Nikki Haley's faith caused a stir in her primary race for governor of South Carolina when her upbringing as a Sikh drew questions from her opponents. She occasionally visits a Sikh temple in honor of her family's tradition, but she regularly attends a Methodist church. Her new book, Can't Is Not an Option, explains her conversion to Christianity and the kinds of questions she faced as the daughter of immigrants. CT spoke with Haley about her conversion, whether Mitt Romney has a "woman problem," and how her faith influences her policy.
Since you faced questions about your Christian faith and Sikh upbringing, what would you say to those who would question President Obama's faith?
We have the right to ask what faith someone follows. But what church they go into and what they do in that church doesn't matter as much as what they do when they come out. How strong is their faith, and how does that lead them into decisions going forward that will impact the states and the country? That's what I think matters the most. Yes, my husband and I are Christians, but we're not going to say anything negative about the way my parents raised me, because they reminded us every day how blessed we were to live in this country. My mother took us to every church in my hometown because she wanted me to see the many ways that people get to God and to respect all of them. She would say you can't have too much God in your life. She actually wanted us to be exposed so that we weren't judgmental, so we didn't think it was wrong. We shouldn't have to put anyone else down in order to talk positively about what we believe.
You attend a United Methodist Church, Mt. Horeb—would you describe yourself as evangelical or born-again in addition to being Methodist?
We've always been somewhat private about our faith because I'm not one that likes to see politics in church. We sit in the back row in church because we want to hear and feel the message without distraction. I don't want to go to a label because I don't know what that means. I know that we both feel like we have personal relationships with God that we want to continue to strengthen for ourselves and for our family.
You wrote, "I converted to Christianity because the teachings of Christ spoke to me in a way that I could understand and that would help me live my life." Do you see religion as something that has a benefit?
Absolutely. When you go to a position like this, the one thing that helps you get through political challenges is your faith. You have to have a deep faith, you have to have a strong connection to God, and you have to stay very close to your family. In this job, there's a lot you can control and a lot you can't control. At some point you put your hands up and you say God's going to let the right thing happen.
Was there a specific moment that you had a come to Jesus experience or said "This is what I believe"?
I think it was somewhat of a long conversation, but it was more of me trying to figure out who I was and how I was going to be. I felt my faith, and I felt the feelings, but I couldn't understand the language. It was like I developed the connection with God just in an emotional way. When I met my husband and we started talking about how we wanted to raise our family, it was really just listening to the teaching and going to church. I felt like I took something I knew was right, which was a strong belief that there was a Lord, but being able to put that in words that I could understand—I can't explain it, but it was just a very enlightening and a very good moment for me and a good moment for our family.