Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared in a recent interview that she is proudly evangelical but also distanced herself from many of her fellow believers by saying that she tends to support abortion rights and civil unions for gay couples, and she feels evangelicals too often alienate others with in-your-face rhetoric.
"It's extremely important not to assault people," Rice told Christianity Today
, the flagship evangelical magazine, in a Dec. 20 interview. "Sometimes I think evangelicals come at people so hard and so fast and don't take time to listen to where somebody is," she added. "We can just try to have a lighter touch sometimes."
Rice, who served first as national security adviser and then secretary of state to President George W. Bush, also voiced strong disagreement with those who would meld religion and politics, citing religion-infused violence in the Middle East as a warning sign:
"You suddenly realize the extent to which man will go to use God for his own purposes rather than the other way around," she said. "That for me is the most terrifying thing about the combination of religion and politics, because that is really when man is trying to use God for his own purposes."
Rice has long been known as moderate on social issues, having described herself
as "mildly pro-choice." And her role in foreign policy kept her away from hot-button domestic agenda items like gay marriage. But her recent comments go beyond what she has said in the past, and she is like many prominent Republican women who have staked out positions to the left of the men they are associated with -- though generally after those men have left power.
After Bush left office, his wife, Laura, said she supports gay marriage
and abortion rights (his mother, Barbara, has in the past voiced her disagreement with the pro-life position), and Sen. John McCain's wife and daughter
have been increasingly vocal on behalf of gay rights.
Rice told CT, "I'm evangelical and I'm proud of it." But she made it clear that she thinks evangelical Christians like herself need to witness to their faith through their lives and actions rather than solely through their words -- to be, in her phrase, a "contagious Christian."
"You try to live a life that makes people say, 'Oh, that's a life I'd like to emulate.' Then they realize your faith is somehow linked to it."
If many evangelicals would endorse that sentiment, it's unlikely that any evangelical leaders will be endorsing her public policy views.
Rice said she is "generally pretty libertarian" on moral issues, and said her views on government regulation of abortion are still evolving.
"I don't like the government involved in these really hard moral decisions," she said. "While I don't think the country is ready for legislation to overturn Roe v. Wade
, certainly I cannot imagine why one would be in favor of partial-birth abortion. I also can't imagine why one would take these decisions out of the hands of the family. We all understand that this is not something to be taken lightly."
On same-sex marriage she said that while she believes marriage is between a man and a woman, "I don't ever want anybody to be denied rights within our country." She suggested that civil unions could be a "way for people to express their desire to live together," and said that "the country, if we can keep the volume down, will come to good answers."
"Americans are quite good, actually, at finding a way to deal with these extremely divisive and difficult moral issues. And it's not that I'm a relativist. It's not that I believe everybody has their own morality. But I do understand that there are different ways of thinking about how these issues are going to play out in people's lives, and I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt in governing their own lives."
Much of this sounds more like Barack Obama than George W. Bush, and Rice acknowledged that even some of her friends have questioned whether she can describe herself as an evangelical Christian. But she rejected that criticism.
"You really want to know me?" Rice said. "You need to know that I'm a devout Christian. But I'm not going to lecture you about it on a daily basis."
In the Christianity Today interview, Rice came across as a believer who is as much a pilgrim as someone who has settled positions on every public policy issue related to her faith.
"Every spiritual journey is different in some sense. It's a matter of circumstances. My spiritual journey is one of trying to deepen that faith, trying to struggle with it, as my father taught me to do, not to become complacent."
Rice has just written a book about her upbringing as an African-American in 1960s Alabama, called "Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family."