November 19th, 2011
10:31 PM ET

The gospel according to Herman Cain

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series of stories looking at the faith of the leading 2012 presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. We profiled the faith journey of Herman Cain before he suspended his campaign.

(CNN) – On a bright spring day in 2007, a black-robed Herman Cain officiated the wedding of a young couple at a mansion outside of Atlanta. The sun sparkled on the pair’s wedding rings as Cain, an associate minister at a nearby church, held them aloft.

All seemed perfect.

When it came time for the bride and groom to exchange vows, however, Cain was dissatisfied with the volume of the groom’s “I do.”

"Say it louder," Cain told Matt Carrothers.

“When he tells you to say, ‘I do,’” the groom recalled, “it almost sounds like the voice of God telling you that and you take it very seriously.”

In the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Herman Cain is not seen as a candidate who wears his faith on his sleeve. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, Rick Santorum’s Catholicism and Michele Bachmann’s evangelical Christianity have all garnered much more attention than Cain’s Baptist-flavored beliefs.

On the campaign trail, Cain is more apt to talk about his business acumen and leadership skills than his faith. His unlikely rise as a straight-talking White House contender was pegged largely to the popularity among fiscal conservatives of his “9-9-9” tax plan.

But those who know Cain describe him as a devout Christian who leans on his faith in times of hardship. That would appear to include the present moment, when a flurry of sexual harassment allegations and a viral video of a Libya interview gaffe are renewing doubts about Cain’s legitimacy as a candidate.

Indeed, Cain’s religiosity runs deep enough that he regularly delivers sermons at his childhood church, has recorded a gospel music album and has a traveling minister as part of his campaign apparatus.

Carrothers - who worked as Cain’s political director during his failed 2004 bid for a U.S. Senate seat from Georgia - says one of Cain’s favorite sayings is, “There’s our plan, and then there’s God’s plan.”

Rev Herman Cain presides over the wedding of Matt Carrothers and Debra Ann Delong.

“You may think that things are going wrong in your life,” Carrothers says, paraphrasing the candidate, “but just step back it will always get better.”

Faith and work, hand in hand

Cain’s faith journey began at a young age. Born in Tennessee and raised in Georgia, he and his parents joined Antioch Baptist Church North in Atlanta when he was 10.

The 134-year-old, historically black church was founded by freed slaves. For the Cain family, faith in God and hard work went hand in hand.

Cain has written that his family grew up so poor they were “po.” His mother was a maid and his father at times worked three jobs at once: as a barber, a janitor at Pillsbury and a chauffeur for Coca-Cola executives.

His father, Cain writes in his 2011 book, “This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House,” worked and saved enough to buy a modest home and quit two of his jobs, rising in the ranks at Coca-Cola to become the CEO's private chauffeur.

Herman Cain, meanwhile, would climb the corporate ladder, rising to become the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, based in Omaha, Nebraska, and then head of the National Restaurant Association, where the sexual harassment charges originated.

Cain has always considered Antioch his spiritual home. The candidate declined to comment for this article, but Fred Robinson, a former Antioch minister who left to form his own church, says Cain’s late parents were pillars of the church.

Cain greets potential caucus voters prior to speaking at an Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event earlier this year.

After he returned to Antioch amid “great fanfare” in 2000, Robinson says, Cain became a fixture in the deacon’s corner, a row of seats near the pulpit.

On any Sunday, Cain could be seen sitting with the other deacons in his favorite light-blue dress shirt shouting, “Preach Rev!” or “Say it.”

Cain became a licensed associate minister at Antioch in 2002.

The liberal church of Herman Cain

“Like most ministers, I felt called to preach the word of God and minister to the least, the last, and the lost, and minister to His people,” he told Christianity Today.

Antioch officials and Senior Pastor Cameron Alexander declined interview requests, saying the church doesn’t divulge information about members or staff.

But congregants paint a picture of Cain as deeply involved, part of a group of associate ministers known as the Sons of Antioch. Members say that if a man feels called by God to preach, he can approach the senior pastor about it. A trial sermon is then arranged.

If the congregation and pastor approve, the man undergoes training in scripture and preaching and can be licensed by the church to preach.

The Sons of Antioch are given the honorific of “reverend.” The positions are unpaid.

Antioch is part of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. but like many Baptist churches, it operates largely autonomously. The process of appointing ministers is particular to the church.

