Sam Brownback: 'The Poor Will Save Us'
The Republican senator says it just might take a religious revival to save America.
BY: Interview by David Kuo
It has been said that the most profound moral issue of our time isn't abortion but an economic system that oppresses the developing world, that helps ensure our wealth and their oppression. How do you respond to that?
Well, I would sure think about it. I don't know that I would agree off the top of my head. But, I would agree wholeheartedly that we're not doing everything that we can or should for the poor, and that hurts us.
The poor will save our souls. It's the story of Lazarus and the rich man.
I mean, and that story haunts me because it's a story about us today. You know, Lazarus is a poor man laid at the rich man's doorstep and even has sores that dogs lick. And the rich man walks out gaily by him every day, dressed in purple.
And he doesn't even give--and all Lazarus wants is the crumbs from his tables, and they both die. Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham, and the rich man goes to hell. And he says, Lazarus, help me out. Well, I can't.
And I just look at that, and I just go, if we just engage the poor, they'll save our souls. And that's what I look at when I see--and go into Africa or poverty situations here, or even in prisons, and you actually talk with people.
I get just lifted up sky high by just engaging. And all they want are the crumbs from my table. That's what we're talking about.
And I'm not talking about huge new big government programs. What I really think we need to do is to find ways that we integrate people, in the faith community, in particular, or any community here, with African orphanages, with water well drilling programs, with malaria programs, with faith-based initiatives in prison. I mean, we will solve a bunch of social problems, and we'll save our souls in the process.
What has been the greatest spiritual significance of your move to the Catholic Church, where you're now worshiping in the Catholic Church?
Maybe it's the depth of theological understanding - built on 2,000 years of thinking about it and reading the old saints, of what they looked at and said. And it's just that kind of constant building and building on top of something.
But, then, I get to look back and to read what some guy wrote in the 500 or 1100, who, my sense of it is, spent a lot more time thinking and praying about these things than we do today, so that the depth of his soul and the development of his soul was far greater than probably most people will ever accomplish today, not that we don't have good people, but just that this is a guy that put his whole life into this and in deep prayer and thought. And I look at it, and I just see this enormous beauty.
And frequently, too, it's a beauty built on a simple thought that is just profound and life changing. When you read it, you just go, well, of course, but you never thought of it. That's what has probably been the biggest thing.
Are there certain prayers that are a favorite of yours, in terms of prayers that you'd say over and over again, or prayers that really touch the depth of your soul?
The Lord's Prayer has grown in significance to me. It's grown in significance about how it's a prayer for my journey here. It's really a prayer for me, for this time, and recognizing the temptations and difficulties that exist for each of us as humans.
In 2004, John Kerry said that he wouldn't let his faith affect his decision making. Does it affect yours?
Yes, it does. I do believe in the separation of church and state. But I don't think separation of church and state means you have to be free from your faith. My faith informs everything I think and do. It's part of my value system. And to suggest that I can somehow separate and divorce that from the rest of me is not possible. I would not, under any circumstances, try to impose my personal faith and belief on the rest of the country. I don't think that's right. I don't think that's appropriate. But freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion. And I think that anything we can do to promote the idea that people should express their faith is a good thing.
In 1960, John Kennedy made the famous speech defending his Catholic faith. Now, some are saying that Governor Mitt Romney is being forced to defend his Mormon faith in the same way. Do you think the situations are the same?
I don't think so.
I think we're very accepting of people of faith and that we're very accepting of faith, and we even expect that people should have a faith. And this--and America's a faith-based experiment. I don't think you can understand America without understanding faith. And as much as we may try to modernize and walk away from it, you still got a public that's over 90 percent believes in God, that likes the motto of the country, In God We Trust, that recognizes the power of faith.
The thing I think is tough in our age is that, while we expect those sort of things, it's like we've developed this sort of sinister view of faith. I'm okay with it, but it seems like it manipulates people. And it's a negative force, and not always a positive force.
And so, then, you get these questions for John Kennedy or even for Mitt Romney or for myself. And my argument is that faith is a good thing. It's not a bad thing. It's not a sinister thing. And it is what powers people, and this is a good thing.
You know, Martin Luther King, Junior - what was his profession? He was a preacher. You know? Mother Teresa is--was a nun. I just--I think we shouldn't look at it as a negative, as so often as seen. I think we should look at it as enormous positive.