by Adventist Today News Team
Sabbath morning (March 16), Dr. Ben Carson, the noted Seventh-day Adventist physician, was not in church. At a little after 10:30 a.m. he began preaching to the faithful of the right-wing American political movement at one of the most prominent events in the nation, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The question in the minds of the large crowd in the Maryland convention center and the larger audience across the country; Will he run for president of the United States?
He was included among 23 names in the famed CPAC Straw Poll conducted among those attending the event and ranked seventh, the highest percentage of anyone who does not currently hold elective office. He got more votes than Senator Ted Cruz from Texas, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin who spoke right after him, as well as many others.
In a dialog immediately following Carson’s speech, author and radio commentator Eric Metaxas first asked Carson about “the rumor that you are leaving medicine” and wanted to know if this meant the doctor was getting into politics. “In 106 days I will retire at age 62,” Carson responded, noting that as a brain surgeon he felt it was important to step down “at the top of my game.” Asked specifically about a political career, Carson said simply “who knows” and laughed. The crowd roared.
Ten years ago the idea that a relatively unknown African American had any chance of running successfully for president would have been seen as foolishness, but that was before President Barak Obama. Now the right wing of American politics would love to find a person of color to carry its views into the fray, “which gives Carson an outside chance,” Adventist Today was told by an Adventist who has worked in politics.
Carson “represents the optimism and hope of the future of the conservative movement,” stated Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, in announcing that the doctor would be a speaker at the event. Carson is chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. He has an inspiring background, raised by a single mother with little education in the inner city, he overcame poverty and racial discrimination. His Adventist faith is a very important part of the family’s story and his own character.
Education is a top value for Carson, as it is for many Adventists. He told again the story of how his mother’s insistence on “turning off the TV and reading books” made a difference in his life and did not hesitate to promote his foundation that has given scholarships to more than 5,000 young people to encourage them to succeed in elementary and secondary school and go on to college. He noted that one of the earliest Carson Scholars recently turned up as a resident in his program at Johns Hopkins.
He also spoke of the importance of private charity, emphasizing that young people are selected for scholarships by his foundation in part on their demonstration of humanitarian values. He pointed out that many of the American industrialists of the 19th century went on to found large charitable enterprises with their wealth, “something you don’t see in [socialist] Europe.” He stated his conviction that activities to help the poor should be operated by the church, not government, a concept widely held in many surveys of Americans, including large numbers beyond those who identify themselves as “conservative” in politics or otherwise.
In speaking of the importance of scholarships for young people from less-than-promising backgrounds as well as the middle class, Carson said that one of them “might invent an alternative energy source.” This is one of a number of hints that a Carson run for the presidency might be more broad-based than just the quarter to a third of Americans who identify with the views promoted at CPAC.
He did advocate some standard conservative positions, at times with a novel rationale. For example, he promoted the concept of a “flat tax” in which all Americans pay the same percentage in income taxes no matter their circumstances, supporting the idea by referring to the biblical teaching of tithing as proof that God wants this tax policy.
He also stated that “eighty percent” of health care could be funded by health savings accounts reducing the need for health insurance to only catastrophic coverage and making government programs unnecessary. But he also said that it does not matter if the Affordable Care Act is repealed or not, “we must move on [and] there are better models than we have now” for the health care system in America.
Although the vice chairwoman of the event, in her introduction of Carson and Metaxas, set up the presentations as relating to religion, there were relatively few explicit references to spiritual topics in Carson’s presentation. He did say, “resist this war on God,” urging that “the PC police” should not “come down on people who believe in Jesus” and say so publicly. “PC” is a common reference among conservative Americans to “politically correct,” a label for what they see as liberal values. And Carson did end on an affirmation of Christ’s “values and principles” based on the concept of “love your fellow man.”
Metaxas had in earlier remarks attempted to frame Carson’s faith in terms of an approach to religious liberty that Evangelical political conservatives in America have been promoting for some time. It sees the First Amendment as designed to protect the church from the state, instead of protecting the state from the church. Adventists have historically been more concerned about the later—about religious forces capturing the government to enforce religious teachings such as a national Sunday law, mandated prayers in public schools or Catholic views of contraception. Carson deftly stepped around the issue without stating his opinion.
In some ways Carson’s speech was not as sharp-edged as the talk he gave at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 7 in front of President Obama. That earlier appearance started the Carson boomlet among conservatives and talk of his running for office, maybe even president. On February 27 the right-wing blogger “Allahpundit” revealed that Carson had been asked by White House staffers for an advance text of his prayer breakfast talk and refused because “I don’t write out my speeches and I don’t use teleprompters.” That alone could keep him from being a serious candidate for any office because campaign professionals almost universally refuse to allow such an approach.
Carson has lived with his family in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC for three decades. He is an active member of a local Seventh-day Adventist Church. CPAC is one of the most visible political events each year in the United States. “It remains to be seen where this goes,” a pastor in the area told Adventist Today, “but the timing of his speech does raise a question as to precisely what the policy toward the Sabbath would be in a Carson White House.”