LYNCHBURG, Va. – Newt Gingrich's admission of an extramarital affair as he pursued President Clinton's impeachment in the Monica Lewinsky scandal has won praise from another conservative Christian leader: the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
It's also helped to gain Gingrich an invitation to deliver the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University. Gingrich is considered a possible Republican presidential contender, although he has not announced any intention to run.
In an interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson that aired Friday, Gingrich admitted to the affair in 1998. In 2000, he divorced his second wife, Marianne, after his attorneys acknowledged his relationship with Callista Bisek, a former congressional aide now his wife.
"He has admitted his moral shortcomings to me, as well, in private conversations," Falwell wrote in a weekly newsletter sent Friday to members of the Moral Majority Coalition and The Liberty Alliance. "And he has also told me that he has, in recent years, come to grips with his personal failures and sought God's forgiveness."
Gingrich, 63, a former Georgia congressman who served as Republican speaker of the House after leading the party to its first House majority in 40 years, has been married three times. He has supported a family-values agenda as a candidate, and his two divorces have sparked reports of extramarital affairs as well as charges of hypocrisy from critics.
He abruptly resigned from Congress in 1998 after Republicans faired poorly in midterm elections. He also was reprimanded by the House ethics panel in connection with using tax-exempt funding to advance his political goals.
Clinton's impeachment by the House was driven by charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from sworn statements about an affair with Lewinsky while she was a White House intern. In the Dobson interview, Gingrich argued that he should not be seen as a hypocrite and suggested he had an obligation to pursue the charges against Clinton.
Falwell, in his newsletter, said he has usually been able to tell when a man who has experienced "moral collapse" was genuinely seeking forgiveness. "My sense tells me that Mr. Gingrich is such a man," he wrote.
"I well remember the challenge we evangelicals faced in 1980 when our candidate, Ronald Reagan, was the first presidential candidate who had gone through a divorce. We wisely made allowance for God's forgiveness and America was the beneficiary of this historic champion," Falwell added.
The invitation to speak at commencement is not an endorsement of Gingrich, Falwell said.
Another potential GOP contender, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, spoke at Liberty's commencement last year. McCain's appearance followed a reconciliation with Falwell, who had been at odds with McCain during the 2000 campaign for the Republican nomination.