Correction to This Article
A June 7 Style story on Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) misstated the planting and harvest seasons for wheat in Kansas. According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the predominant wheat crop in the state is generally planted in September and harvested in June.
Page 2 of 5   <       >

Faith-Based Initiative

Sen. Sam Brownback
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback: "Instead of getting angry at somebody for opposing you on something . . . you just pray blessings on them, blessings on their family." (Bill O'Leary -- The Washington Post)

He won't talk much about this aspect of his religious life. "It's kind of a divisive issue," he says, perhaps conscious of his many evangelical supporters. "People divide along churches instead of trying to look at how you pull together. Like, okay, this church is better than that church. You can find the Lord in a lot of places if you're willing to look for Him."

Brownback says he felt drawn to Catholicism for several years before he converted. (He had been raised a Methodist, and later belonged to a nondenominational evangelical church.) He describes the decision as an organic process, less a journey away from his faith and more a return to its roots. He doesn't call it a conversion.

"A conversion is if I became a Buddhist," he says. "Joining the Catholic Church was joining the early church. This is the mother church. This is the church out of which orthodoxy and Protestantism came."

He was sponsored by his friend in the Senate, Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). The ceremony was performed by the Rev. John McCloskey, a member of the controversial and strict Opus Dei sect who has helped convert a number of high-profile people, including columnist Robert Novak and former abortion provider Bernard Nathanson.

Sundays back in Topeka, the senator, who says he is not himself Opus Dei, attends two services. First he goes to Mass by himself, then to his old nondenominational church with his family, who did not convert. His wife, the former Mary Stauffer, comes from a wealthy family that used to own a media conglomerate. They have five children, the two youngest adopted after the Brownbacks applied in China and Guatemala simultaneously and both applications -- unexpectedly -- came through.

He invoked his adopted daughter recently during the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis, where potential '08 candidates gathered to speechify.

"Tomorrow, because a woman in China saw that abortion was killing a child, Jenna Joy Brownback, my daughter, will have an eighth birthday party," he told the crowd, prompting applause.

Brownback has a folksy, reassuring presence: He might be lamenting Roe v. Wade or he might be tucking you in and reading "The Berenstain Bears." He grew up on a farm and uses agricultural analogies and words like "skedaddle." He keeps a Mother Teresa quote about not judging people on the back door of his home in Topeka.

"So easy to judge people," he says. "I see you coming in the hallway and my mind just automatically goes, 'Okay, reporter, Washington Post, that's a primarily liberal publication, be careful.' Well, now I've automatically judged you. So I've spent my time judging you instead of thinking, 'Oh, here's a great person that I can interact with. I pray to love 'em.' "

Love, sweet love. Brownback examines his soul for hate and tries to excise any malignancies. Some years back, he says, he apologized to Hillary Clinton at a prayer breakfast for having despised her and her husband.

"I'm ashamed to say it but I did. And I felt -- justified in my hate," he says, his tone bitter, as if reliving an ancient betrayal. "I disagree politically but there is no call to hate. And it was wrong, it's a sin, and I went to her and I apologized."

He practices prayer when he finds himself in heated situations, as he did recently during a meeting on a constitutional amendment he supports, which would ban same-sex marriage. (Marriage, he says, is "a man and a woman bonded together for life and grandparents surrounding 'em.")


<       2              >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company