GINGRICH FINDS GOD…. Newt Gingrich doesn’t like to talk about it, but back when he was Speaker of the House, he wasn’t especially concerned with the Republican Party’s religious right base. In fact, he largely ignored the movement, so much so that in the spring of 1998, James Dobson and a bunch of religious right heavyweights said they were prepared to abandon the GOP altogether and form a Christian conservative party.

Gingrich eventually talked the movement leaders out of it, brought them back into the fold by making a bunch of promises, and then proceeded to ignore the religious right all over again. All the while, Gingrich was conducting his personal life in … how do I put this gently … an ungodly kind of way.

With this in mind, Gingrich seems like an odd choice for this kind of endeavor.

At a time when many religious conservatives say the Republican Party is ignoring their issues and taking their support for granted, former House speaker and GOP idea man Newt Gingrich is turning his attention to the concerns of conservative Christians like never before.

Gingrich has launched an organization devoted to bringing conservative evangelicals and Catholics into the political process and to strengthening the frayed alliance between economic and religious conservatives. Called Renewing American Leadership, the group is led by Gingrich’s longtime communications director and includes some of the country’s top conservative Christian activists on its board.

This spring, Gingrich will speak to a handful of large gatherings for politically conservative clergy that have been organized by David Barton, an influential evangelical activist who spearheaded the Republican National Committee’s rigorous outreach to pastors in 2004.

Barton, for those unfamiliar with him, is a pseudo-historian and religious right celebrity who gives speeches about the United States being founded as a “Christian nation.”

Gingrich told U.S. News that his new initiative is necessary because of the “rising hostility to religious belief.” What hostility?

Gingrich alleges that threats to religious liberty have multiplied under the Obama administration. He points to the recent economic stimulus package, which prohibits colleges from using federal funds to build or repair buildings used for worship or other religious purposes.

I see. Gingrich’s evidence of anti-religious sentiment in government is based on an obvious, demonstrable, and blatant lie.

How anyone could consider this clown a “visionary” is a mystery.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.