Ever since Carly Fiorina’s forceful criticism of Planned Parenthood during CNN’s Republican debate, Americans have been paying more attention to the former Hewlett-Packard CEO.
Fiorina saw her numbers rise in the polls over the past three weeks, as media continue to parse her remarks about watching a “fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating” against footage released by the pro-life Center for Medical Progress.
The 61-year-old has gone from being viewed as the Republican foil to Democrat Hillary Clinton to a serious contender on her own. Like several other Republican candidates, Fiorina never held public office, having lost a 2010 Senate campaign to California’s Barbara Boxer.
The sharp-spoken former executive has offered voters glimpses of her personal life, including her battle with breast cancer in 2009 and her stepdaughter’s tragic death after struggling with drug addiction. It was her Christian faith that sustained her through the pain, and continues to strengthen her as she sets her eyes on the White House, she said in an interview with CT.
Fiorina spoke at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit in 2007, two years after being ousted from HP. Through her connection with Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels, she revisited her beliefs and felt God deepen her convictions. She shares her testimony in this video for Opportunity International, a Christian non-profit that works to empower women and fight global poverty. Fiorina was involved with the organization as an ambassador and board chair up until her presidential run.
Raised Episcopalian, she has carried a mantra from her Sunday School days into the campaign: “What you are is God’s gift to you, and what you make of yourself is your gift to God.” She spoke with Her.meneutics editor Kate Shellnutt about her beliefs and background.
One of the most-talked-about issues in your campaign has been your criticism of Planned Parenthood. What shaped your pro-life views?
I was raised that way, but I didn’t really think about it all that much until I took a friend when I was in my early 20s to a Planned Parenthood clinic to have an abortion. She decided to have an abortion, and she asked me to go with her. I did, for moral support, and I watched while basically she was given no options. I watched what it did to her physically, emotionally, spiritually.
I later met my husband and learned that his mother had been told to abort him. She was a woman of great courage and faith; she chose not to. He was the joy of her life; he’s been the rock of mine. I’ve thought often about how different my life would be had she made a different choice. Several years later, I learned I was not able to have children of my own, so I learned in a whole other way that life is a precious gift. I’ve learned over and over again in my life that every person has potential, that everyone has God-given gifts regardless of their circumstances—usually far more than they realize.
To me, the thing that is most shocking about this controversy is that Planned Parenthood keeps talking about birth control, women’s health, pro-life, and pro-choice.… this is not about any of those things.
What did you learn from your involvement in Christian microfinance with Opportunity International? And how do you think that will influence your views on foreign policy?
First, Christian microfinance works. Fundamentally, what Opportunity International does is take a chance on people. Opportunity International has lent $6 billion, $100 at a time. It has lifted millions out of poverty—mostly women because women in the developing world make very good credit risks and very good investments. They invest in their families and their communities. It’s a demonstration that everybody has potential. Instead of assuming that someone cannot live a life of purpose and dignity and meaning, as so many progressives do, this program assumes everyone has potential and everyone can be lifted up. To me, that is the core of what this nation is built on. And it’s the core of what’s slowly being drained away by a government that’s overreaching in every conceivable way, tangling people’s lives up in webs of dependence instead of giving them a helping hand.
I’m not sure that Opportunity International has shaped my view of foreign policy, but certainly my experiences with world leaders and with military and intelligence leaders have. You know, there’s evil in the world. And there are tyrants in the world—Putin, Khamenei in Iran, Bashar al-Assad. The Chinese are a rising adversary. There are adversaries, tyrants, evil in the world that does not believe that life is valuable in any way. When you don’t believe that life is valuable, you are capable of unbelievable horror, and that’s what we see going on. It’s why the United States, which was founded on the notion that each life is valuable, we have to confront our adversaries. It doesn’t mean rushing to war every time, but we can’t lie down while evil is perpetuated all over the world.
Part of your personal testimony is how you experienced a renewal in your faith after meeting Bill Hybels and speaking at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Could you tell me about what your faith practice looks like now, and what it’s been like to deal with the emotional and spiritual demands of the campaign?
