BELIEFNET: Your mom was Methodist.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: She was.
BELIEFNET: So how did you end up as a Baptist as a child?
CLARK: My mother told me once that she and my father agreed that I would not be brought up Jewish in Chicago. She had me going to a Methodist church. When we went back to Arkansas, she told me when I was four and a half years old, "You'll have to choose the one you want to go."
I remember the Methodist church in Chicago had these beautiful stained glass windows. So I saw a church in Arkansas that had those beautiful stained glass windows and it was right across the street from this barber shop that had a miniature barber's chair complete with the razor strap and everything.
So I picked that church. It was the Immanuel Baptist church. And so that was my church. I picked that church when I was not quite 5.
BELIEFNET: Did you go to that on your own or did your Mom go with you?
CLARK: Mostly I went on my own. My mother went a couple of times to the Emmanuel Baptist church. When we moved over to the North Valentine street and after a couple of years she got tired of driving me to Emmanuel Baptist which is on the other side of town. So we went to a local Baptist church which was called Pulaski Heights Baptist church.
BELIEFNET: What was that like as a little boy to be going to Baptist church there on your own? Do you have any memories of that?
CLARK: Sure, I was always nagging my parents to come. I think my mother and stepfather came once or twice. That was it. Other kids had their parents there.
BELIEFNET: What was your argument to them?
CLARK: That I wanted them to come!
CLARK: Not quite 4.
BELIEFNET: Not to get psychobabbly here but any sense of how the death of your father was affecting your spiritual life?
CLARK: I'm sure it made me more spiritual. I feel confident that it did
BELIEFNET: Do you have any memory of church life and whether it was of any comfort?
CLARK: It was of tremendous comfort. I always said my prayers at night. My mother taught actually me to say prayers at night but most of it came from the church.
Once I started first grade I started going to Emmanuel Baptist church regularly. I went to Sunday school. We had Bible readings and things like that. We had weekly Bible readings in the Baptist church. You'd read a certain passage on Monday. A certain passage on Tuesday.
BELIEFNET: So you would go not just on Sunday?
CLARK: That's right. During several periods of my life I went to Baptist training union. I was a member of Royal Ambassadors [Southern Baptist mission education program for boys] for a year or so, which is the Baptist's youth group. When I was in high school I went back to church on Sunday night because we had Sunday night services as well. So you'd go to Sunday morning and Sunday night.
BELIEFNET: Flashing forward a little bit, tell me how you became interested in Catholicism and how you ended up converting.
CLARK: I wouldn't have known anything about Catholicism if I hadn't been dating Gert. In those days, Catholics were much less ecumenical than they are today. Gert was always of the mind that she wouldn't go to another church except the Catholic Church. So when I would date her in New York City and later when we went to Oxford before we got married we always went to the Catholic church.
What had happened to me was, I had tried to go the Protestant churches in England and I had sought out a Baptist church and a Methodist church. And that was during the Vietnam War and in both cases the sermons were anti- the American military and full of wildly overstated claims about how bad the American military was. My West Point classmates -- my roommate was serving over there-he was killed during that period.
I wasn't about to go to church like that who didn't respect my friends who believed they were praying to the same God and serving their country.
We always believed in the 12th chapter of the book of Mark. That's what we were taught at West Point where Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and they try to trick him and say "You say we're supposed to be loyal to God but you're being a traitor to Caesar." And he said, "Bring me the coin" and said, "Who's face [is] in this coin?" And the Pharisees say, "Well, Caesar of course." And Jesus says "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's."
That's the way we lived. That's what I believed. And when I saw and felt this animus out of these Protestant churches in England during the Vietnam war, it just turned me off.
The Catholic priest at the time was a guy named Michael Hollings. (He fought in WWII). He was a captain, a battalion adjutant. He was from one of the original Catholic families who had disobeyed Henry VIII's order to renounce the Roman Catholic faith. And he was just an incredibly educated, literate, bright, insightful, experienced man--a real leader.
Of course we'd go to Mass on Sundays but since I wasn't a member I couldn't take Communion. We went to some youth groups and various student groups and I determined I would convert to Catholicism based on his witness, but never had time to do it. In the next year I was back in the States getting ready to go to Vietnam and I didn't have time to do it. It wasn't until I got to Vietnam that I got to a Catholic priest in division headquarters and asked him if he could help me convert. He put me through a very simplified course.