Busted: Senator Sam Brownback
Hot off the campaign trail, the Kansas senator discusses faith, evolution and running for president
BH: Some Catholic politicians, notably California Governor Schwarzenegger and former New York Mayor Giuliani, have ardently claimed that their religious beliefs do not and will not affect the political decisions they make. You have proudly boasted the opposite?that you cannot separate your Catholicism, your religious beliefs, from your political voting record and the ways in which you will lead the people. Can you tell us why you choose to do that? Do you think this helps or hurts your chances?
SB: I don’t know whether it helps or hurts. I just know that’s what I’ve got to do. You do what you believe in and it’s right. What I think is false are people saying that they’re not going to bring their values into the public square, into politics, because everyone has values. You can be the most strident secularist, and you have values and you bring those with you. And I think that just because a person is somebody of faith, doesn’t mean they have to check their values at the door. Indeed I would hope they’d bring their values with them into the public discourse and the public debate. This is a nation that celebrates faith. We are a faith-oriented people. I see nothing inconsistent with this. I’ve got a long voting record so people can examine ‘here is how this has molded or shaped him.’ It’s not any sort of blind thing that they would see and I think it’s important to bring your values in and everybody brings them.
BH: How can it not affect the way one votes? Is it the fact that some would say, “We cannot legislate our religious beliefs for our constituency who are all not of the same religion?” Is that where people go with that?
SB: I suppose, but there are values that are out there that we’re legislating, and we’re legislating values all the time. The fact that we have crimes is a moral call on our part. We’re saying this crime is worthy of this level of punishment, this one’s of a different level. We’re taking care of the poor, a number of people would say that’s very consistent with my faith values. I also find too, that natural law is there and people know the difference between right and wrong. We’re really working a lot to try and legislate what we feel in our hearts is right and that’s bringing those values in but they’re universal ones, ones we all try to recognize and identify with.
BH: You were raised a Methodist in rural Kansas. You spent some years as a non-denominational evangelical Christian, but five years ago you became a Catholic. Can you tell us a little about your spiritual journey that has led you to the Catholic Church?
SB: Well, it’s been a long, wonderful journey. I accepted Jesus as my lord and savior when I was thirteen and I’ve just found him transforming me step by step, brick by brick. It’s been a lengthy, wonderful process. I did join the Catholic Church a few years ago; I felt a deep calling to do it. I had no problem with the evangelical church. I enjoy the Evangelical church. In fact my family didn’t join me in going to the Catholic Church and so we go to an evangelical church as a family. I usually go to mass ahead of time. The Lord works in each of our lives in beautiful and separate ways and it’s been a wonderful journey. My faith journey was moved forward in 1995 when I had melanoma. It just really made me look at the end of life and think about how I was living and I wasn’t satisfied with it. That really intensified my faith and my love for God. It has been a wonderful gift to me.
BH: You met both Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II in person would you say that that shaped your coming into the church?
SB: I was not a Catholic when I met both of them but it helped because I would just look and study what they said and how they were and I would just think, “This is amazing how they’re moving and doing big things without poll numbers.” This is just being moved by God to do these things and I just saw such a beauty in it and I was very impressed and they have been great gifts to me and great gifts to the world.
BH: You got a lot of media attention at a recent debate because you raised your hand when asked if you didn’t believe in evolution. I thought that your editorial in the New York Times very nicely nuances what is not an A or B position. Can you discuss that a little bit?
SB: Well, I didn’t think that it was fair at the debate to ask such an important question and the only response is whether you can raise your hand or not. I’m standing; you get a split-second decision, thinking “oh gosh, I’m going to be ridiculed for this.”
BH: But here I go! (laughter)
SB: Yea, but I have a problem with evolution. Man is not an accident. That’s my problem with evolution. But on the other hand of it, I wholeheartedly support science and I do not see these two conflicting; faith and reason don’t conflict. To me, it’s one of the great fights of our day that we shouldn’t be having. This fight between faith and reason-these two should be complementing, they should be working, they ask and answer different questions. The one asks “why?” And the other asks “how?”
Together, they increase our understanding. They add to a beauty, for us as a people, that instead of looking for that beauty, we’re looking for the conflict between faith and science. That’s what I tried to nuance in that article-that God created us, I have no doubt. How he did it, I don’t know.
BH: In your OpEd in the New York Times you wrote “the premise behind the question seems to be: that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it, in six, twenty four days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.” I think that it nicely looks the issue square in the eye and says ‘it’s not these two polemical poles that we often like to frame almost everything in today’s political sphere in. There’s a nuance there that we need to appreciate.’
SB: Well, there is and I’ve found, what is interesting when we put that article in the New York Times, it was the third most circulated piece that day and the fourth most circulated piece on the Internet the next day.
I think it really touched a chord with a number of people saying, “That’s what I think. That makes sense to me.” Because people in America are faith oriented, but they also support science. They want to do everything they can for science and there’s not conflict between these two.
BH: What’s the next stop on the Brownback bus?
SB: Well, the next stop is back in Iowa. I’m home getting clean clothes, hugging my kids, kissing my wife and then we’ll head back to Iowa and then to Washington for votes next week. We’ve got trips into some other states coming up too. So it’s a big country and a long trail and I’m happily traveling it. It is just such a great blessing to be able to run for president of the United States, being raised on a farm in Kansas. You’re just going saying, “I love this country!” This is the way it should be.
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