Newt Gingrich: The New Face of the Religious Right?

The latest issue of Americans United’s “Church and State” has a lengthy cover story by Rob Boston analyzing just who might step up to lead the Religious Right in the years to come, now that many of its well-known leaders have passed away and others are aging and scaling back their workloads.

Boston takes a look at a variety of potential candidates – including Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Tony Perkins, Rick Warren, Rod Parsley, and Rick Scarborough – but he starts off his list with Newt Gingrich:

The idea of Newt Gingrich as the next leader of the Religious Right is not as odd as it sounds. During his tenure as speaker of the House of Representatives, Gingrich was known mainly for his promotion of small government, low taxes and libertarian ideas, but a lot has changed since 1999; in recent years Gingrich has increasingly been stressing Religious Right themes.

The new push began in 2006 when Gingrich published a book titled Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation’s History, a tome that promotes a “Christian nation” history that’s always popular with the Religious Right.

In a recent interview with Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report, Gingrich talked about his desire to unite conservative evangelicals with traditionalist Roman Catholics in support of a broad conservative agenda.

Gingrich, Gilgoff reported, is traveling around the country speaking to clergy on behalf of David Barton, a Religious Right pseudo-historian who has written books promoting the theocratic “Christian nation” viewpoint.

“In the last few years I’ve decided that we’re in a crisis in which the secular state, if allowed, will fundamentally and radically change America against the wishes of most Americans,” Gingrich told Gilgoff. “You’ve had such rising hostility to religious belief that I wanted to reach broadly into the country and dramatically raise public awareness of threats to religious liberty.”

The ex-speaker added, “It’s time to challenge head-on secular domination in the West.”

Gingrich has formed a new organization, Renewing American Leadership, that partnered with the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association to sponsor anti-tax rallies around the country on April 15. Although taxation is not traditionally a Religious Right issue, the push is a good example of Gingrich’s efforts to add to the “culture war” agenda and unite the various factions of the conservative movement.

I’d like to second Boston’s assertion that Gingrich could very well become a leading figure within the Religious Right and I’ll offer this recent email from the American Family Association up as evidence:

We fully expect someone like Huckabee to gladly associate himself with people such as Barton, Staver, Engle, and Falwell, becuase he has done so before and they were all big supporters of his presidential bid.

But, until recently at least, one person you would never see at a third-tier Religious Right event such as this was Gingrich.  His partnering with the AFA and Barton and now his participation in events like this all suggest that Gingrich is making a serious play to establish himself as a respected and influential player within the Religious Right, perhaps as part of his effort to unify the conservative movement ahead of his own potential presidential run.