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January 20th, 2012
01:13 PM ET

Why Gingrich 'open marriage' allegation may not scare off evangelicals

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) -
The ex-wife of a Republican politician alleges her then-husband asked if they could have an open marriage, so evangelical “values voters” rethink their support for him, right?

Not so fast, say some evangelical leaders and experts.

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s second ex-wife, Marianne, made the “open marriage” allegation in an interview that aired Thursday night on ABC News.

But because of political circumstances and the way Gingrich parried a question about the accusation during Thursday’s CNN debate, the episode may cause relatively little fallout among evangelical voters, who are expected to make up about 60% of the vote in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

Some say the drama may even help Gingrich among such voters.

“To a degree, it will give [evangelical voters] pause, but there’s a much more insatiable appetite to defeat President Obama,” said David Brody, chief political correspondent at CBN News at the Christian Broadcasting Network.

“Gingrich has never claimed to be a patron saint,” Brody said. “People have known for years about Gingrich’s marriage issues. In a way, his well-known history of troubled marriage works for him here.”

CNN moderator John King opened Thursday’s debate in Charleston, South Carolina, by asking Gingrich about whether he would like to respond to the allegation.

“No,” Gingrich responded to mounting applause, “but I will.”

"To take an ex-wife and make it, two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine," Gingrich went on, calling the allegation “false” and provoking a standing ovation from the debate audience.

It’s a safe bet that evangelical Republicans were among those clapping.

“The press is so unpopular with Republican voters that his answer helps him in the short term - it was a tactically brilliant answer,” said Richard Land, the public policy chief for the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest evangelical denomination.

“Whether it will work strategically is another question,” Land said.

The Christian Broadcasting Network’s Brody said that Gingrich’s response to the “open marriage” question “took a weakness and turned it into a strength.”

“Evangelicals have been bashed by the media for decades, so this is a common bond he’s able to play up with them,” he said. “He was able to develop a kinship with evangelicals over this last night.”

Brody said that Gingrich has spent lots of time on the campaign trail discussing stances that matter to evangelicals, like opposition to abortion and confronting radical Islam.

Land said the allegation from Gingrich’s ex-wife may hurt the candidate in the long run because it reminds voters that he was seeing his current wife, Callista, while married to his second wife.

Gingrich has admitted to his affair with Callista, whom he married in 2000.

“This reminds people that Callista is the other woman,” Land said, “and that the other woman could become the first lady.”

Gingrich’s evangelical backers have not shied away from discussing his past marital problems. In a conference call with evangelicals last week, Gingrich spoke extensively about his failed marriages.

“We're all quite aware that there was a season in Speaker Gingrich’s life in which his lifestyle was unacceptable,” Jim Garlow, a prominent evangelical pastor who was on last week’s call, said in an e-mail message. “He does not defend it. Nor would any evangelical. Nor do I.”

“He is as flawed as King David in the Old Testament,” wrote Garlow, who helped lead the campaign to ban gay marriage in California in 2008. “However, that did not keep God from restoring King David and using him after his moral failures, for the benefit of the entire nation.”

Still, even before this week’s allegation from his ex-wife, Gingrich’s personal baggage had given many evangelicals pause.

“Forgiveness is not the issue here, trust is the issue,” Land said. “Redemption is something that’s in our code as evangelicals, but trusting someone with the presidency is something entirely different.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Newt Gingrich • Politics

soundoff (1,224 Responses)
  1. betty

    Do we really want Newt Gingrich for President? He has cheated on two wives and now married to his second cheat. Do we really want for President and First Lady two people that have no morals and no respect for marriage or family values?

    January 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Gary

      “This reminds people that Callista is the other woman,” Land said, “and that the other woman could become the first lady.”

      And that is assuming that Newtie won't find a younger prettier "first lady" between now and innauguration day.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • joe

      Lots of people are immoral cheaters, but politically, the abhorrent thing is that he was vigorously speaking out against the falling morals of our president and country while at the same time having an affair himself. That hypocrisy is unbelievable. Also, he says he "ask for and received forgiveness", but his wife said he never ask HER for forgiveness–she would seem to be the most important person to ask. He does know how to work a crowd.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  2. Jon

    So do evangelical voters *enjoy* abandoning their values for political gain? I suppose they must...

    January 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      If they are happy then it is ok.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  3. OpenSeas

    It's not an issue, just as long as the sinner is affiliated with the 'right' political party.
    Pretty hypocritical.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  4. loathstheright

    Because the Evangelicals are devoid of morals?

    January 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      There are no morals. No right and wrong. Only choices that make us happy or unhappy.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  5. Paul

    Hypocrites.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  6. stoley eisenhower

    religious fanatics aren't the smartest people on the planet. We saw that when they went out in droves to vote for GW Bush. So its no surprise that they would support a guy like Gingrich.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      They are free to do and believe whatever they wish if it makes them happy. So are you

      January 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  7. Jacqui

    This all makes for very interesting reading. These evangelicals are playing God. They know whom God will forgive and they know whom He won't. If you are a Republican, say and do whatever you want and then ask God for forgiveness and He will. If you are a Democrat, just be the black President of the USA and make far less mistakes and God will never forgive you even if you ask for forgiveness. These people spew so much hated, which by the way, God likens as unto murder and you are fine. They are revealing a brand new gospel to me, and I believe that God is trying to reveal to their own hearts, their hypocrisy and they still don't get it. I am amazed

    January 20, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      They are free to do and believe whatever they wish if it makes them happy. So are you.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  8. ModMn

    As for Newt's sin, that is between him and God. But it does point to an inherent character flaw that might impact his performance as president. That is between Newt and the voters. The far right voters are so anxious to get rid of the current president, they are willing to overlook almost anything.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      There is no sin and no God, unless you imagine them.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  9. Donald Shimoda

    Anyone who has ever mattered, anyone who's ever been happy, anyone who's ever given any gift into the world has been a divinely selfish soul, living for his or her own best interests. No exceptions.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  10. Donald Shimoda

    Do not live to impress the world. Exist to live your life in a way that will make you happy.