As an associate minister, Cain sometimes preaches at Antioch and regularly helps distribute the elements of communion, a role he has kept up while campaigning for president.

Valencia Seay, a Georgia state senator and longtime member of the church, falls on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Cain. But she said they put politics aside on Sunday mornings.

From the pulpit, Cain is “charismatic, he is knowledgeable, he is on point, and he knows the Word.”

“He can lift a hymn,” she said. “It’s always enjoyable to hear a minister who can not only deliver a powerful message but also finish it with a song that speaks to that message.”

While in Omaha at Godfather’s Pizza, Cain put his singing to work, directing a men’s chorus at Pilgrim Baptist Church and cutting a CD of gospel tunes. The proceeds went to charity.

On the campaign, Cain sometimes sings for supporters and once serenaded reporters with a hymn at the National Press Club.

God-centered self-determinism

For all his church involvement, Cain’s message of self-determinism is seemingly at odds with Antioch’s focus on social justice.

The Rev. Gerald Durley, senior pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, told CNN that Cain’s call for blacks to forget about racism and pull themselves up by their bootstraps doesn’t mesh with the philosophy of Antioch’s pastor.

“He’s not going to talk about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” Durley says of Antioch’s pastor, Cameron Alexander. “It’s about providing bootstraps.”

Since becoming an associate minister at Antioch, Cain has preached in pulpits around the country, often eschewing the big paydays of motivational speaking gigs for modest preaching honorariums.

In many of those sermons, Cain has promoted a message of self-reliance.

In 2003, while Cain was running for Senate, he preached at the Crystal Cathedral, a high-profile church in Southern California headed at the time by the Rev. Robert Schuller.

“I told Bob that I was so excited that it inspired me to prepare a two-hour message for you this morning,” Cain told the congregation.

“Bob said, ‘That’s great, as long as you can do it in 20 minutes,’” Cain joked.

Cain’s sermon, which was beamed around the globe as part of Crystal Cathedral’s “Hour of Power” TV broadcast, focused on the biblical verse Mark 8:36.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Cain quoted.

As he continued, Cain's message seemed to harmonize with his libertarian politics.

“Finding your purpose in life is a continuous process that God reveals to each of us when we are ready and when God is ready,” he said. “Living our purpose in life is a decision.”

In the gospel according to Herman Cain, God may lay out plans, but it is up to each believer to push forward - regardless of obstacles - to reach that goal.

For Cain, that’s meant repeatedly running for political office despite his failure to win.

Cain addresses the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Consumer Electronic Association earlier this month in McLean, Virginia.

From the pulpit of the Crystal Cathedral, Cain traced his political career to an epiphany that accompanied the birth of his granddaughter in 1999.

“The first thought, so help me God, that went through my mind when I looked at that little face was, ‘What do I do to use my talents to make this a better world?’” Cain said. “God had revealed my next purpose in life at an unexpected moment.”

In his 2005 book, “They Think You're Stupid: Why Democrats Lost Your Vote and What Republicans Must Do to Keep It,” Cain said that epiphany led to worrying about
leaving Social Security and Medicare a “mess” for her.

“For three and a half years I would not be able to answer the question of what do I do to make this a better world,” Cain writes. “But I would often reflect on the words of the prophet Isaiah (40:31): ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles.’”

In 1999, Cain formed Citizens for Cain Exploratory Committee to test the waters for a presidential bid in 2000, the National Journal reported at the time. He made campaign stops in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to press reports, which focused on his business acumen and the fact that he was a black GOP candidate, not his religious proclivities. He eventually backed Republican candidate Steve Forbes and joined Forbes' campaign as a national co-chairman.

Three and a half years later, Cain ran for the U.S. Senate, saying the decision had been divinely inspired.

“Being on a God-inspired fast track of success and surviving the many things that could have gone wrong was no accident,” he writes.

He woke early one morning to study the Bible as he wrestled with whether to run for Senate.

The Bible fell on the floor, Cain writes, and opened to Matthew 18, where Jesus asks, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” - the same words he would quote from a different gospel at the Crystal Cathedral.

Later that week, Cain writes, he heard a sermon titled “The Calling” by Alexander at Antioch. After the service, Cain consulted with the pastor.

Cain said he felt God was calling him to run for Senate. According to Cain, the pastor responded: "How much louder does God have to tell you something?"

Not long after, Cain threw his hat in the ring.

Looking for God’s road signs

He would lose in the Republican primary to now-U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, but Cain took a respectable 26% of the vote. Being a millionaire black conservative made him somewhat of a novelty, and he attracted lots of national and local press.

