Editor's note: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday morning, June 14. SBC LIFE had the privilege of interviewing Secretary Rice immediately prior to her address to the Convention. We are pleased to share a condensed version of that conversation with you.
SBC LIFE: Madame Secretary, Southern Baptists would love to hear about your faith in the Lord — how you came to faith, but also how your faith affects and interacts with your responsibilities as Secretary of State.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I was literally born into the church. My father and grandfather were both Presbyterian ministers, and I can honestly say I don't think I ever had a day when I doubted the existence of God. I grew up in such a God-loving and God-fearing family. My parents were wonderful in passing on their faith to me and making it an active faith, a faith that I always felt that I could call on in good times and in bad. I've been through difficult times — personally in the loss of both my parents, but also as we've gone through the trials of 9/11 and Afghanistan and Iraq. It's just always been my way to turn to the Lord and to personally ask for guidance, to ask for a steadying hand, sometimes to ask to literally be carried when I didn't think I could carry it on my own.
I believe that if you are a person of faith you also have a certain optimism because you know that you personally … [are] never going to fall very far. I believe very much that we are justified, as Paul would say, in that faith, and so it's been a matter of great personal strength for me. But also, I think it's been a great strength for our country as we've gone through trying times.
SBC LIFE: With each of those — the 9/11 attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — obviously you've depended on the Lord in those times, but what lessons of faith have you learned in the midst of those crises?
SECRETARY RICE: I think you learn that there's nothing that you can't survive — that even in the darkest hour there is going to come a better hour, and that if you remain faithful and you don't allow your questioning intellect to get out too far from your faith, there's nothing that can't be survived — and in fact overcome, not just survived.
I've always thought that one of the real lessons of our faith, of the central tenet of our faith — the Resurrection — is that Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday. We experience that personally time and time again. I think as a country we've experienced that. You come out of these difficult times, if you use them to strengthen yourself, more committed — and you come out of your own tragedies to try and do great things. I think that's what America has done. America has come out of September 11th not self-absorbed but rather, through our President, with a renewed mission to spread liberty and freedom and to stand for the cause of those who've been denied liberty and freedom.
SBC LIFE: In your day-to-day responsibilities as Secretary of State how does your faith play into those responsibilities? You obviously are interacting with our international neighbors on a daily basis, and some who may not be sympathetic with your faith — what role does your faith play in your daily responsibilities?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, as I said, it's a source of great personal strength, but I think it also brings me to believe that America should stand for some issues that perhaps others will not, like religious freedom. This President has been a strong proponent of religious freedom, and I have heard the President say to, for instance, President Jiang Zemin of China, "People of faith are not a threat to your country — people of faith can be a great source of strength for a country in transition." I've said that myself on a number of occasions — give people the access that they desire to the Almighty, to their Creator, and you'll find that those are some of your most committed citizens, some of your most compassionate citizens. It's not that you have to be a person of faith to be committed or compassionate, but our history tells us that some of the most committed and the most compassionate have been people of faith.
SBC LIFE: You mentioned religious freedom, and you are obviously familiar with the case of Abdul Rahman, the Afghani Christian, who was imprisoned and faced the prospect of execution. Both the Afghani and Iraqi constitutions are based on the Shari'a law which requires that Muslims who reject Islam should be put to death. Some would claim that we may have been a little too quick to congratulate ourselves for liberating Afghanistan from the rule of jihadists, only to see it ruled by Islamists who want to execute a professing Christian. What is being done to secure the religious liberty of other Afghani and Iraqi Christians and other non-Muslims?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, it is something that we bring up all the time in our discussions. I myself was personally involved in the case of Rahman and talked personally to Afghans, including the President, about how it would not be acceptable or understood if, in fact, someone was executed for his Christian faith.
We have to recognize that these are young democracies — they're coming to terms with the relationship between religion and politics. In these places where democracy had been denied, they're coming to terms with how Islam and democracy are going to relate to one another. In countries that are democratic, where you have majorities of Muslims — like Indonesia, for instance, or even in India where Muslims and Christians and Hindi all live together — what we've learned is that democracy does protect people's rights to freedom. These are young democracies. They're going through their growing pains.
But I would just remind people that the Afghan constitution also is devoted to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which does allow freedom of conscience and faith. Unlike the Taliban before them, under whom we had no way to address this issue, with this government that is trying to come to terms with the issues of personal freedom and Islam, there's a way to address it. So I think there is tremendous progress here.
These young democracies will have their ups and downs, but we've had our own ups and downs in our democracy. We've had our own struggles with how to incorporate people who are different. My ancestors at the time of the Constitution were viewed as three-fifths of a man. We have to recognize that democracy is hard, but it's the only system that is going to make it possible to resolve issues like this.
SBC LIFE: Madame Secretary, Southern Baptists have been focused on the sanctity of human life, and we have applauded the President and his efforts in advancing a culture of life. Obviously some of our international neighbors have not shared the same focus. What is your strategy for preventing other nations from restricting our advances? How can we keep countries such as the Netherlands, with its strong promotion of euthanasia, from interfering with and hindering our advances in these areas?
SECRETARY RICE: We very actively oppose, in international conventions and in UN resolutions, any language that would not be consistent with the President's policies on the culture of life. Also, at one time American aid was permitted to be used with groups that openly advocated abortion, which was wrong. The United States no longer does that. We have been very aggressive in [addressing] issues like human trafficking, which of course is support for the dignity of every human being. And so we do actively oppose international conventions or resolutions that might imply that we should not as a country pursue our own policies consistent with culture of life.
And then we also use the bully pulpit to remind people that a culture of life is important, whether it's a young girl who is being trafficked or whether it's a person suffering with AIDS, we have policies that address that in a compassionate way. But all of this has to begin with respect for life.
SBC LIFE: Thank you so much, Madame Secretary. We appreciate your time.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be with you.