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The Christian Testimony of Condoleezza Rice

Category Articles
Date October 10, 2002


I started to think of myself as that elder son who had never doubted the existence of the Heavenly Father but wasn’t really walking in faith in an active way any more.

Miss Condoleezza Rice (47) is the American National Security Advisor. She has reached the highest political office for an African-American woman to have attained. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and she was trained as a girl to be a concert pianist and a competitive ice skater. During an August 4 Sunday school class at the National Presbyterian Church, Washington, she explained something of her own faith in God. Here are some excerpts:

I was a preacher’s kid, so Sundays were church, no doubt about that. The church was the center of our lives. In segregated black Birmingham of the late l950s and early 1960s, the church was not just a place of worship. It was the place where families gathered; it was the social center of the community, too.

Although I never doubted the existence of God, I think like all people I’ve had some ups and downs in my faith. When I first moved to California in 1981 to join the faculty at Stanford, there were a lot of years when I was not attending church regularly. I was traveling a lot. I was a specialist in international politics, so I was always traveling abroad. I was always in another time zone.

One Sunday I was in the Lucky’s Supermarket not very far from my house I will never forget – among the spices an African-American man walked up to me and said he was buying some things for his church picnic.

And he said, "Do you play the piano by any chance?"

I said, "Yes." They said they were looking for someone to play the piano at church. It was a little African-American church right in the center of Palo Alto. A Baptist church. So I started playing for that church. That got me regularly back into churchgoing. I don’t play gospel very well – I play Brahms – and you know how black ministers will start a song and the musicians will pick it up? I had no idea what I was doing and so I called my mother, who had played for Baptist churches.

"Mother," I said, "they just start. How am I supposed to do this?" She said, "Honey, play in C and they’ll come back to you." And that’s true. If you play in C, people will come back. I tell that story because I thought to myself "My goodness, God has a long reach." I mean, in the Lucky’s Supermarket on a Sunday morning.

I played for about six months for them and then I decided to go and find the Presbyterian Church again. I’m a devoted Presbyterian. I really like the governance structure of the church. I care about the Presbyterian Church. On a Sunday morning, I went to Menlo Park Presbyterian Church [in Palo Alto]. The minister that Sunday morning gave a sermon I will never quite forget. It was about the Prodigal Son from the point of view of the elder son.

It set the elder son up not as somebody who had done all the right things but as somebody who had become so self-satisfied’; a parable about self-satisfaction, and contentment and complacency in faith, [and] that people who didn’t somehow expect themselves to need to be born again can be so complacent.

I started to think of myself as that elder son who had never doubted the existence of the Heavenly Father but wasn’t really walking in faith in an active way any more.

I started to become more active with the church to go to Bible study and to have a more active prayer life. It was a very important turning point in my life.

My father was an enormous influence in my spiritual life. He was a theologian, a doctor of divinity. He was someone who let you argue about things. He didn’t say, "Just accept it." And when I had questions, which we all do, he encouraged that.

He went to great lengths to explain about the man we’ve come to know as Doubting Thomas; he thought that was an incident in the life of Christ about the fact it was OK to question. And that Christ knew that Thomas needed to feel his wounds; feel the wounds in His side and feel the wounds in His hands. That it was what Thomas needed – he needed that physical contact. And then, of course, Christ said when you can accept this on faith, it will be even better.

I [liked] the fact that my father didn’t brush aside my questions about faith. He allowed me as someone who lives in my mind to also live in my faith.

In this job, when we faced a horrible crisis like September 11, you go back in your mind and think, "Is there anything I could have done? Might I have seen this coming? Was there some way?"

When you go through something like that, you have to turn to faith because you can rationalize it, you can make an intellectual answer about it but you can’t fully accept it until you can feel it here (taps chest). That time wasn’t a failure, but it was a period of crisis when faith was really important for me.

I try always not to think that I am Elijah, that I have somehow been particularly called like a prophet. That’s a dangerous thing. In a sense, we’ve all been called to whatever it is we are doing. But if you try to wear the imprimatur of God – I’ve seen that happen to leaders who begin too much to believe in that – then there are a couple of very good antidotes to that. I try to say when I pray, "Help me to walk in Your way, not my own." To try to walk in a way that is actually fulfilling a plan, and recognize you are a cog in a larger universe.

I think people who believe in the Creator can never take themselves too seriously. I feel that faith allows me to have a kind of optimism about the future. You look around you and you see an awful lot of pain, suffering and things that are going wrong. It could be oppressive. But when I look at my own story or many others that I have seen, I think, "How could it possibly be that it has turned out this way?" Then my only answer is it’s God’s plan. And that makes me very optimistic that this is all working out in a proper way. So we must all stay close to God and pray and follow in His footsteps.

I really do believe that God will never let his children fall too far. There is an old gospel hymn, "He knows how much you can bear." I really do believe that. I greatly appreciate, and so does the president, the prayers of the American people. You feel them. You know that they are there. If you just keep praying for us, it is so important to all of us.

In many ways, it’s a wonderful White House to be in because there are a lot of people who are of faith, starting with the president. When you are in a community of the faithful, it makes a very big difference not only in how people treat each other but in how they treat the task at hand.

Among American leadership, there are an awful lot of people who travel in faith. It’s a remarkable thing and I think it probably sets us apart from most developed countries where it is not something that is appreciated quite as much in most of the world.

I’ve watched over the last year and a half how people want to have human dignity worldwide. You hear of Asian values or Middle Eastern values and how that means people can’t really take to democracy or they’ll never have democracy because they have no history of it, and so forth. We forget that when people are given a choice between freedom and tyranny, they will choose freedom. I remember all the stories before the liberation of Afghanistan that that nation wouldn’t "get it," that they were all warlords and it would just be chaos. Then we got pictures of people dancing on the streets of Kabul just because they now could listen to music or send their girls to school.

The Layman, October 2002

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