After navigating a successful career in corporate America, saving a restaurant chain from bankruptcy, chairing a Federal Reserve Bank, and defeating two-to-one odds against surviving stage-4 colorectal cancer, 65-year-old Herman Cain is certain that God has bigger challenges ahead.
Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, recently set aside his Atlanta-based talk radio program and became the first Republican to set up an exploratory committee to take soundings for a possible run at the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. He plans to make a final decision on his candidacy sometime in the next six weeks. While speaking with Christianity Today, he said he could see a golf course from where he was sitting: "That grass is turning green, and people are going to be out there playing," he said. "But God didn't keep me here to go play golf, and relax, and take life easy. I believe that my life was spared because God had something really big that he wanted me to do. And that's unfolding."
So what gives this political newcomer—whose previous campaign experience begins and ends with a failed 2004 Senate run, and about whom The Daily Show's Jon Stewart has only ever said three words ("love his pizza")—the confidence to think he can stand out in a crowded primary field?
Christianity Today spoke with the Rev. Cain—he's also an associate minister at Antioch Baptist Church North in Atlanta—about his thoughts on hearing a call, beating cancer, and (maybe) running for President.
How long have you been involved in active ministry?
I was licensed in 2002. Like most ministers, I felt called to preach the word of God and minister to the least, the last, and the lost, and minister to His people. In addition to delivering sermons, I'm very involved with the scholarship ministry. I believe, as you know, education is the key, and one of the reasons that I got involved with the scholarship ministry is that we need to encourage kids as well as assist them in getting off to a good educational start, and even going on to college.
You've talked about surviving stage-4 cancer and you've said that God sustained your life because he had more work for you to do. Looking back now, did going through what you did increase your ability to depend on God in your day-to-day life?
Yes. When you look death right between the eyes, the faith that you had increases. I only had a 30 percent chance of survival, and that was nearly five years ago. I have been totally cancer free now for five years. And I am absolutely convinced that it is because of the will of God that I am still here today. That is why I am also absolutely convinced that I was not supposed to use this extension of life for purposes of personal pleasure, such as playing golf three times a week.
In a recent speech at a church in Milner, Georgia, you talked about feeling a Jeremiah-like burden on your heart to run for President. Can you tell me more about that?
Jeremiah for a while refused to speak on God's behalf. But as he watched the condition of his people, and he felt the burden that they needed to hear a word from God, he couldn't stand not doing what he could do. That's the burden of Jeremiah. That's also the burden of Herman Cain.
I cannot sit still and watch the direction of this country towards radical socialism and not do what I can do. Is there somebody else who might be better at being President of the United States than Herman Cain? There might be. But the people are going to determine that. But I couldn't sit back and hope that a great leader emerges, or hope that someone becomes President that would tackle the issues the way I would tackle them.
I can honestly say, 12 months ago, the thought of running for President never crossed my mind. It was only about nine or ten months ago that, as I watched the first year of the Obama administration, as I watched failing policies, as I watched broken promises, as I watched and read about 15 million people staying unemployed, I couldn't sit back when I had collected some common sense ideas. I say collected because the ideas that I present in my booklet called Common Sense Solutions—they're not original ideas. The reason that we haven't implemented a lot of the simple ideas that could help this country is because of a lack of leadership.
How important would evangelical Christians be in a coalition supporting Herman Cain for President?
How about critical? You see, evangelical Christians have the potential, if they vote in large numbers, to offset the union vote, to offset the gay vote, and to offset the vote of those that don't particularly have any religion at all. And so that's why it would be so critical. Some of these rank-and-file union members might vote for Herman Cain. But I know that the union leadership is going to be encouraging their members to vote for Barack Obama because he has not hidden his partiality toward unions in this country. But evangelicals can offset that in a big way.
Evangelicals can help offset the number of government workers who are enjoying the status quo. Most of the bureaucrats don't want dramatic changes in Washington, D.C. It's not just the people that we elect. It's the ones that we don't elect, that are there continuously until they finish their career. So I happen to believe that evangelical Christians can be the critical swing vote, along with independents, to elect Herman Cain for President.
So how are evangelicals in the Republican Party responding to you so far?
Very positively. I do speeches all the time. I did almost 20 last week, believe it or not. Three days in Iowa, and two and a half days in New Hampshire, and I have a lot of people come up and say, "Because I know your heart, I feel like I can trust you. And I can also support your ideas." I get that a lot.
In a column you wrote late last year, you described Jesus Christ as the "Perfect Conservative," because "he helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health-care system. He fed the hungry without food stamps." An increasing number of evangelicals are passionate about serving the cause of social justice. What would you say to those who see government assistance as one avenue through which our society can help the poor and the oppressed, as Christ commanded?
