The time has come to address Der Newtmeister’s “Personal Baggage,” to wit: serial marital infidelity that resulted in the dissolution of his first two marriages. That he was censured and forced out as House Speaker by his own party is a matter of politics best addressed in another forum; the ethics violation charged leveled against him were all – ALL – subsequently dismissed, making this a moot point. Let’s be honest: those who are uncomfortable with Newt’s baggage are uncomfortable with his tawdry and salaciously hypocritical philandering all those many years ago. And a tree really does fall in the direction it leans, does it not?
With regard to the tree, the answer, obviously, is yes. But unlike humans (with the possible exception of Obamabots), trees lack both motility and free will. Trees cannot repent…but humans can and sometimes do.
Another time in the past, I likely would have embarked on a lengthy and prolix excursion into the musty corridors of philosophy and theology, inflicting upon you a multipart article filled with obscure and arcane references and arguments. Well, this ain’t the past and I’m growing weary of writing wordy posts that nobody enjoys reading.
Therefore I will cut to the chase and offer my argument for ignoring Newt’s so-called personal baggage. For starters: if it exists, it exists only in the minds of those who can’t stop obsessing over the titillating nature of the scandals. I’m reminded of a parable about two Shaolin monks in which the elderly monk carries a nubile young maiden on his back across a treacherous river. After leaving her with a blessing on the other side, he proceeds on the road back to the monastery only to suffer a browbeating at the hands of his companion – a zealous, teenage novice who harangues him for violating their vow to have no contact with women.
“Did you enjoy the warmth of her flesh next to yours, old man?” the teenager ranted. “Did you savor the feeling of her legs wrapped around you and the sweetness of her breath on your neck?“
After enduring the remonstrances in silence for as long as he could, the old monk turned to the young man and said: “Perhaps you are the one who should tell me. I carried her across the river and set her down on the opposite bank hours ago. You have been carrying her ever since.“
There can be no question that Newt Gingrich – in spite of his fame as a paragon of conservatism - lived a dissolutely sinful, spiritually vacuous and egregiously hypocritical existence that destroyed two marriages and caused God-only-knows how much suffering to family and friends. In other words: Newt was a profoundly sinful person. Then again, so were Dismas and Saul of Tarsus. For that matter, so were Mary Magdalene, Mary of Egypt and Augustine of Hippo. Thievery. Religious persecution. Prostitution. Licentiousness in all shapes and loathsome forms.
At one point in time, this bunch represented humanity at it very worst. And yet every one of them experienced a profound metanoia, repented of their sins and accepted the sweet yoke of Christ; with the exception of Dismas (who was canonized by Jesus as both of them suffered on their crosses), all of the above individuals have been canonized by either the Catholic or the Orthodox Churches.
In 2009, Newt Gingrich was received into the Roman Catholic Church after a lengthy and profound catechesis conducted by none other than Monsignor Walter Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Since then, the record indicates that Der Newtmeister has undergone his own metanoia and since been reconciled to the healing grace of God. For Roman Catholics, this is best characterized in the words of absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
God, the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Those who are not Catholic may better relate to this by thinking of it as the moment Newt gets up from his seat in the pew, proceeds to the front of the sanctuary and publicly announces that he repents of his sins and accepts Christ as his Lord and Savior.
For the record, I am a Byzantine Catholic (think of us as Eastern Orthodox in union with Rome). We Byzantines, though separated from the Romans by accidents of history and tradition, nevertheless share a common sacramental spirituality that emphasizes the redemptive power of the suffering and death of Christ – who set the bar very high for all of us by forgiving those who tortured and crucified him before he died on the very instrument of his execution.
In his book Rediscovering God in America and in numerous speeches and interviews, Newt Gingrich explains that he has repented of his awful past and embraced a future centered on Christ. Thus far, I see no reason to doubt him and until I see incontrovertible proof that his conversion was a sham, I will take him at his word.
I believe in the power of Divine Redemption and that God the Father of Mercies will not and does not deny his merciful forgiveness to all who humbly ask for it. If God can forgive and forget the sinful past of a penitential Newton Leroy Gingrich, can I – bent under the ponderous weight of my own sins – do anything less?