Merlene Davis: Gingrich will be faithful because he is too old to stray

I was out shopping recently when I bumped into a respected member of this community who is also a longtime Baptist minister.

We were in an outlet store for women's clothing, and he had several articles over his arm that he had selected.

Never one to miss an opportunity to tease, I greeted him and then asked if I had caught him buying clothing for a paramour.

"Is this a rumor I can start?" I asked. "Is this something I should tell your wife?"

"Please do," he said. "At 72, please start that rumor."

We both laughed and continued shopping.

I thought of that when I read that Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich had pledged to keep his marriage vows this time around.

His pledge, in agreement with "The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family," written by Family Leader, a conservative group, is the same one signed by fellow Republican candidates Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.

"I also pledge to uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others," Gingrich wrote in an email to the group.

Now that he is headed toward his seventh decade on this earth, Gingrich has decided to remain faithful to his third and latest wife.

OK. My faith tells me to forgive, so I'm trying to give Gingrich the benefit of the doubt. And that doubt is significant.

It's no secret that Gingrich has been unfaithful.

According to his first wife, Jackie Battley, who was interviewed in 1985, Gingrich had moved out of their home before she underwent surgery for a benign tumor in 1980.

A false story has Battley recovering from cancer surgery when Gingrich brings their daughters for a visit and asks Battley to sign divorce papers.

According to Battley, her surgery for uterine cancer occurred a couple of years before that. The hospital visit in question got a bit heated because Gingrich wanted to discuss the terms of the divorce, she said. Gingrich has said they got into an argument.

That was 31 years ago, when Gingrich was 37.

In 1981, six months after his divorce from Battley, Gingrich married Marianne Ginther. They were married 18 years, during which he had an affair with his current wife.

The second marriage ended in 1999, about eight months after the couple learned Ginther had multiple sclerosis.

The affair with Callista Bisek, Gingrich's current wife, occurred during the impeachment proceedings for President Bill Clinton involving his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Gingrich married Bisek in 2000.

In a recent GOP debate, Gingrich said, "I said upfront, openly, I've made mistakes at times. I've had to go to God for forgiveness. And I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I'm a person they can trust."

Wow. It does seem he has changed, doesn't it? He seemed to be saying he wasn't going to stray from his marriage vows again, because of his faith, not because he was getting too old to do so.

That is commendable. When people turn from sin, God is willing to forgive them. I'm supposed to do the same. Anyone can change.

I was right there with Gingrich until I read an open letter to him written in November by Richard D. Land, executive editor of Christian Post and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Land told Gingrich to come clean about his marriages and infidelities if he wanted to secure the votes of evangelical women.

He suggested Gingrich needed to make a speech and envision a "40-something evangelical woman" listening to his every word. Gingrich needn't worry so much about the evangelical men because they are "willing to cut you some slack over your turbulent marital history," Land wrote.

But here is the kicker.

"Make it as clear as you can that you have apologized for the hurt your actions caused and that you have learned from your past misdeeds," Land wrote. "Express your love for, and loyalty to, your wife and your commitment to your marriage. Promise your fellow Americans that if they are generous enough to trust you with the presidency, you will not let them down and that there will be no moral scandals in a Gingrich White House."

Wow. Gingrich seems to be following that advice very closely.

Land concluded, "Such a speech would not convince everyone to vote for you, but it might surprise you how many Evangelicals, immersed in a spiritual tradition of confession, redemption, forgiveness and second and third chances, might."

He was basically telling Gingrich to manipulate me through my beliefs. If Gingrich can mold my opinions of him by using my faith as his potter's wheel, what other stuff can he do in the name of God?

I'm back to believing that if Gingrich is faithful to this wife, it will be because he is too old to stray.