For 30 minutes Wednesday, in between campaign stops in Florida, Newt Gingrich conducted a conference call with Christian pastors from around the state and nation and used the opportunity to bash Mitt Romney's record on abortion and what he considers a "secular assault on religion."
"I think we are in a war against religion,'' Gingrich said during the call, which was openly recorded and made available to the Herald/Times. "I think the elites are bigoted secularists. I think we have judges who are dictatorial. I think we have constant pressure against religious expression."
As he has done with pastors in other states, the former U.S. congressman used the opportunity to talk about his call for a Commission on Religious Freedom and his proposal to end "judicial activism."
At no time during the discussion did the pastors raise the issue of Mormonism, or the opinion of evangelicals of Romney's faith, but the pastors emphasized their power to move voters into Gingrich's camp.
Tony Calatayud of Miami, the general manager of Salem Communication's Spanish language radio, urged pastors "to share on Sunday without any doubt that we need a new leader...somebody that is going to be honoring God and what this country was founded on."
During the discussion, led by Jim Garlow, the senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, Gingrich said that he won South Carolina, when the electorate there realized that he could "debate Obama and win the general election."
He said Romney's record "was pro abortion" and that as Massachusetts governor "he had put Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S. into Romneycare. Had tax paid abortions in Romneycare, had appointed pro-abortion judges."
He told the pastors he opposes abortion, believes that "life begins at conception" and is "opposed to the use of any embroyo for research because it is a violation of the sanctity of life."
He said he is calling for a national commission to make sure embroyos are appropriately handled and he wants any public funds going to Planned Parenthood to be cut and the money given to adoption services.
"Gov. Romney has a very duplicitous position,'' Gingrich said. "He clams he became pro life after visting some clinic...actually Romneycare gives planned parenthood official status."
Garlow asked him to define marriage. "It's pretty simple,'' Gingrich said. "Marriage is between a man and a woman. It's an historic doctrine driven deep into the Bible.'' Anything else, he said, is "perfect pagan behaviors."
Asked to define American exceptionalism, Gingrich said: "We are not exceptional. We are just people. But we have inherited form the Founding Fathers that [which] is exceptional."
Gingrich was asked when he first came to Christ, and he said his journey began as a child.
"I first came to a sense of God and the concept of heaven or hell when I was about 4 because I had a grandma who was very old fashioned…who communicated enough about hell that I decided not to go there,'' he said.
Growing up in Harrisberg, Pennsylvania, he sang in the local Lutheran choir, born and as the family moved with his father's army career, "I became whatever the local protestant chapel was."
"I still get emotional listening to Christmas music because it brings back memories,'' he said.
As a graduate student at Tulane University, Gingrich said he was baptized in the Baptist church, served as a deacon and taught a bible class. "I still have enormous fondness for the Baptist church,'' he said. "Gradually my life became more difficult and more painful and I found it harder to commit myself the way I should have…There were parts of my life that were not appropriate and I've had to ask God's forgiveness and I've had to seek reconciliation with God."
When he married Calista, his third wife whom he called a "cradle Catholic," he attended church with her at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. "Gradually I became surrounded by the church and became fascinated by the Catholic approach to the eucharist,'' he said. He said his conversion to catholicism was gradual. "I didn't decide to become Catholic, I became Catholic and then decided to accept that is what had happened."
Prayer is a constant in his life, he told the pastors. "I've always relied on God. I've always sought to pray before every major speech,'' and noted that before his South Carolina primary he prayed "not to ask him for victory but to ask him for understanding,"