I begin every morning with a daily Scripture. I’m one of those people who has to spend the first time in the morning with silence, quiet, contemplation, Scripture, and prayer. It’s how I get ready for the day. In a way, daily Scripture is even more important now. It’s interesting. I read this morning Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—then whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid.”
The campaign is wonderful and uplifting in many ways, when people embrace and support you. As this Planned Parenthood controversy has revealed, a campaign is also an experience of indiscriminate attack sometimes. For heaven’s sakes, the media is saying I wasn’t a secretary! I have members in the media harassing my daughter and granddaughters. It would be easy to be scared off by that kind of opposition; in fact, it is what they hope. The people who get on television and call me a liar hope that I will be scared off. So it’s really important to get centered in the love of the Lord and get centered in the reality of, “Of whom shall I be afraid?” and “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.”
A lot of women agreed with you when you dismissed the idea of putting a woman on US currency as a merely gesture and called for better opportunities for women in general. What does that look like? What changes need to be made for American women?
It starts with the acknowledgement, the reality, that we cannot be the nation we should be unless every single American, man and woman, has the opportunity to fulfill their potential—whatever that means for them. Not every American has that opportunity today. The burdens of poverty and parenthood frequently fall most heavily on women. We just have to start with the acknowledgement that women are half the potential of this nation.
Secondly, I think women fulfill their potential when they truly have the choice to live the life they choose, whatever that life is. Maybe the life they choose is to be at home with their children and homeschool them. Maybe the life they choose is to become chief executive. Whatever life fulfills their gifts, that’s the life they should have the opportunity to live.
Third, we need to build meritocracies. There are so many settings today where merit, contribution, is not what’s actually valued. The government should take the lead not by mandating practices for other organizations, but by demonstrating how much difference a real meritocracy makes. Government is not a meritocracy. It’s based how long you’ve been in the job. It’s based on, “Can you go along to get along?” It’s clearly not based on contribution because we know that there’s no consequence for dereliction of duty in government—literally zero. And we also know, from Inspector General reports, that if you’re a woman working really hard at a federal government job, there can be a guy sitting next to you watching pornography on his desk all day long, and he’s going to earn the same pay, pension, and benefits as you do. That’s not fair. When you create a meritocracy, you will get a diverse workforce in which women do better.
The final thing is that technology is a wonderful tool for empowering everyone, but particularly for women. Technology gives us all the opportunity to be in two places at once in a lot of ways. A mom can be on the soccer field, watching her kids, and be engaged in an important discussion about something else. I think workplaces that want to promote and celebrate and value women are workplaces that use technology aggressively. And of course the government is aggressively technophobic.
What has formed your view of leadership?
I think leaders are made, not born. Absolutely anyone can lead. When I was typing and filing, these two men came to my desk and said, “We think you can do more than type and file. Do you want to know what we do?” That was an act of leadership because they took a chance on me. They gave me a helping hand. They unlocked my potential. That’s fundamentally what leadership is. People think leadership is about title and position, but loads of people with big positions and big titles don’t lead. Some of the women I’ve met with Opportunity International are leaders because they’re making a positive difference for someone else as well as for themselves. They’re making a positive difference in their family, in their community, in their workplace, or in their place of worship.
The thing about leadership is, it isn’t easy. To unlock potential, you have to challenge the way things have always been, and that’s hard. When you challenge the status quo, you make enemies because there are people who benefitted from the status quo, and they don’t want it to change. A lot people get scared off from leadership.
People ask how I went from secretary to CEO. I didn’t have a plan. Every time I ran to a problem, I found people who knew what to do, it’s just they’d never been asked. No one had have ever listened to them. No one had ever had the courage to say, “You know what? We actually are going to challenge the status quo and do things differently and finally solve this problem.” I did that over and over and over, and fundamentally, that’s what leadership is. It’s about running to problems instead of running away from them. It’s about using every ounce of potential in situation to finally solve the problem. It’s about not being afraid to challenge the way things have always been.