    Everyone else is free to do whatever they feel like doing.

    There is only one person we have to answer to, and that of course is ourselves.

    We don't even have answer to ourselves if we don't feel like it.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Observer

      I never succeeded in making a god of myself.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      You want to be a God? You must imagine it and you can be it.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  11. Marty

    Newt Gingrich is a bombastic, lecherous, serial adulterer, he will never change. It's amazing to read of all those 'forgiving' Christians (?) who were anything but that a few administrations ago. Newt knows how to work an audience and boy, did it show last night. Newt didn't make a lot of friends with the media considering his diatribe, and these are the very people he will need to keep his face in the public view.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      We are all free to do as we wish.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  12. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    It figures that the part of the country with the highest divorce rate would have no problem with "open marriage".

    January 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      We are all free to do as we wish

      January 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  13. TruthPrevails

    And the circus act of the republitards continues!! Obama is the USA's only hope of staying about a single letter credit rating!

    January 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Milton

      Yeah, because the credit rating never dropped during the Obama administration 😉

      January 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      Didn't say it didn't but this initial drop was not totally his fault. His back was/is against a wall at every turn with the republitards having the majority....if they get the presidency, the country is doomed to go further down. Obama has tried to do everything humanly possible for that country all while trying to fix another republitards misgivings.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      There is no problem so big that it cannot be run away from.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • HellBent

      A large avalanche that's falling on your head is usually pretty hard to run away from.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Ol' Yeller

      @Milton- The credit rate drop was due to the republicans in the house taking the vote to the 11th hour causing fear in the market and instability in the futures. I guess one can spin that to blame Obama, but it wasn't he who turned this historically automatic vote into a crisis in the name of politics.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Donald Shimoda

      HB
      Life is but a waking dream. Wake up or change the dream and the avalanche will be gone.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  14. Get Real

    Translation = Evangelicals are hypocrites. Well, knock me over with a feather.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  15. The Dude

    Looks like the bible thumpers have found the antichrist.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  16. cigarman

    Newt won`t scare the evangelicals, they ALL want to be like him.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  17. dreucalypt

    As long as he continues to give white-supremacist dog-whistles, the right will forgive Gingrich everything.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  18. Reality

    What should scare the folk in SC:

    Only for the "newbies":

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

    January 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Ol' Yeller

      Actually Time magazine ran a controversial piece some years ago indicating Roman records (they were meticulous record keepers, like the Germans) which noted one of the bodies crucified that day (some believe it to have been that of Jesus) was seen being eaten by stray dogs who had dragged it off the cross.

      January 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • doggies with full bellies wagging their tails

      Given the Church's centuries-long burnings of any histories, literature, art, etc, that wasn't of the "yay jesus! yay christendom!" sort, this or something like it quite likely could have occurred, been reliably and convinceably recorded, and subsequently been erased from
      existence.................................

      January 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  19. Jamie from Riverside

    The question is why Gingrich's sliminess won't scare away the Evangelicals?
    Cuz they're crazy especially in nut-bag South Carolina.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  20. Bob

    Poor,Poor Newt.Imagine those Media bullies picking on poor little Newt. Now Newt wants our pity.Don't we all just feel so sorry for Newt.Funny thing is, Newt has no pity on anyone he has ever went after.Remember when Newt tried to have President Clinton impeached from office. Did Newt have any compassion, or forgiveness in his heart for the President, or for what he was putting the country through.As for the evangelical leaders. Well lets just say I can remember at 16 when the preached all Catholics were going to hell.They preached catholics didn't believe in Jesus and they prayed to Mother Mary,
    they confessed to a preist and not God.Now even though Mormons except Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,repent of sins,are baptised by immersion,recieve the Gift of The Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, believes in tongues. yes Mormons believe and teach all these things. Because they believe in doing good works and have no paid ministry in the church they are not considered Christians by evangelicals. Catholics have a Pope,Mormons have a Prophet.Evangelicals have just a man who calls himself a preacher/pastor who maybe a president of the Souther Baptist Convention, or the President of the Evangelicals if they can convience enough pastors/preachers to vote for them. Now they are endorsing Newt Gingrich for president and even compairing him to king David in the Old Testament.WOW this is a strech even for them.
    I'd rather fellow the Pope or a Prophet.At least they allow you to think for yourself in voting, instead of trying to guilt you into voting the way they want. I have yet to hear the Pope endorse Newt, or the Prophet endorse Mitt. You see they both believe God gives man free will to choose for himself. This is just my personal opinion! You are welcome to yours.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Sam

      Well said!

      January 20, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.