Conservative columnist and Fox News pundit Cal Thomas has argued right verses left with everyone from Jimmy Carter to Mitt Romney. • In his most recent book, Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War that is Destroying America, Thomas and liberal co-author Bob Beckel, address the effects of party debates on decision-making in Washington. • As Thomas heads to Florida for the Republican National Convention, he says his focus is as much spiritual as it is political. • Speaking Sunday at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Valrico, Thomas told Times staff writer Sarah Whitman he plans to open up about God and country. • "I consider myself a sort of conservative libertarian," Thomas said. "I see government as a last resort."
What specifically will you speak about Sunday?
The two kingdoms: the kingdom that is of this world and the kingdom that is not of this world. Too often people put faith in a politician that doesn't necessarily live up to the hype, like with our current president. Especially when Christians do that, they are limiting themselves.
That's not to say we shouldn't vote and pray for those in authority. It is to say the power of the government is limited to fix some social and even economic problems. Even problems with the economy are rooted in moral principles. Envy. Greed. They all have a moral component.
If you look at the revivals that touched America, they didn't come through Washington. Putting faith in politics dooms us to frustration. The first time the Republicans controlled all three branches of government, things didn't really improve. Government is limited in what it can do and the founders understood that. That's why they believed in limited government.
Going into the convention and the upcoming election, what do you think are the main issues facing the candidates?
Clearly the economy is No. 1. Social issues are taking a back seat again. There is a growing sentiment that Obama is over his head and what is needed is competent leadership.
With social issues, I think the individual still has the greatest opportunity to have a positive impact on the culture. Take abortion for instance. Since Roe vs. Wade, thousands of (faith-based) pregnancy centers have sprung up throughout the United States to help women, and that has had a greater impact than any piece of legislation.
As a conservative Christian, what are your thoughts on having a Republican presidential candidate of a different faith?
If I get hit by a car, I don't care where the ambulance driver goes to church. I just want to make sure I get to the hospital. We're not electing a religious leader, we're electing the president of the United States. I want someone who can do the job. I'm for competency. The rest doesn't bother me.
I've known many decent Mormon people. They're wonderful people.
With issues such as the recent boycott against Chick-fil-A, do you think it's becoming increasingly difficult for conservative Christians to speak openly without harsh criticism?
That was an issue of freedom of speech. Mr. Cathy expressed his individual opinions. It was about the right to speak one's mind, which is held by the left as almost a sacred right. As a follower of Jesus Christ, persecution goes with the territory. It doesn't surprise me.
What are you most looking forward to at this year's convention?
I'm looking forward to meeting Paul Ryan.
Have you ever spoken at Bell Shoals?
I haven't. I'm looking forward to it. I hear there is going to be about 5,000 people. I enjoy speaking at churches because I can connect more with the audience in terms of things that really matter. Things come and go but the gift of God is eternal life. I'm under no illusion and I certainly don't promote any grand illusion that politics and politicians are the be all and end all of things.
Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.