Friday, December 2, 2011

The Friday Funnies: The presumptuous Richard Land

I'm not endorsing a presidential candidate here (at least not until the general election), but I find this piece of religio-political news somewhat amusing. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has written an "open letter" to Newt Gingrich, asking him to come clean about his past infidelities. If the former House Speaker doesn't do so, says Land, he will risk losing the support of "evangelical women."
“Mr. Speaker, if you want to get large numbers of Evangelicals, particularly women, to vote for you, you must address the issue of your marital past in a way that allays the fears of Evangelical women,” he wrote this week. “You must address this issue of your marital past directly and transparently and ask folks to forgive you and give you their trust and their vote”

Gingrich has been married three times. The failure of his first two marriages was reportedly a function of extramarital affairs — indeed he cheated on his second wife with his current wife, Callista Gingrich.

In an interview with The Daily Caller, Land said that Gingrich needs to address his misdeeds and ask for forgiveness.

“Evangelicals, by definition, are a forgiving people,” Land told TheDC. “Confession, redemption, forgiveness is part of our theological DNA. But, it helps when you ask people to forgive you.”

Land claims to have conducted over 200 informal focus groups with Southern Baptists across the country. According to Land, evangelical men are willing to forgive, but evangelical women are extremely concerned.

Land is encouraging Gingrich to give a speech addressing “once and for all” his past transgressions.
There are a number of dynamics at work here which make Dr. Land's "open letter" utterly ridiculous. To begin with, Gingrich already confessed his past transgressions in an interview with respected evangelical leader James Dobson in 2007. Perhaps Land missed that interview because he was too busy condemning Rudy Giuliani's infidelities and making excuses for Mitt Romney. Some will dismiss Gingrich's confession as a strategic political ploy (although he ultimately decided not to run for president in 2008). That is a legitimate question, but he appears to have been acting on his own initiative at the time. Critics would have a much stronger case for political pandering this time around if Gingrich meekly gave in to the demand of a self-proclaimed "evangelical leader" in order to allay the fears of "evangelical women."

Secondly, and more importantly from a non-partisan, strictly religious perspective, Gingrich converted to Catholicism in 2009. The Roman Catholic Church has a very thorough and sacramental process for reconciliation of a penitent. Whatever one thinks of Gingrich's politics or his motives in publicly confessing his sins, it would be scandalously beyond the bounds of Christian charity to question his sincerity in submitting to a process of ecclesiastical and pastoral discipline which, in his case, took a decade to complete. Having received absolution from no less an authority than the pope, it is hardly necessary for Gingrich to do additional penance at the behest of the interim pastor of a Baptist church in Tennessee.

Finally, and somewhat lightheartedly, there is the question of Dr. Land's presumptuousness. Focus group data aside, who is he to speak for "evangelical women?" Well, to quote that imminent theologian Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say, about that."