Ron Paul's Christian Values: Pro-Life, Anti-War
The Republican presidential candidate says his opposition to the Iraq war is shaped by his faith. But he's not one to sermonize.
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A long shot for the White House, Ron Paul has nonetheless set a new one-day record for online political fundraising and has finished ahead of Rudy Giuliani in early primaries and caucuses. He was interviewed in Charleston, South Carolina by Beliefnet politics editor Dan Gilgoff.
Two of your brothers are ministers, which probably means you were raised a religious home.
One is a Lutheran minister and one became a Presbyterian minister.… Growing up, my family was very much involved in religious teaching and interested in religious faith and actually encouraged all five of us to become ministers. Two became ministers and I decided I could minister through medicine…. People have asked me what influenced me most in my family and upbringing and it was the work ethic and church. It was faith-based. We spent a lot of time at our church and that was part of our routine.
Before you were a politician, you were an obstetrician. Did your religious upbringing also influence your political views and your decision to get into politics?
Early on, [with] World War II and Korea—by that time I was finishing college…. And war had an influence on me going into medicine because it was very obvious that young men got drafted. And I saw so many friends and relatives go off to war and many of them not coming back. There were a lot of movies on war and they really had an impact on me. And for some reason, early in my life I knew I wouldn’t be able to pick up a rifle and shoot somebody. I didn’t want to do it. And I dreaded the fact that some day they might do that to me and so I decided I wanted to be a doctor just so I don’t have to shoot people. I’d rather help people.
Did any of your distaste for the idea of picking up a rifle stem from your religion?
Absolutely. It was that influence, my religious influence and what I had learned in my church about what Christ was teaching—there was such a contradiction…. Now, with the new policy that we have preemptive war, we’ve thrown out the Christian “just-war” theory [and it’s] very disturbing to me. This is a real challenge and should be a challenge for the Christian community. It’s implied that you’re unpatriotic and you’re not defending Christian values if you don’t go along with preemptive war. Some evangelicals do say that you have to have preventative war and preemptive war and that contradicts my understanding of what I learned and what’s become my faith.
You were raised in a Lutheran church, baptized your children in an Episcopal church, and now attend a Baptist church. What explains that jumping around?
I didn’t have much choice about the Lutheran church because I was born that way. It was very conservative and we spent a couple years in catechism and that was when I made my commitment to Christ and joined the church. And then when my wife and I got married it was sort of an accident because there wasn’t a Lutheran church handy and there was an Episcopal church handy and we enjoyed the older traditions of the old prayer book and at that time it was a much more conservative religion. As the years went on both of us became more annoyed with the liberalization of the Episcopal church and it didn’t fit us. None of our children stayed in the church…. we drifted away from it. We now go to a Baptist church.
Does that mean you now consider yourself an evangelical?
Yeah, I do. But I’m not sure that every single person that uses those labels are absolutely uniform and that people know exactly what they mean… some evangelicals get a little bit annoyed because I’m not always preaching and saying, “I’m this, I’m this, and this.” I think my obligation is to reflect my beliefs in my life. I like the statement in the Bible that when you’re really in deep prayer you go to your closet. You don’t do it out on the streets and brag about it and say, “Look how holy I am.” If a person has true beliefs and is truly born again, it will be reflected in their life.
You caught some flack recently for quoting Sinclair Lewis on the Fox News Channel in response to a Mike Huckabee’s TV ad that appeared to feature a cross. You said that “fascism would come to this country waving a flag and bearing a cross.”
Unfortunately, that came up in dealing with Huckabee and it wasn’t directed [at him]… that ad came out and I hadn’t seen it and they asked me about the cross and that thing flashed across my mind.
Do you regret saying it?
Well I regret those circumstances, [but] the position is well taken. I think people should be cautious… because of people using [religion] and the insincerity. But I have not been judgmental. As a matter of fact, I’ve been strongly defending people. Even Mitt Romney—I don’t defend the pros and cons of Mormonism, but I hate to see him picked on because somebody saying “I don’t agree with the Mormon religion.”
Have any of the Republican presidential candidates been guilty of that?
I don’t have any evidence of that but I just have a suspicion that there’s a lot of people that are less tolerant and will judge him more by his religion than his position on the First Amendment.
Mike Huckabee has made TV ads that identify him as a “Christian leader.” Do you think that’s an appropriate use of religion in politics?
I would certainly think that he can say anything he wants. I wouldn’t use those terms. Hopefully someone would see me as a Christian who could be a leader. And he’s playing on words. And how sincere he is, I make no judgment. I have no idea if he’s 100-percent sincere but misguided. I’m neither condemning nor would I use that same approach.
