An Open Letter to Political Leader Newt Gingrich and Religious Leader Pat Robertson. Do you agree with Spong?
Dear Newt and Pat,
You have both walked on the national stage for some time now. Your names are well known, even household words, across this country. I think it is fair to say that both of you have made contributions. Your recent activities, however, lead me to suggest that the time has come for you to retire from public life, since your utterances have become more and more bizarre and more and more destructive to the task of the well being of this nation.
What you both seem to perceive as truth increasingly looks like little more than a political or religious cover that masks behavior that is out of touch with reality, a reflection of illness, perhaps. Please hear me out. This is not a partisan attack or an expression of an intolerant religious fervor. It is an appeal for the future of the nation that I love and for the Christian faith to which I am deeply committed.
You will probably not remember, Newt, but I met you years ago in the "Green Room" of radio station WBZ in Boston. I was there on a book tour; you were at that time leading an attack on House Speaker Jim Wright. The issue was "Ethics." It seems that Speaker Wright had used the profits from his book to circumvent House rules on campaign financing.
You were at that time, Newt, young, bright, aggressive and clearly destined for big things in the Congress. You were also ruthless. I asked you why you were so intent on bringing Jim Wright down and you responded that it was his dishonesty not you that was going to bring him down. Eventually Wright was indeed forced to resign. It was interesting to me that when you achieved power, you faced an almost identical charge from the Ethics Committee of the House of Representatives about a book you wrote and you too were found guilty of an ethics violation and agreed to pay a $300,000 fine.
In 1994, through your own brilliance, you did something that had never been done before. With the "Contract for America," you nationalized the off-year elections and won a stunning victory. You helped to sweep the Republican Party into control of the House. You then became probably the most powerful Speaker in American history. No one doubted your intellectual capacity or your ability to be a veritable fountain of new ideas about government. You referred to yourself as a "true radical" and began to chart a political revolution.
Once again, however, character issues emerged. You were as eager to impeach the President of the United States for lying under oath in the Monica Lewinsky episode as you had been to remove Speaker Jim Wright. I understand partisan politics and do not think your passion was illegal. What was without character, however, was that while you were piously condemning President Clinton for his infidelity, you were yourself having an adulterous relationship with a woman for whom you would later divorce your wife to marry. Your sexual escapades were no less tawdry than those of William Jefferson Clinton. Hypocrisy is not an impeachable offense, but it is also not an admirable characteristic.
When President Clinton won a second term in 1996 and when the Democrats gained five seats in Congress in the election of 1998, your star began to set and you, under pressure from your peers resigned both your leadership role and your seat in Congress and began to wander in the political wilderness. You kept portraying yourself as an "ideas" person, but no one saw you any longer as a rising political leader. You carried, as they said regularly, "too much baggage."
When the Republican Party gained the White House in 2000, you played almost no role in the eight years of the George Bush presidency. When you did emerge into public life after the McCain defeat in 2008, something new became apparent. You had evolved into a new image of an out of touch and bitter politician. You had become an irresponsible exponent of every emotional wedge issue that came along. That is when you seemed more and more to roam in a world of unreality.
First, in the campaign of 2008, you suggested that Barack Obama was a racist. For a white Congressman from Georgia to refer to an African-American as a racist reflects either a large amount of chutzpah or the beginning of a mental illness. Next, you decided that Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court, was a racist. In medical terms that behavior is called "projection," Newt. It is also irresponsible politics. It reminds me of the politics of Adolf Hitler who saw all Jews as a threat to his world view. Then you adopted the weird position of author Dinesh D'Souza and suggested that president Obama was "channeling" the anti-colonial and thus the anti-white mentality of his Kenyan father. Next you announced that you would adamantly oppose the imposition of Sharia law in America as if that were a threat from anyone. That charge was the height of irresponsibility and to try to add the slightest shred of credibility to your claims, you went on to suggest that Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan were themselves suspect on the Sharia Law issue. There is not a shred of evidence to support any of those claims. The absurdity of your comments once more revealed a person who had substituted his own view of reality for reality itself. In medical circles these symptom are normally called paranoia and even schizophrenia, both of which are clinically diagnosable mental illnesses.
Pat Robertson, I have known you since 1966 when my first cousin, William Belser Spong, Jr., defeated your father, A. Willis Robertson, in the United States Senatorial race in Virginia. It was a very close primary election. Only 611 votes out of over 800,000 cast separated your father, the three-term, 78-year-old incumbent, from my cousin, his young and more moderate challenger. You were not particularly active in that campaign since you were busy with the start of your television empire. Your academic record is spotty and it appears that you were not a dedicated student, even if your alma maters, Washington & Lee and Yale Law School were academically elite institutions. We do know that you never were able to pass the bar exam and so you turned instead to what you described as a religious "calling." To your credit you built for yourself a successful career, first as an evangelist, then as a business man and finally a politician. You were a major force in the 1988 Republican presidential primaries. After that, however, you seemed to leap off the tracks.
Religion sometimes becomes a socially acceptable mask designed to make acceptable behavior that is otherwise immediately recognized as emanating from a disturbed mind. First, you asserted that Christians have the right to rule non-Christians. Then you began to say that feminism was the result of "militant, man-hating lesbians." Next, you suggested that the attack on 9/11 was brought about because God withdrew the divine protective shield from around this nation because America had embraced feminism, made abortion legal in limited situations, was accepting of homosexuality and tolerated in our freedom such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union. You called for the execution of a foreign head of state in South America. You proceeded to warn a town in Pennsylvania that God's wrath would descend on them when they defeated candidates for the school board who sought to impose "Creation Science" on the science classes in their public schools. You went on to suggest that New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina because it was the birthplace of lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres, expressing both your blatant homophobia as well as your inability to recognize that there is not a city in the world that has not been the birthplace of a gay or lesbian person. Finally, when the tragic earthquake struck Haiti this past year, you suggested that it was divine punishment since Haitians "made a pact with the devil" and threw the French out. The Haitian Revolution, you might need to know, occurred between 1791 and 1804, which would make God's retribution in the earthquake of 2010 appear to be rather late in coming! These and other similar comments of yours long ago ceased to be taken seriously by anyone except late night comedians. You words have become an embarrassment to thinking people and an insult to theological intelligence. I think the time has come for you to fade from public life.
We cherish freedom of speech in America, Newt and Pat, but we also expect political and religious leaders to be responsible and not to exacerbate in a self serving and destructive manner, the latent anger that is always present in the body politic. Finally, we want those who are authentic leaders, whether conservative or liberal, to offer solutions rather than fan the fears of our people for their political gain. No one is well served by those whose stated tactic is to set our citizens against one another. In these areas of public life it is now quite clear that both of you have not only failed miserably, but that your judgment is actually impaired. You both now seem to be engaged in the task of picking at the scabs of our problems for your own political or religious gain. That is simply not acceptable behavior for a leader. When mental instability begins to affect a former leader, the only way to save that person's reputation is for a withdrawal to take place to the privacy of one's home in order to live out the balance of one's days in silence. It may be too late for that tactic to be fully successful for either of you, but it is not too late to cease inflicting more wounds on your reputation. The America that either of you now seems to envision is not the America of today or tomorrow. Those former leaders like the two of you who appear to be unable to adjust to a new reality invariably become destructive blockers in the process of seeking solutions in new situations. Newt, you will soon enter the eighth decade of your life. Pat, you have already entered the ninth decade of your life. The time has come for both of you to retire from public life. I hope you will do so voluntarily for that is the only way it will be gracious.
~John Shelby Spong