3/1/2011—On Sunday, Howard Friedman posted the following note about former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s Presidential campaign on his blog, Religion Clause:
“Today's New York Times reports that as former House speaker Newt Gingrich gears up for a run for the 2012 Republican nomination for President, in his public appearances he is placing a new emphasis on religious faith. The Times says that on the campaign trail, Gingrich will:
‘have to grapple with aspects of his life and career that could give pause to elements of the Republican primary electorate, including a lack of a well-established association with religious conservatives and attendant questions about his two divorces. So as he travels the country, he is striking two related notes: that the nation faces not just a fiscal crisis but also a loss of its moral foundation, and that his conversion to Catholicism two years ago is part of an evolution that has given him a deeper appreciation for the role of faith in public life.’”
The Gingrich phenomenon may alter the unhealthy role that religion has played in American politics. If Gingrich really wants to run a faith oriented, or at least faith friendly campaign, he will have to run on the teachings of the Catholic Church.
While there are plenty of people who object to that kind of mixing of religion and politics, I want to point to a different aspect of how that effort may play out. The Catholic Church is very difficult to place in terms of the usual political divisions in America. The Church is very anti-abortion, of course. The Church is anti-gay marriage, though not as enthusiastically as other religious groups.
On the other hand, on many issues the Church is way left of center, including immigration, capital punishment, social justice both home and abroad, the role of government and the use of military force in foreign affairs. In its questioning of capitalism, the Catholic Church is so radical that there is no equivalent major non-religious voice.
Gingrich may try to run away from all this, but Catholic Church teaching is pretty seamless. Having run as a Catholic, Gingrich may be stuck with it, which could change the way Americans think about religion and politics.