Most conservatives seem to have adopted a sensible view about the relevance of Newt Gingrich’s history of adultery to his presidential campaign: It is a negative factor but not a dispositive one. Conservatives who agree on this point may differ on just how much weight to give that factor. Here and there, however, one hears arguments to the effect that Gingrich’s past sins should not affect our judgment of his candidacy at all. The point is put with special force by, and to, some of Gingrich’s fellow Catholics: Since he has been absolved of his sins in the process of conversion, hasn’t the slate been wiped clean? Aren’t we obligated to forgive him for any past transgressions?
Christians are certainly obligated to love him and to will the good for him, obligations that do not depend on his repentance. We are not to shun him. Nor need we take any action to encourage him to express contrition, since he has already done that. But there are at least three reasons to hold a candidate’s past infidelities against his candidacy — whether or not one ultimately decides to support him — that forgiveness and repentance do not nullify. Note that I have shifted from speaking of “Gingrich” to “a candidate,” because my purpose here is not mainly to discuss the extent to which these reasons apply to him, but rather to establish the principles that apply generally in such situations.
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