A few years ago, you wrote a Christmastime essay that said there was a war on religion in this country: “The ultimate goal of the anti-religious elites is to transform America into a completely secular nation… biased against Christianity.” Do you still see that kind of assault happening?
I think it’s systemic… in court cases that say you can’t say a prayer at a football game. Where is it in the Constitution that said that somebody can prohibit prayer? The First Amendment says the federal government shouldn’t write any laws regarding freedom of speech and prayer. And if it becomes offensive… then the local people have to deal with it.... it should be the school board or somebody. But there can’t ever be under the First Amendment a prohibition. The Founders never thought that to be the case…. It’s systemic, especially the aggressive atheists who are always going to courts, to say that their attitude because they’re atheists means a prohibition against expression of Christianity and that of course didn’t happen 30 or 40 or 50 years ago. It’s much more so today because there are some people aggressively trying to undermine Christianity.
Nonetheless, have you made common cause with a lot of secular liberals over your mutual outspoken opposition to the Iraq war?
Yes. A lot of times they love to have an ally and broaden their base... then all of a sudden, they’ll be a few [secular anti-war liberals] who will come off and break off and say, “Do you know who your ally is? He’s somebody in prayer, we have to attack them! He’s not even for the welfare state!” And they say, “He can be our friend, but not too friendly,” and then some of them will start attacking me.
Are you just as suspicious of them, of secular anti-war liberals?
I sort of welcome allies. I think that’s the way the political system should work.
You’ve sponsored legislation in Congress that would effectively overrule Roe. v. Wade and leave the abortion issue to the states. Is your pro-life position a result of your faith or your experiences as an obstetrician?
I was raised at a time when you weren’t challenged—nobody thought killing an unborn was a worthy thing to do. It didn’t make any sense. The reversal came in the sixties, when all of a sudden they said “Oh, killing an unborn baby is acceptable.” I just never accepted that. So what was just known and accepted just stuck with me. But then I had to sort it out theologically, philosophically, and also politically. And it was very easy for me to bring them all together—religious beliefs, personal beliefs, instincts, history, tradition, the right to life, and the value of life. What good is liberty if you don’t protect all life?
And with my medical background in obstetrics I realized I had legal liability… as a physician, if there’s a homicide, it’s a double homicide. That’s still on the books. So you can’t make life arbitrary. You can’t just say you can kill in one minute and you don’t on the other. That’s made our society schizophrenic, so that if the baby is inadvertently killed, we punish the person. But if it’s [done] deliberately, we pay the person. That is probably the greatest moral inconsistency in my lifetime that eventually has to be resolved or we will have this total misunderstanding about what our freedom is about.
You pride yourself on being a libertarian, so how do you reconcile your anti-abortion rights view with the libertarian view, which says that government should be pushed out of our private lives, so a couple or a woman has the right to make that decision?
I’ve never had too much trouble with that because I don’t see it as a privacy issue. I see it only as a definition of life issue. So all those arguments to protect the mother—I argue you’re supposed to protect the baby. We protect the baby if it’s in the crib. And the womb is not a whole lot different to me than the crib. Even though we protect the privacy of the home and don’t have government cameras in our homes, we still don’t endorse infanticide. So we don’t want to control what the woman does with her private life, but when it comes to killing a live human being, then there’s a role to be played by the state…. 30, 40-percent of libertarians agree with me.
The New York Times reported that you were excluded from forums sponsored by Christian groups for Republican candidates in Iowa. As a Christian, how did you react?
I consider them very insecure people if they can’t listen to what I’m saying. I mean, what are they afraid of? What have I said today that should threaten? I can understand why people would disagree, but what is so threatening? It must mean that I’m credible enough that I challenge them philosophically at their roots and they don’t want it to be heard.
You say your campaign is built around the idea of being true to the U.S. Constitution. Last year, a national poll showed that most Americans think the Constitution established a Christian nation. Do you?
No, it doesn’t establish a Christian nation. It’s a Christian nation in the sense that Christian traditions created the nation and that’s a lot different than a theocracy. We don’t have a theocracy. We created a country that protects Christian traditions and the people who were there were influenced by it, by the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, and there’s a big difference between a theocracy and Christian traditions influencing the character of the [Founding Fathers].
We shouldn’t be a theocracy because then who’s going to determine the rules of the theocracy? Should it be the Catholics? Should it be the Mormons? Should it be the evangelical Christians? And which group of evangelical Christians? What we have to protect is the First Amendment. And the influence is more subtle than saying that we are a Christian nation, although we may well be and originally were a nation made up of Christians. So in that sense we are a Christian nation but that’s in the very loose sense of the term, rather than being a Christian theocracy.
What do you pray for?
I pray for wisdom and grace. I want to be as wise as I can and to come across as non-confrontational.
Interview by Dan Gilgoff