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How faith guided the former secretary of state’s life from the segregated South to dictating the nation’s foreign policy.

Condoleezza Rice was attending her father’s church when a bomb exploded just a few blocks away at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963. Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family (Crown), recounts the segregation the former secretary of state experienced, and her life as the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. She spoke with online editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey about faith and foreign policy during her book tour in New York City.

Did the racial tensions you experienced as a child have any impact on your faith?

The church was so much the center of our lives in Birmingham, the center on Sunday, the center on Tuesday, the center on Thursday. I don’t know that any of us could have gotten through that period without tremendous faith.

As someone who never had a time when you didn’t have faith in God, how do you think your spiritual journey is different from that of someone who had a more defined conversion experience?

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.

You say in the book you never had a specific crisis of faith. But has your faith been challenged over the years?

Oh, sure. I’ve certainly felt like everyone does when something bad happens–“God, how could you let this happen to me?”–which is always our first response. But I always realize that maybe I had been prepared throughout my life to deal with these challenges from a position of faith.

Before you worked in government, did you feel like God was directing you toward public service?

I don’t think somehow intellectually that God said, Okay, you’re going to quit piano and become a Soviet specialist. It’s a combination of circumstances and making choices, but I’ve always tried to seek guidance. I think I’ve been much more capable of dealing with ambiguity and what might come in the future as a result of faith.

Do you look to your faith for how you deal with foreign policy?

I just ask for guidance. I can remember in difficult times, like when things were really bad in Iraq, I would not say, “Lord, can you help me figure out this problem?” but, “Can you somehow show us a way out of this?” That’s how I think about it, not specific answers to specific questions.

You have articulated a concern for international justice and peace. Do you feel like those values are an outgrowth of your faith?

It’s also an outgrowth of my Americanism. But one that I am strongly attracted to, probably because of my faith, is religious freedom. That for me is a kind of test of whether or not a country’s just.

In the past you said you worry about the government trying to legislate morality, and you know that evangelicals care very much about the issue of abortion.

I’m generally pretty libertarian in these matters, because 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. Sometimes when things are out of whack the government has no choice but to step in. But I’m wary of the government stepping in to too many issues.

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Source: Christianity Today | Interview by Sarah Pulliam Bailey

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