IOWA CITY – Given that it was a lecture sponsored by The Family Leader, a social conservative group that has asked presidential candidates to sign a pledge of fidelity to their spouses, the only surprise was that it took so long for “the question” to come up.
It was more than a half of an hour into questions and answers July 11 before former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich – twice divorced and three times married – was asked: “How could you use your experiences, both good and bad, to help lead the country regarding the importance of marriage and the family?”
Gingrich, who had focused many of his remarks on the role government can play in strengthening families, including lowering taxes and creating opportunities for jobs, took it in stride.
“I think that’s a very legitimate question,” he said at the University of Iowa where he was the latest hopeful for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination to participate in The Family Leader’s Presidential Lecture Series.
“I would hope that through my experiences, both the positive experiences and the more painful experiences, I could lead this country to a deeper and better understanding of what it means to take care of each other and to have a relationship,” Gingrich said.
Without mentioning his messy divorces and extramarital affairs, Gingrich said there have been “things” in his life that required him to “go to God for forgiveness and for reconciliation.”
But he’s learned from his mistakes, Gingrich said, and the advice he gives his daughters and grandchildren “is dramatically different and is something based on a lot of experiences.”
“If you look at the relationship that Callista and I have and the relationship we have with our daughters and grandchildren, I think that gives you some sense of what I’ve learned in my lifetime,” Gingrich concluded.
“I think we call that wisdom,” added Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader.
Vander Plaats rejected the idea it was contrary to the fundamentalist group’s principles to sponsor a lecture by a politician considered by many to be a philanderer.
“First of all,” he said, “we are a Christian organization. We believe in redemption. We believe that we all fall short. Our job is not to stay there. Our job is to grow, to mature.
“A cornerstone of who we are is forgiveness,” Vander Plaats told reporters. “That’s a part of who we are. You can only strive to the standard. The standard is still fidelity in our marriage.”
He also believes Gingrich “is really committed to his wife, Callista, right now.”
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