Texas Rep. Ron Paul won a straw poll at the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit on October 8, receiving 37 percent of the vote at the social conservative convention. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins downplayed the results some, saying that 600 people registered Saturday morning left after Paul spoke. "I think people are still in the process of deciding where they want to go," Perkins told reporters. Herman Cain took 23 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum took 16 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann won 8 percent while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received 4 percent of the vote.

In his speech, Paul emphasized personal responsibility, using the example of Jesus' response to prostitution. "He didn't call for more laws. But he was very direct and thought that stoning was not the solution to the problem of prostitution," he told the crowd. "So do laws take care of these things, or do we need a better understanding of our Christian values and our moral principles?" In an interview with Christianity Today following his speech, Paul explained why he doesn't think the government can create morality.

Do you approach this audience differently than you would another group?

Well I approached the audience the way I have been asked to approach the audience. [FRC] asked for a nonpolitical speech and they asked for me to talk about family. But no, I wouldn't do that on an average stump speech — I wouldn't talk about Christian values. I would talk more about the political process. So this is different, but they wrote me some instructions for tax purposes and other things that it wasn't supposed to be political.

Do you see your faith informing your policy or are you mostly interested in ideas that are pragmatic?

How can your faith be divorced from your everyday living? I don't see any conflict — I think that they do have an influence, obviously.

Can you talk about your faith background? For instance, did you have a conversion experience?

Not as some others describe it. I think the most important religious experience I had was when I was raised in a Lutheran church where confirmation was very important. Church was obviously very important. We all went to church every week as a family affair. But confirmation was when we got to be teenagers and make a decision to go through the lessons and study and learn and make a commitment. At home, birthdays were something, but no parties. Of course it was during World War II and the Great Depression, so there weren't a lot of parties, but there was an acknowledgement. But confirmation was a very important event. Everybody in the family came and it was acknowledged. Yes, I remember that very clearly, because we were old enough to make a commitment and that was when the commitment was made.

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You're no longer Lutheran, though?

No, we go to a Baptist church with our children.

Which Baptist church?

First Baptist Church in Lake Jackson.

You raised your kids in the church, is that right?

All of our children were raised in the Episcopal Church. Some [places] were fairly conservative but my wife and I thought the Episcopal Church advocated a position that we didn't endorse, so we left. And our children did not stay in the Episcopal Church either.

Related to specific issues?

I think it was the abortion issue. I imagine they had some other issues. But I think the abortion issue was the real big thing. And I think also some of the money was going to some of the international organizations that were more political—they weren't missionaries. So it was an objection over the way some of the money was being spent.

How would you describe your faith at this point: Baptist, evangelical, Christian, something else?

I'm not a hyphenated Christian. I believe. I am a Christian and I believe in it, and I am influenced by my upbringing and my understanding and my biblical understanding. I don't think there are ever two people who are exactly the same, so I don't usually use hyphenation.

How would your faith shape the way you approach social issues, such as same-sex marriage?

Biblically and historically, the government was very uninvolved in marriage. I like that. I don't know why we should register our marriage to the federal government. I think it's a sacrament. I think it should be biblical, and politically I don't like to fight with people who disagree with me, as long as they don't force their views on me. So for that reason, I think the real solution to some of this argument is to have less government, rather than government dictating and forcing understanding on different people. I don't think much can be achieved. As I mentioned in my talk, Christ doesn't come and beg and plead for more laws. He pleads for more morality, and I think that's very important.

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If you were appointing a Supreme Court justice, would the issue of marriage be a factor?

The issue of the Constitution would be a factor. Because the Constitution is very clear on what we can do and can't do. I would like to know, really, what their belief of the First Amendment is: Are they going to protect religious freedom? Are they going to protect homeschooling? These things are very, very important, but it's probably — I'd want to know what they think about the First Amendment, and how big they think the government is. Because if they think that we have to have massive expansion of government, I see that, as I tried to explain, as a massive attack on the family. If you substitute the government for the family, this is a detriment.

What about with religious liberty in foreign policy? How should the U.S. approach religious liberty issues in countries like Iran and Afghanistan?

By striving for perfection here and setting a good standard so that people would come and say America is a wonderful place. It's free and prosperous, just like de Tocqueville said in the 1850s. America is a great nation because it's a moral nation and people go to church. Others should look and see the results, but I don't believe in the use of force. If you're not a Christian, I don't force you to go to church. The use of force backfires, it has unintended consequences. So you can only do this through persuasion and changing people's hearts and minds, not the use of political force. Political force should be rejected in trying to mold the economy or mold people's spirituality.

What about when Christians in other countries are being persecuted? Is there a point where the U.S. government might approach a case like pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's?

It can make a moral statement because there are infractions of civil liberties over there. Do we have any infractions of our civil liberties here? Plenty. When we're perfect, maybe we can start considering that. But we don't have the authority to do that. [It could] make a moral statement — but to use force, to say that somebody is treating somebody [poorly] in A, B, C country, so we draft young men and send them over there and say, "Pick up a gun and go in there and change their standards because they've mistreated people"? I cannot read that in the Bible. I do not get that from my understanding of what Christ taught.

Domestically, how do you balance government involvement and the Christian call to serve the poor and needy?

It shouldn't be done with force. It should be done with love, and government is force. If you defer to the government that means you endorse theft. If somebody is poor and you want to help them and you have money, you go help them, or encourage them, or provide an environment where they can take care of themselves. But it doesn't endorse the government to go to that person and say "Look, this person is hungry. I have the moral authority to take from you, and if you don't give it to him, to put you in jail in order to help this person who is hungry." I do not endorse that. History and economics are on my side. If you care about the poor you would never use force. The most humanitarian system ever has been a free society and free markets and sound money, and it takes care of the maximum number of people. That is where you would cure the problem of poverty.

