2016-07-27
John EdwardsSam Brownback, Republican senior senator from Kansas, has his eyes on the White House. He is a social conservative through and through. He is staunchly pro-life. He is against gay marriage. He is also radically pro-poor and has spent much time and effort trying to bring the poor's plight - particularly in Africa - to America's attention. He sat down with Beliefnet's Washington editor, David Kuo, to talk openly and in depth about his religious faith and what it is going to take to save America. Watch segments of the interview or read an extended version below.

How I Live with Cancer

  • Reexamining My Politics
  • Asking What I Can Do to Help People
  • Living a Different Life

How the Catholic Church Changed Me

  • Greater Theological Depth
  • Exposed Me to Beauty

America's Greatest Moral Crisis

  • May Not Be Abortion
  • The Poor Can Save Us

Religion in Politics

  • Romney Different from JFK
  • More Open to Faith Now
  • No Religious Tests
  • Danger of Losing Jesus to Politics

America Needs Religion

  • Only Revival Can Save Us

God and Me

  • God Happiness and Unhappiness with Me


Have you changed since 1994 when you declared you were part of the “Republican shock troops”?

I don't know if I would use those terms, but I've changed - that would be true. My policy positions have not. But, what I emphasize has changed. I'm still an economic conservative, pro-growth, limited government. I'm still a social conservative. But, in '95, I had a melanoma. We dealt with that. But, mentally, it was a big shock on my system. And it did change me. It made me look at the end of life.

And when I did, I wasn't happy with the way I was living life then, no matter how long or few my days were is I just, I thought, you know, oh, I'm just, I'm mean, I'm judgmental, and I don't like that.

And so, it was a real--it was a tough period. It was a great period. It was one I thank God for. I don't want to go back through it, but it did change me.

And it made me look and say what is it that I can do to help people? Or if God needs a politician, what would he do? And you quickly surmise, well, he would obviously be very interested in the poor and the downtrodden. He would obviously be interested in trying to help people and in building relationships with other people. And these are things you don't have to do a lot of searching to say that they're there. And unfortunately, in the world, there's a lot of people that are in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. And we live in the most powerful nation in the history of mankind. We're in a position to help.

With the recent announcements of Elizabeth Edwards' return of cancer and Tony Snow's return of cancer, how does that impact you? What does it make you think or feel?

Well, it makes me feel a lot for them, as I can, in some degree, identify, even though mine is a very simple one and you excise it and, if you catch it early on, the prognosis is quite good.

But, it also makes me think of the mental journey that they're on right now because cancer's very much a disease that hits you in the head because you just don't know what else is going on in this body. It makes me pray for them, and I do, with them going through this.

It also doubles my effort to eliminate deaths by cancer in 10 years, which I Co-Chair the Cancer Caucus here. A number of us have been pushing this. This is a--this is something we could actually do, and take a moon shot at. And it would be an enormous burst of freedom.

It's the leading cause of fear in America today, is that you'll get cancer, and for good cause. One out of two men and one out of three women will get cancer in America. I'm like wow.

Why is it that more Republicans aren't perceived to share that same compassion?

I don't know. I think it's clearly the way forward for the party and for the country. I think it's the way forward for us globally, for a President to travel Africa and listen, and say, what is it we can do to help?

And they'll tell you real quick. You know, it'll be malaria, thank you for the AIDS for work. Very appreciative in Africa that malaria--we got 65 percent of our children having malaria. We need clean water. You know, it'd be pretty basic things that most Americans would say, I hear you. And it would make us better in the process.

I don't know, but, it seems that, clearly, the way forward for the party to keep from having a shrinking base is to really engage this compassionate conservative, or I refer to it as a bleeding heart conservative ideology, which has a huge following in the country.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.

Do you think that there's any particular faith that could or should disqualify someone from public office or for running for President?

No. You know, and we don't have religious tests in this country. And we swear them off, and that is as it should be.

Do you think that politics has sullied Jesus' name at all, in that, you know, He's now recognized more with a political agenda in some people's eyes than, you know, with the Gospel?


Well, if He's more identified with a political agenda, then it has because, in His own era, He didn't take up a political agenda, and that's what they wanted Him to do to throw the Romans off. And He steadfastly stayed away from that. And if it has happened, then that has not been good. But, I--what I hope people will do is to recognize the beauty of a well developed soul.And people can see them around them. You know, like, when we lost Mother Teresa, people would generally say, whether they were--agree or disagree with her faith, they would say, now, this person was special. Something's very special here.

And what it was, was a well developed soul. It was a soul that had gone through a lot of hardship. It is a soul that had worked with the poor, who saw the beauty in the poor, and even those dying and embraced it, and would speak that truth.

But, I was on a TV show, and the interviewer said, well, we lost the Lou Gehrig when we lost her [Mother Teresa], didn't we? I said, yes, but there are others around you. I mean, you can look and see people that have a special development of their soul. And it's actually possible for all of us. Go and talk with that person. What makes them like this? And I would hope that people would more look at that, rather than a political agenda to see Jesus.

In America today, there are 40 percent of the kids born out of wedlock, 80 percent in the African American community. You've got the lowest level of family formation ever, in terms of marriages. You still have seriously high divorce rates. There are more people in prison per capita than in any other country in the world. Is there a historical precedent for turning this around with anything other than mass revival - in other words, through a religious conversion as opposed to something political?

I've asked that very question of historians, and they haven't been able to cite one to me. I think those two move together.

When you look at--I think one of the more recent examples that is somewhat close to it would be pre-Victorian England in the late 1700's, early 1800's, and you had the Wesley Brothers that came forward with Methodism. And then, you had the political movement that moved on top of it... and the end of the slave trade took place.

But, you had a culture then that was starting to deteriorate, and then was revived. And then, that revived culture then took on big topics like the slave trade.

It also took on the reformation of manners. I mean, that was one of the key movements of the political end of that faith movement at that point in time.

But, I think you're seeing a faith awakening in America. I think the numbers show that, and how people are voting and acting.

And they're also showing that their own religious intensity in the country, which, while the pool has generally narrowed from historical levels, the pool has intensified and gone deeper. I think you're seeing that take place in this country today.

Where do you think God is most pleased with you today? Where do you think God is most disappointed with you today?

I think He's most pleased in my relationship development versus where I was because I was really a power-oriented politician who took the phrase, seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added onto you - the reason I was seeking God was to get all these things, you know.

So, it was--but, my relationships with my wife and my kids and others are far better today than what they were. And I think He would probably be most pleased with that, even though it's still not great.

And what I think He'd most upset is I still have a lot of judgmentalism in me, where I'd see somebody and I just would, you know, I disagree with this person, and you kind of automatically cast them away. And even though you don't do anything physically, you don't say anything, but people get a real sense of your heart. And I think that's probably the place that He'd be most displeased.

What's the one thing that you want people to know about Senator Sam Brownback's run for President that they don't know about either who you are or what you would do? Why they should support you?

Well, it's why I'm running is what I would want them know, and I'm running to rebuild the family and renew the culture.

I will take, and have taken, a position on a broad set of issues, which I think are all very important. But, at my core, why I'm doing this is to rebuild the family and renew the culture. And that's what I'd want them to know.