Gov. Sam Brownback’s journey in faith — marked by personal crisis, made fluid by introspection and shrouded in mystery — led to an all-consuming belief in God’s will.
He’s made no apology for wearing on a sleeve in the political arena a Catholic’s sense of right and wrong, speaking openly about the necessity of leaders such as himself to muster the courage to raise banners of faith in the public square. It can be an uncomfortable at the forefront, he said.
“When you’re the tip of the spear, it hurts,” Brownback said in prayer during an event at the Capitol. “Just give us that intensity to live every moment for the kingdom of God.”
Brownback, who served in Washington, D.C., before elected governor in 2010, is heading back the center of political power in the United States to serve as President Donald Trump’s ambassador for religious freedom. His role in the U.S. Department of State will be to seek respect of the right of individuals to worship without interference from hostile governments or people.
The objective of the job is to turn the tide against religious persecution, which Brownback believes to be growing in volume through intolerance rather than shrinking from enlightenment.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Brownback would be quite different from his predecessor. The U.S. ambassador-at-large for religion was David Saperstein, the first non-Christian to hold the post after nominated by President Barack Obama in 2014.
Brownback became an adult within the mainline Protestant tradition, but a cancer scare in the mid-1990s launched a reordering of his inner thoughts under the growing influence of evangelicals. He became friends with Chuck Colson, the Watergate felon and born-again Christian. Brownback developed an affinity for William Wilberforce, a devout Christian who spearheaded an anti-slavery movement.
The calling of Catholicism came to fruition in the midst of conservative priest John McCloskey, a member of the secretive Opus Dei sect.
In a biography released in conjuction with Brownback’s run for president in 2007, “From Power to Purpose,” he recalled getting down on his knees one night and declaring, “Okay, Lord, that’s it. I give up. It’s all yours. This life is yours, and you can do with it whatever you like.”
He credited God for preparing him for the difficult 1996 campaign for U.S. Senate, in which he won the right to follow in the footsteps of Kansas Republican icon Bob Dole.
“Running for the Senate, I was just trusting that God’s will would be done,” Brownback said.
Brownback’s devotion to a higher power led him to reject evolution as the exclusive explanation for development of species. His political life featured inflexible views against same-sex marriage, which included a view homosexuality as immoral. He’s taken religiously influenced stands in opposition to human trafficking, genocide and abortion.
As governor, Brownback said one of his most significant contributions to Kansas was holding to a pledge to sign every piece of pro-life legislation that hit his desk.
Brownback said confidence in eventual elimination of legal abortion was drawn from his conviction God stood against the slaughter of unborn children.
“America leads,” Brownback said. “It has to be overturned here first to get it in the rest of the world.”
As governor, Brownback initiated programs in state government to deliver faith-based mentoring to prison inmates, foster children and welfare recipients. He frequently attended mass near the Statehouse, and could be seen in the Capitol’s hallways in prayer with legislators or workers.
Brownback greatly admired Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He sometimes told a story about how she was spit on when asking for a charitable donation. She turned her cheek and again asked for a donation, which was forthcoming. The lesson was to not quit when the work got harder, he said.
The governor said he was fond of Mother Teresa’s comment about loving all religions, but remaining adherent to her own.
“Religion is a search for God,” he said. “It’s where most people live their inner lives. I love that.”