Religious Biography

Newt Gingrich

Born in Pennsylvania, Newt Gingrich was raised as a Lutheran in the U.S. and abroad by his mother and adoptive father, Robert Gingrich, a career Army officer. Gingrich has switched faiths twice as an adult, first becoming a Southern Baptist when he was in graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans and more recently converting to Catholicism.

After attaining his doctorate in history, Gingrich worked as an assistant professor at West Georgia College before winning a congressional seat representing Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. He subsequently served in the U.S. House as a Republican from 1979 to 1999, garnering national attention in 1994 when he co-authored the “Contract With America,” a series of GOP policy pledges. Gingrich served as speaker of the U.S. House from 1995 to 1999.

In America, religious belief is being challenged by a cultural elite trying to create a secularized America, in which God is driven out of public life.

– Newt Gingrich, speaking to a January 2011 gathering of the group Ohio Right to Life in Columbus

Gingrich has been married three times. His third wife is Callista Bisek Gingrich, a former congressional staffer. In a March 2007 interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Gingrich admitted to having an extramarital affair with Bisek during his U.S. House tenure, while he was married to his second wife. When a college student at a February 2011 question-and-answer session in Philadelphia asked him how he reconciled his affair with his religious values, Gingrich responded, “I believe in a forgiving God, and the American people will have to decide whether [that’s] their primary concern.”

Following his congressional career, Gingrich worked as a political contributor for Fox News and as a think tank scholar, in addition to writing books and starting a consulting business and policy organization. Through their company, Gingrich Productions, Gingrich and his wife have produced several films with religious themes, including Nine Days That Changed the World, about Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to Poland that helped inspire a groundswell of opposition against the communist regime; and Rediscovering God in America, emphasizing religion’s influence on the Founding Fathers. “There is no attack on American culture more destructive and more historically dishonest than the relentless effort to drive God out of America’s public square,” Gingrich states in a Web trailer for the film Rediscovering God in America.

In 2009 Gingrich converted to Catholicism, his wife’s lifelong faith. In a 2009 interview with Time magazine about his conversion, Gingrich said of his new faith, “When you have 2,000 years of intellectual depth surrounding you, it’s comforting.” In an April 2011 essay for the National Catholic Register, Gingrich discussed his conversion further, writing that “over the course of several years I gradually became Catholic and then decided one day to accept the faith I had already come to embrace.” Gingrich wrote that he was inspired by books he had read; his wife’s performances as a choir singer at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.; a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome; and his attendance at Mass in different countries around the world, which “opened my eyes to the diversity and richness of the Catholic Church.”

Gingrich also wrote in his essay that Pope Benedict XVI’s April 2008 visit to the U.S. “was a turning point” in his decision to convert, adding, “I was struck by the happiness and peacefulness he exuded. The joyful and radiating presence of the Holy Father was a moment of confirmation about the many things I had been thinking and experiencing for several years.” Following his conversion, Gingrich wrote, he felt that “after a decade-long – perhaps lifelong – faith journey, I was finally home.”

In speeches in early 2011, Gingrich warned against what he considers rising secularism in America. According to a report by Politico, Gingrich said in a March 2011 speech at Cornerstone Church, the San Antonio, Texas, megachurch led by evangelical Protestant pastor the Rev. John Hagee, “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, [my grandchildren will one day live] in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

Published on November 8, 2011
PHOTO CREDIT: © Brendan Hoffman/Corbis