January 31st, 2012
12:52 PM ET
By David French, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David French is a constitutional lawyer, veteran of the Iraq war and the co-author (most recently) of "Why Evangelicals Should Support Mitt Romney (And Feel Good about It!)."
(CNN) – At the moment, Newt Gingrich appears to be riding high with evangelical voters. After dismal performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich dominated the evangelical vote in South Carolina and has made a strong pitch to evangelical voters in Florida.
There’s no question that evangelicals are intrigued, and they are just now starting to take a close look.
They won’t like what they see.
In 1998, at the height of the Clinton impeachment battle, evangelical voters were constantly confronting accusations from their secular, leftist friends that “it was all politics,” that evangelicals were less concerned with Bill Clinton’s indiscretions than they were about his party identification.
Evangelicals just wanted to bring down a Democratic president, these critics said, and the Lewinsky scandal was merely the best weapon at hand.
I remember well the evangelical response. To evangelicals, the Clinton scandal was about much more than the legal definition of perjury. It was about trust – about integrity.
Yes, we care about issues. But we care as much about character. To us, the claim that our outrage against Clinton was mere “politics” was slanderous. If character counts, then so do values like fidelity, honesty, humility and charity.
Sadly, Gingrich fails on all these counts.
Those virtues, combined with a record of engineering dramatic economic turnarounds in business, the Olympics and Massachusetts, have led me to become an “evangelical for Mitt.”
Churchgoing evangelicals have one of the lowest divorce rates in the country. Gingrich is a thrice-married, serial admitted adulterer.
While the former House speaker tries to change the subject, biblically literate Christians understand that his conduct is a real and present issue. Simply put, a man doesn’t cleanse the moral stain of adultery by marrying his mistress.
Matthew 19:9 is crystal clear: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Gingrich has divorced his wife and married his mistress twice.
Evangelicals strive to be honest not just in their personal lives but in their business dealings as well. Here again, Gingrich’s record is dismal. In 1997, he became the first sitting speaker of the House to be reprimanded for ethics violations. The vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan (395-28), and he was fined $300,000.
His offense? Misleading the House ethics committee.
The bipartisan ethics report contained this damaging statement: "(O)ver a number of years and in a number of situations, Mr. Gingrich showed a disregard and lack of respect for the standards of conduct that applied to his activities." Gingrich ultimately acknowledged he misled Congress.
Evangelicals also understand the necessity of humility while living life before a just and holy God. As every evangelical learns in Sunday School, pride is a serious sin. Psalm 101:5 declares “whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.”
Proverbs 16:5 contains this warning: “The Lord detests the proud of heart. Be sure of this: they will not go unpunished.”
Yet is there a more arrogant public figure in American political life than Gingrich? His self-regard is legendary. He’s compared himself to world historical figures from Ronald Reagan to Margaret Thatcher to Abraham Lincoln to Pericles.
He has said that people like him stand between America and Auschwitz. His self-congratulatory statements fill press releases, and former colleagues tell tales of his erratic and bullying behavior. Is that the right witness for evangelicals?
Finally, evangelicals are generous people, possibly the most generous subgroup of Americans. Gingrich is not. Lost in the controversy over Mitt Romney’s wealth was this telling statistic: While Romney gave 16% of his 2010 income to charity, Newt Gingrich donated only 2.6%.
Many evangelicals are angry, and rightly so. They’re angry with a president who embraces abortion rights, who restricts religious liberty and who saddles their children and grandchildren with a mountain of debt. They understand the necessity of protecting life and the imperative of financial stewardship.
But they also understand that we don’t discard our core values for the sake of political victories. Fidelity, honesty, humility and charity matter.
No one doubts that God forgives, but only God knows Newt Gingrich’s heart. We only know his actions, and we know that he has a history of deceiving even those who are closest to him.
Three other Republican candidates are anti-abortion. Three other Republican candidates have been faithful and honest in their personal and professional lives. With honest alternatives to choose from, evangelicals will soon abandon Gingrich.
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.