It doesn’t rank with last year’s Exorcism of Sarah Palin, but the Blessing of Newt Gingrich is an early contender for Church-Based Political Moment of the 2012 presidential campaign. It’s also the clearest evidence yet that Gingrich is positioning himself to the far Christian Right of fellow 2012 presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.
Gingrich’s latest venture into the conservative evangelical world came when he spoke/preached at Lou Engle’s “Rediscovering God in America” conference last Friday, hosted by Rock Church in Virginia Beach and broadcast on GodTV. “The first thing we need in America is spiritual,” Gingrich told the congregation. “The first job we have as Americans is to reach out to everybody in the country who is not yet saved, and to help them understand the spiritual basis of a creator-endowed society.”
Spoken like a man who wants the Republican Party nomination for president in 2012. But can Gingrich the new Catholic convert outflank ex-Pentecostal Palin and Southern Baptist pastor Huckabee on the party’s religious right?
Gingrich was a favorite among conservative evangelicals when he helped the Christian Coalition craft and push the “Contract with America” in 1994. But after three marriages, a confession of an extra-marital affair, and a congressional reprimand on ethics charges, the former House Speaker’s evangelical profile has been eclipsed on the right by Huckabee, Palin and others.
Gingrich’s Christian Right rehab began with his 2006 book “Rediscovering God in America.” In 2007, he went on James Dobson’s radio show to apologize for his marital infidelity and he spoke of “the growing culture of radical secularism” at Liberty University’s commencement.
Last year, as a featured speaker at the Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit, Gingrich delivered a rousing attack of the media’s treatment of Palin. “There is a secular – at a minimum, skeptical to religion, at a maximum, overtly hostile to religion – bias in the mainstream media,” Gingrich said.
Last month, Gingrich made a very public conversion to the Catholic faith of his wife, Callista. As Gingrich continues his rediscovery of God in America, watch for more quotes like this one from last Friday’s conference: “I am not a citizen of the world,” he said. ‘I am a citizen of the United States, because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator.”
Gingrich seems to have learned what George W. Bush showed John McCain in 2000, and what James Dobson helped McCain understand in 2008: The path to the Republican Party presidential nomination begins at the church — in this case, Rock Church in Virginia Beach.
“Lord,” Engle prayed as Gingrich bowed his head and opened his hands, “extend his influence for righteousness in this nation, lay your supernatural hand of God upon him and deliver him from the evil schemes of the enemy.”
Not quite the “every form of witchcraft” from which Palin’s pastor sought to protect her, but then positioning for 2012 has just begun.