John Edwards & Newt Gingrich - What's The Difference?
"On a field, sable, the letter A, gules." - Source.
"And it would be as dishonourable and unfit for God to pardon the injury without any repentance at all, as to do it merely on the account of a repentance that bears no more proportion to the injury, than none at all. Therefore, we are not forgiven on repentance. . . ." -Jonathan Edwards, Concerning The Necessity And Reasonableness Of The Christian Doctrine Of Satisfaction For Sin
"But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly"- -Jesus, Matthew 6:6, King James Bible
It's been rather amusing of late to those of us who believe in the positive, life affirming teachings of Jesus, as opposed to the fire and brimstone fundamentalists, to see how the religious right is struggling with the fact that Newt Gingrich may well be the GOP standard bearer in the upcoming election season. They are anxiously grappling with the fact that Newt is a chronic sinner, with multiple marital infidelities, and he now seeks to lead the party of their cherished "family values." The hand-wringing is audible on the street coming from fundamentalist churches all over America.
The official party line, of course, is that Gingrich has repented of his former sinful ways, and now claims to be back in the fold, following the path of righteousness and all that, don't you know. That is the position of the Catholic Church, but many Protestants on the religious right have doubts, and with good reason. After all, while repentance is a necessary condition for salvation, as the great fundamentalist theologian Jonathan Edwards taught, it is not by itself a sufficient condition.
For redemption, there must also be a degree of genuine humiliation and suffering by the sinner, some outward manifestation that the sinner has in fact felt the sting of his sinfulness, which is best understood by the term "atonement." In Edwards' words:
None will deny that some crimes are so horrid, and so deserving of punishment, that it is requisite that they should not go unpunished, unless something very considerable be done to make up for the crime; …
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And therefore, unless conscience has been stupefied by frequent violations, when men have done wickedness there remains a sense of guilt upon their minds, a sense of an obligation to punishment.”
Works (Yale) 18:434 and 436-7.
Here, it is not enough merely to say one is sorry for his wicked deeds, as Gingrich claims to be today. One must also suffer the pangs of moral punishment, an obligation for which there is no evidence on the part of Newt Gingrich the serial adulterer who now asks the religious right to vote for him as President of the United States. Gingrich has done nothing "very considerable" to make up for his sins, and he has in fact done nothing at all by way of atonement.
Yet, Gingrich is now asking those on the Christian right who believe in the doctrine of sin to help put him and his equally adulterous present wife in the White House, based on nothing more than his claim that he has now repented of his lifelong habitual sinfulness. As Dana Carvey's Church Lady would surely say "Isn't that con-ven-ient."
Again, I'm coming from a different Christian perspective here, based on Jesus as the messenger of God's love for mankind as a whole, while the basic tenets of Christian fundamentalism, as articulated by theologians like Jonathan Edwards who reject that view, posit a much harsher doctrine in which God is the arbiter of divine justice and for whom salvation is only for His elect.
It is that harsher view of man as inherently sinful that informs and defines much of the Christian right today, exemplified in politics by the likes of Rick Santorum who would not only overturn Roe v. Wade, but would turn the clock back even further to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut to let the states ban contraception again -all in the name of getting "big government" out of our lives of course.
This is the same theological mindset that Hawthorne elicited in The Scarlet Letter, set in a Puritanical society where adultery was considered to be a grave, mortal sin. In the novel, the good Christian citizens of Boston sought to have Hester Prynne put to death for having borne a child out of wedlock, but the more enlightened elders decided it would suffice for Hester to wear a scarlet "A", for adultery, sewn on her bodice for the rest of her life, and stand on the marketplace pillory for three hours of public humiliation.
The father of Hester's child, Pearl, is none other than the highly respected minister Arthur Dimmesdale. In the end, after much soul searching, Dimmesdale decides to share Hester's humiliation by carving an A onto his bare chest and standing on the pillory with her. After they die, they share a common headstone with the inscription "On a field, sable, the letter A, gules." That's the last line of the novel, i.e. on a black field a red A.
