestinity
    Impediment of Crime, bringing about physically (or through moral cooperation) the death of one’s own spouse or the spouse of another, with the intention of marriage
    Undispensed lack of form

    Before you dismiss it, you should know what it is.

  17. David, I can dismiss it because it is unbiblical. Christ never allowed divorce and remarriage except on grounds of adultery. What gave Rome the power to change that?

  18. David, I believe that a response is being prepare for your criteria, but I’ll say this. An annulment is unbiblical, and I cannot find the authority to change what the Bible says.

  19. Show how the leadership of the Church is complicit with the laity in going against what the Church teaches?

    Keep in mind that a pastor is a leader of his parish, a bishop of his diocese. Any leadership going against Church teaching would be, at the least, reeducated, if no change there, excommunicated.

    It’s not the Church’s job to judge the hearts of men. We leave that up to God, for he, and he alone, knows the hearts of men. The Church’s job is to shepherd the flock.

  20. David, no one has license to go past the boundary of Scripture. An Annulment was not given by Christ as an allowable remedy. I have to concur with Wb here.

  21. David,

    I know being unappy is not an accepted reason. I’m not sure what was told to the church by the people who sought the anulment. And yes, people can lie (I’m not saying they did, but I can’t see how could get an anulment after years of marriage and not be lying) and get the investigators to accept whatever seems acceptable. While the RCC teaches there is a difference between anulment and marriage, for all practical purposes, they are the same thing.

    I agree with you, no one should seek to anul or divorce.

  22. I think we can look at the history or marriage among the Jews and see that even betrothal was treated as marriage without the marriage ‘rights’. Its a commitment between a man and a woman to be together in such a way that intellectual, emotional, and physical joining is expected(until recently it was for life). The joining may or may not occur all the time, or even some of the time, but the norm is that it is expected to occur at least some of the time. The commitment is usually accepted by others. I say usually accepted by others because it is made before God and no one else truly needs to recognize it. If one person is lying when they make said commitment, but they marry, its still marriage – regardless if one of the parties is already married.

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