Christ empowered people. He didn't make them dependent. That's the difference. And I've said we must go from an entitlement society to an empowerment society. Programs today are designed to make people more dependent rather than less dependent. When Jesus gave three servants talents—this is in Matthew, the story of the ten talents, the five talents, and the one talent—he expected them to go out and use those talents to multiply those talents. And the servant that got the one talent sat on it, did not multiply it, and he was chastised by Christ. So that is the parable that suggests Jesus didn't want people to be dependent.
Jesus could have sat there and said, "Okay, when you use up those talents"—and that could have been food, it could have been water, shelter—"come back and I'll give you some more." No. He wanted them to go out and use them to multiply them. And so I believe that Christ wants people to be empowered to help themselves.
Jesus also said, "The poor will always be with us." He did not say, "The poor have to always be poor." And if you look at the poor in this country, some people don't remain poor.I think that's what Christ expects of us, is to help people get out of poverty, to help people that cannot help themselves; that is Christ-like. But not make people dependent.
You've said that the Founding Fathers set a high bar for the nation by telling us that all men are created equal, and that America had not yet, at that time, achieved that ideal. Two hundred and thirty five years on, what sort of challenges do you think we still need to face before we reach that goal?
The challenges of intentional divisiveness. People use the race card, they use the class warfare card, to divide us. And the biggest challenge we face is for more and more people to be educated and not fall for those tricks and divide this nation. Do people still discriminate in some small ways against certain people because of their color or their religion? Yes. But it is nowhere near where it was 235 years ago.
Whether we will ever reach that utopian level of all men created equal and all men being treated equal, I don't know. You know, the journey in life is to strive to be better and better every day, to strive to be more Christ-like. Whether or not any of us get to the level of Christ himself, I doubt it, because we are human. You have secret thoughts, and only God and Christ knows those secret thoughts. And they may not be Christ-like.
As an African-American and a conservative Republican, you occupy an often controversial position in the American political scene.
I like to refer to myself as an American Black Conservative. If somebody wants to call me African-American I'm not offended, but since they want to use a label, I call myself an ABC: an American Black Conservative. I'm an American first. Yes, my ancestors probably came from Africa. But my parents and my grandparents were born right here in the United States of America. That makes us Americans.
When speaking about your battle with cancer at the Milner church, at one point, you indicate that you were a little uncomfortable when you found out that your surgeon's name was Abdallah, until you found out he was a Lebanese Christian. So what's your perspective on the role of Muslims in American society?
The role of Muslims in American society is for them to be allowed to practice their religion freely, which is part of our First Amendment. The role of Muslims in America is not to convert the rest of us to the Muslim religion. That I resent. Because we are a Judeo-Christian nation, from the fact that 85 percent of us are self-described Christians, or evangelicals, or practicing the Jewish faith. Eighty-five percent. One percent of the practicing religious believers in this country are Muslim.
And so I push back and reject them trying to convert the rest of us. And based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them. Now, I know that there are some peaceful Muslims who don't go around preaching or practicing that. Well, unfortunately, we can't sit back and tolerate the radical ones simply because we know that there are some of them who don't believe in that aspect of the Muslim religion. So their role is to be allowed to practice their religion freely, just like we should be allowed to practice our religion freely, and not try to convert the rest of us.
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
I believe that we face several crises in this country. And one of those crises is a moral crisis. And the moral crisis is going to have to be solved in our families, our communities, and in our various religious institutions. Christians, evangelicals, Jews, believers of all types when it comes to biblically-based religions, are going to have to step up more, and push back more, and not allow our Christian beliefs to be intimidated. If we do, we are going to go the way of some other countries [that] lost their Judeo-Christian identity. I do not want us, as a nation, to lose our Judeo-Christian identity, even though we will tolerate any legitimate religion to basically exist in this country. That is how the founders intended it, and that's how I believe that we ought to keep it.
Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today also previously interviewed other potential presidential candidates, including Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney.
Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
Read These Next
- TrendingJunia, the Female Apostle Imprisoned for the GospelWhat Scripture tells us about the story of this “outstanding” Jewish woman in chains.Português
- From the MagazineWhy Does Creation Groan?Scripture and science suggest that animal suffering fits into a divine artistic story.
- RelatedHillsong Says It Is Moving ForwardNew revelations will require increased accountability, but pastor wants to look to the future.
- Editor's PickIt’s Good When Bad Pastors Make Us MadI’d rather media and literature portray Christian leaders who stir up anger instead of apathy.