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Should the government regulate narcotics?

Sure, sort of like alcohol. Force doesn't work and the Prohibition was a disaster; our government gave up on it. So yes, if you want to talk somebody out of abusing themselves with alcohol or other bad habits, just writing a law will not make them moral.

Does it make sense on a state level to regulate it?

It probably won't be all that successful, but they have the authority to do it. It tends to help. I think there's some help with protecting children. Children can't walk into a store today and buy alcohol or cigarettes because of state laws, but they can get all the marijuana they want just by going out on the street. That's why the system just doesn't work. On the state level, I think protecting children it will probably never be perfect, but a child is not quite ready to make adult decisions and be responsible for the mistakes they make.

Along those lines with marriage, if you were on the state level for something like Proposition 8, would you vote for or against?

Well, I believe marriage is between one man and one woman.

At the state level, then, would you endorse a particular policy?

I don't think the laws would change morality.

Along those lines, if Roe v. Wade was reversed, what would you do from there?

I'm always disappointed that my proposal to remove the jurisdiction from the federal court has been ignored. Some people are overly confident about the federal government. As long as you have to have the courts or amend the Constitution, they play with that for years and years or decades and that never gets done, so the abortion continues. Our Constitution doesn't permit it, but it doesn't work. That's what Roe v. Wade was about. It was nationalized, but the wrong way, and that's what permitted the abortions.

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So if it were reversed and became a state issue, would you regulate it?

No, to me the government has very, very little responsibility for molding us and our personal behavior, you go to church and all that. But taking life, protecting life is a responsibility of the government. But we don't have any — all our laws are written by the states about murder and first-degree murder and manslaughter and actions that kill people. That's all dealt with at the state level, and that's where the abortion issue. I say it's taking a life and it has to be dealt with at the local level.

What about with prostitution at the state level? Would you recommend decriminalizing it?

I think that's irrelevant. It is illegal in every state. I guess maybe almost every state, to a degree. Christ didn't call for a law. He didn't call for stoning the prostitute. It was a moral issue, and we have to change people's heart. Go and sin no more. That's going to be a lot more valuable than throwing people in jail on something that won't change human nature. But certainly the regulation of it under our system of law, the states have authority to regulate it.

Some candidates cast doubt on evolution. Assuming you're talking about education on the state level, how should education handle teaching creation and evolution?

This demonstrates the fallacy of a government-run educational system. I think this issue of how the world came about is a spiritual, religious, scientific discussion. It should be totally out of the realm of the government. Why do we have to dwell on this? I think it's the results of the state-run schools. The argument is, who's going to dictate the criteria? I think right now Christians are going to lose this fight, because we deferred. I condemned the Department of Education ever since the standards. Are we as Christians going to dictate every single religious belief in our schools? Or should it be those who are the secularists who say that it's insane to believe in a creator? The whole fight is a result of depending on the king to explain to us exactly what we're supposed to believe in.

When evangelicals cast doubt on evolution, do they risk appearing anti-science?

Yeah, they are all the time. That's the whole reason why we get asked these questions — it's sort of like the catch-22 question. If you're not for evolution then you're some anti-scientific religious nut. But if you say you're a creationist and you don't believe in evolution, you're an idiot. Just maybe there's an in between.

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You would suggest a both-and approach?

If somebody thinks that God brought the earth through an evolutionary process, are we all going to go to hell because we think that? No. But when I wrote about evolution in my book, I didn't try to say, "This is the way it is." I try to explain why it's an argument that we shouldn't be having. It should be a religious debate in our churches. You can have your religious belief that we should try to understand science. But we need to get it out of the realm of political demagoguing. That's the part that I don't like.

Do you sense evangelicals are pushing a particular point of view?

I don't know whether that's a monolith. I don't know that you can apply that to every evangelical Christian. I meet some evangelical Christians that have a different spin on that. I wouldn't put them in one category.

Are tea party constituents dwarfing the interests of evangelicals as you're trying to figure out government's role in fiscal policies?

You mean the business of getting out of debt and all? Yeah, and I think that's brought the tea party people together. I might be wrong, but I have not seen this as inspired by evangelicals. But I bet there's some evangelicals involved. I bet they see it somewhat like I do, that the debt is big, government is too big, they see an attack on their schools and their homeschooling, and there's some discrimination against Christians. This whole idea that these lawsuits that claim that the Constitution and the founders said they were anti-religious, that we couldn't express ourselves? And yet the First Amendment says "Congress shall write no laws" regarding these expressions. I think that's a big difference.

Anything else you wanted to add?

I don't think so.

Related Elsewhere:

Previous Christianity Today interviews with GOP candidates include:

Q & A: Michele Bachmann on Cuts for Aid Relief, Obama's Faith and Credibility, and Francis Schaeffer | The Tea Party caucus chair talks to CT about recent military actions in Libya, why she opposes governmental steps to combat global warming, and her potential presidential candidacy. (April 14, 2011)
Q & A: Rick Santorum on Muslims, Religious Freedom, and 'Walking' for President | The former senator from Pennsylvania talks about what he thinks Obama got right and becoming a target of the gay community. (April 5, 2011)
Q & A: Herman Cain on Faith, Calling, and Presidential Aspirations | CT talks with the pizza magnate about his potential candidacy, cancer, and views of Islam. (March 21, 2011)

CT also follows political developments on the politics blog.