So, looking at the revived candidacy of Newt Gingrich, one can't help but marvel at how he's deflecting harsh criticism of his well-known serial adulteries by claiming that he has now "repented", and then we look with astonishment to see so many on the religious right are desperately struggling to accept that "mere repentance", as Jonathan Edwards would call it, at face value. Again, these are folks like Santorum who believe contraception is a sin even by married couples!
So let's look at Gingrich's adulterous "sins," not compared with Slick Willie Clinton but more closely with John Edwards. Gingrich and Edwards both cheated on their wives while their wives were gravely ill, completely dependent and in in great need of their full care and support. Clinton, by contrast, cheated on Hillary who was and still is a very strong, healthy woman. If she can forgive or at least tolerate Bill, who are we or anyone else to second guess her?
But Gingrich's surviving ex-wife Marianne is still bitter today, and justifiably so where he started cheating on her after she was diagnosed with MS. That's when he started an affair with his present wife, the metal-haired Callista. Marianne says he asked her to agree to an "open marriage" so he could fool around -basically the same thing that he and the Republican "values" voters so harshly criticized Clinton for.
Before that, Gingrich cheated on his first wife while she was stricken with cancer, which is exactly what John Edwards did, and that is equally reproachable -or "sinful" if you will - for both of them isn't it? The only significant difference between the two men is that Edwards, unlike Gingrich, has clearly shown that he has felt that sting of moral failure, not by mere words but in all that he has done since his fall from grace.
Edwards fathered a child out of wedlock, and he initially denied paternity. But then, like Dimmesdale, he acknowledged paternity and has, as appropriate to someone who feels morally humiliated, taken himself out of politics. He has turned to doing good works with a low profile, including charitable post-disaster relief efforts in El Salvador and Haiti.
That kind of repentance, accepting public humiliation and seeking atonement through good works, still might not completely satisfy the harsher judgment of his namesake Jonathan Edwards, but it clearly does show a genuine repentance by John Edwards that contrasts sharply with the present ostentatious pieties of Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, for example, has flatly denied ex-wife Marianne's highly credible claim that he had asked her for an open marriage before dumping her, calling her a liar. Then he angrily lashed out at the media for asking about it, as if he were a victim instead of the weasely adulterer he in fact is.
Gingrich's self promotion, seeking public acclaim while defiantly deflectng public humiliation for his misdeeds, stands in stark contrast with John Edwards genuine repentance through atonement. It stands in marked contrast with Arthur Dimmesdale who carved the scarlet A, for adultery, onto his chest and then stood on the pillory to accept public humiliation from a judgmental Puritan society. Gingrich's present posing as a Christian penitant is instead the same kind of conspicuous public piety that Jesus condemned in Mark 6:6.
Gingrich, instead of standing on the pilloryand accepting public disgrace like Edwards and Dimmesdale, is now standing for high public office while indignantly brushing aside any public attempt to call him to account for his serial adulteries. That is not genuine repentance, as Jonathan Edwards would surely tell you, as it comes nowhere near even the slightest degree of atonement and is wholly out of proportion to the grave seriousness of his "sin" in the eyes of God, at least as sin is understood by the "family values" Christian right today.
The purportedly repentant Gingrich of today shows no signs that he is in any way morally different from the hypocritical, opportunistic Congressman who, while committing adultery himself, led the religious right's "family values" charge against Clinton for the very same thing. Sure, Gingrich now splits hairs about it, saying he was only attacking Clinton for having lied about it under oath, but to the genuine Christian fundamentalist the adultery itself is just as sinful as the lie. And are we to believe that Gingrich never lied to his wives about his sexual infidelities? Sure, that's not perjury, but in terms of Christian morality it's just as sinful.
So, as I said at the outset, the religious right's present grappling with the prospect of Gingrich as the GOP presidential candidate this year is very interesting to those of us whose Christian faith is much more liberal and far less judgmental than the Rick Santorums of this world. Very interesting, and a real hoot to boot.