John Edwards: 'My Faith Came Roaring Back'
In the first of a series of interviews with presidential candidates, Edwards discusses how faith affects his decisions.
BY: Interview by David Kuo
What are the biggest moral issues facing America today?
There are several. One is here within our own borders. The fact that we have 37 million people who live every day worrying about taking care of themselves and their family, living in poverty, I think is a huge moral issue.
I would say the same thing about the 47 million people who don't have health care coverage. I think those are the big moral issues here within our borders.
But I think there are big moral issues in other parts of the world, too. Global poverty, half the planet living on $2 or less a day. Three billion people.
I think this genocide that's going on in Western Sudan, Darfur, is a huge moral issue. Us continuing to allow kids to be born in Africa with AIDS because their mothers can't afford $4 medicine is a big moral issue.
Does your concern for the poor come mostly from your own background, or does it come from your faith?
Both. It comes from both.
My own personal experience has been that I came from a very poor background when I was young. But, by the time I was in middle school/high school, we were solidly in the middle class. And now I've had everything you could ever have financially in this country. And so, I feel some responsibility myself to help and give back, to give that opportunity to lots of people who I don't think have it today. That's part of it. And it also comes from my faith. If you took every reference to taking care of the least of these out of the Bible, there would be a pretty skinny Bible. And I think I as a Christian, and we as a nation, have a moral responsibility to do something about this.
You've received a lot of criticism from people about the size of your house. In your book, "Home," you quote Rick Warren saying, "What I've noticed is that where people live affects how they live." If that's true, how does your home impact you? What does it say about you? And does it in any way undercut your discussion of the poor?
I think it's a fair question, first of all. And here's how I feel about it. The book that you made reference to that Rick Warren is in, "Home," I think the overwhelming message from that is, whatever the structure, the physical structure--some of the houses in my book were very small, tiny. Some of them were huge. And what matters in the message from that book is [that] the physical structure's not important. What matters is what happens inside that physical structure, and what kind of values and beliefs and faith are taught inside that structure. And so, you know, I come from a very modest place and I've done well and we have a very nice physical structure. It's completely unimportant. What matters is what happens inside that structure.
And back to your question about Jesus and what he would be most disappointed in, what we're doing to meet the needs of those around us. I'm not for a minute suggesting we are saints or we have done more than a lot of other people have done, but Elizabeth and I have spent a lot of time building a couple of learning centers for low-income kids who need a place to use technology, made college scholarships available, helped build houses for people who don't have houses, helped with humanitarian needs in Africa. Those are some of the causes--I'm sure I'm forgetting some--that we have been personally committed to, both before we got in politics and since that time. So, do I think we've done everything we could do? No. I don't think anybody does. But I think Jesus would be happy with some of the things we've done.
Would it be your hope that a John Edwards Supreme Court would allow public schools to encourage more prayer in schools?
What I'm not in favor of is for a teacher to go to the front of the classroom and lead the class in prayer. Because I think that by definition means that that teacher's faith is being imposed on children who will almost certainly come from different faith beliefs. Allowing time for children to pray for themselves, to themselves, I think is not only okay, I think it's a good thing.
What do you think about Ten Commandments being displayed in local courthouses?
I guess I've been in courthouses where I've seen the Ten Commandments. I've never had a strong reaction to it. I do think that it's the same issue. How would Muslims feel if they went into that courthouse, and how would people of other faiths feel, Hindus, others feel, if they were in the same circumstance?
So I'm sensitive to that. You know, of course it wouldn't offend me because I'm Christian. And I'm certainly not offended by the idea of expressing faith in that circumstance. But probably it causes more trouble than good.
President Bush, obviously, has talked a lot about empowering faith-based organizations. Vice President Gore during the 2000 campaign talked about it. Yet, there's been a lot of hostility from the Democratic Party about the idea of using faith-based groups. Would an Edwards presidency see aid to faith-based groups expanded?
Well, I'll tell you what I have seen, first, as the foundation for what I believe.
In the last few years, I have been all over the country going to Community Action centers, faith-based local organizations who are providing help to the poor because of my work on the issue of poverty. And there are a lot of places in America that, without faith-based groups there is no support for the poor. It's just that simple. And [the poor] would not survive without the existence of good, effective faith-based organizations.