By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
When I wrote recently about Newt Gingrich's new organization for mobilizing religious conservatives, I wondered about how much the former House speaker was personally invested in it. The group's day-to-day operations, after all, are handled by Gingrich's former communications director.
But I've noticed that Gingrich is speaking up more and more about what he says is the Obama administration's assault on religion. Take this recent interview with One News Now, the news arm of the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group. A few highlights:
- Gingrich called President Obama's plan to reduce the charitable tax deduction for top earners a "war against churches and charities."
- "I think there's a clear to desire to replace the church with a bureaucracy and to replace people's right to worship together with a government-dominated system."
- On the Obama administration's intention to roll back so-called conscience protections for healthcare workers: "This is most aggressive, militant, secular program I can remember. And I think you have to be really clearly aware that they want an America which is radically different than the country which was created by those pioneers who first landed back in 1607 at Cape Henry and erected a cross to thank God for having allowed them to cross the Atlantic Ocean."
Gingrich's growing preoccupation with the concerns of Christian conservatives coincides with his conversion to Catholicism, which he discussed for the first time yesterday on Fox News Sunday:
CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Gingrich, you have been a Baptist most of your life, and last Sunday you converted to Catholicism. Why, sir?
GINGRICH: I'm not talking about this much publicly, but let me just say that I found over the course of the last decade, attending the basilica, meeting with Monsignor [Walter] Rossi, reading the literature, that there was a peace in my soul and a sense of well being in the Catholic Church, and I found the mass of conversion last Sunday one of the most powerful moments of my life. [Rossi is the rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.]
WALLACE: You have—it's no secret—been married and divorced twice. Will you be able to participate fully in communion and all the other rites of the Catholic Church?
GINGRICH: Yes, we have done everything within the law of the church, following all of the rules of the church over the last 10 years. And it's been a process. It's been a very long process and something which was deeply affected, in part, by Pope Benedict XVI's visit and the opportunity I had to sit in—as you know, my wife, Calista, sings at the basilica every Sunday, and I was allowed as a spouse to be there as part of the vespers program when the pope came. It's been a long process.
WALLACE: And if I might ask, just briefly, what is it about the pope's visit that led to this?
GINGRICH: I really believe, first of all, seeing the joy in his eyes, listening to his message, and I really believe that his basic statement, Christ our hope, is right. And I think much of what's wrong with our country and with the western world is a function of looking inside ourselves, not just looking at money or looking at our wallets.
Gingrich seems to be talking more about religion right now than any other prominent Republican. But he still has work to do with religious conservatives if he's eyeing them as a base of support for a White House run.