When I lived in the New Orleans area, I remember hearing about the pastor of St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church (beautiful building, very "progressive" congregation) remarking to the press about his baptizing then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich decades earlier when Gingrich was a student at Tulane University. "If I knew then what I know now," he was alleged to have said. "I'd have held him under longer. Much, much longer."
While socially liberal Baptists may have hated the fact that Gingrich identified himself with their denomination, in time so did more conservative Baptists. Reports of Gingrich's divorces and infidelities were hardly welcome, even if rarely mentioned by his political allies in evangelical Christendom.
This week's Time magazine discusses how Gingrich has traded in his nominal Southern Baptist identity for a new life as a devoted Roman Catholic, joining the church of his third wife. Gingrich's personal story is hardly Cardinal Newman (or even Senator Brownback). He tells Time he's still "not intensely religious," and, with Time's Amy Sullivan tagging along, reads a novel through the prayer time before Mass.
What's more interesting though is Time's assessment of why prominent conservatives (such as Gingrich, Brownback, Robert Novak) and others are finding a home in the Roman church. For Gingrich, Time reports, it's the "depth of an intellectual tradition" that the ex-Speaker finds "comforting."
Time sees the contributions of the recently deceased Richard John Neuhaus and William F. Buckley, Jr., as providing "an intellectual haven for conservatives put off by Evangelicals who rail against experts and elites."
I thinkSullivan oversimplifies both Catholicism and evangelicalism at this point. There are streams of more robustly traditional Protestants, of course, and I would hardly think that most traditional Catholics would see their tradition in such baldly intellectual and utilitarian terms.
And what Time misses is how evangelicals and Roman Catholics are increasingly conversant with one another, and not just at the level of Washington or Manhattan elites. What would make for a really fascinating story is how this is true among those (of both traditions) who are likely to spontaneously combust than they are to convert.