The experience helped Cain land a conservative radio talk show in Atlanta, a book deal and appearances on national television.

Indeed, Cain sees God’s hand in his 2004 loss. Referring to his radio show, Cain writes, “I believe that having that program was God’s way of forcing me to understand the critical issues confronting our nation.”

While his radio career was humming along, Cain faced a major challenge in February 2006, when he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

The diagnosis tested the faith of Cain and his wife, Gloria. But he saw the hand of God at various points in his treatment.

After the initial diagnosis, Cain’s Atlanta doctor wanted him to get a second opinion from a specialist in Savannah, Georgia, some five hours away by car. Cain didn’t want go, but then he learned the specialist’s name: Dr. Lord. That was the first sign.

Later, Cain went to MD Anderson Cancer Center, a Houston hospital specializing in cancer treatment, after his business pal Boone Pickens called to get him in.

The nurse who gave Cain and his wife their orientation tour at the hospital was named Grace. Yet another sign, Cain writes.

And when it was time for surgery, the doctors explained they would be making a J-shaped incision. “Like J-E-S-U-S?” Cain asked the doctor. The candidate would go on to call the incision a “Jesus cut.”

“You see, the Lord gives you these road signs - that is, if you know how to recognize them,” Cain writes.

By January 2007, Cain was cancer-free. The road signs began to change. He returned to the radio airwaves and began sowing the seeds of a run for president.

‘You got the wrong man, Lord!’

Herman Cain did not want to run for president. He did not want to be president. But God told him to.

In a campaign speech in early November, he told the Georgia Young Republicans he never considered running for president until he saw President Barack Obama’s “arrogant disregard for the people,” which he said weakened the county's economy, military and standing in the world.

“That’s when I prayed and prayed and prayed. … More praying than I’ve ever had to do in my life.

“When I finally realized that this was God saying what I needed to do, I was like Moses. ‘You got the wrong man, Lord! Are you sure?’ Now, you're not supposed to doubt God. But I'm going, ‘I think maybe you're looking at somebody else.’”

Cain announced his candidacy for president in January.

Cain speaks during a campaign visit to Versailles, a Cuban restaurant, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami on Wednesday.

To be sure, Cain is hardly the only candidate who has said that God wants him or her to run for president. Rick Perry and Bachmann have expressed similar sentiments.

“Maybe God just wants a good race,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Sabato points to the large numbers of religious Republican voters in the Iowa caucuses and South Carolina primary. Many voters in those states “respond to language like that,” Sabato says.

Benny Tate, senior pastor of Rock Springs Church in Milner, Georgia, has accompanied Cain on the campaign trail, joining the candidate on recent trips to Ohio and New Hampshire. Tate said whenever they stop to eat on the road, “Herman will literally bow his head and thank God for that food. It may be something small, like a sandwich, but I’ve never seen Herman have a meal where he didn’t thank God for the meal.”

Despite that piety, Cain has had his fair share of trouble with the Christian Right.

In an October interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Cain seemed to mix two disparate positions on abortion. He said he believes life begins at conception and that he opposes abortion in all cases.

But he also said government ought to stay out of a family’s decision - a line that seemed to speak to Cain’s limited government, tea party-flavored conservativism.

The comment enraged many anti-abortion groups and is featured in a new web ad for Bachmann that’s aimed at positioning the Minnesota congresswoman as the true anti-abortion candidate.

While most of the other Republican candidates have reached out to Focus on the Family, an influential evangelical organization and long a stopover for GOP figures, the group has not heard from Cain.

But those who know him say Cain’s focus on economic issues is an outgrowth of his faith and his view of an individual’s ability to chart his or her own course.

“Herman sees the pressing issues of our day are economic,” Tate said. “Because of his faith he sees that that can turn around. One way he sees that is through personal responsibility.

“Herman believes that, ‘By the sweat of thy face thou shall eat bread,’” Tate said, referring to Genesis 3:19, in which Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden.

Cain has used this idea to criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks,” he recently told The Wall Street Journal. “If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself!”

That idea is not original to Cain. It is one long found in black churches.

“The fiscal conservative thread … not being dependent on anybody else, especially not ‘the white man,’ is a theme that is decades old in the black community,” said Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church, a black megachurch in Maryland.

Jackson, who was invited to give an opening prayer when Cain kicked off his presidential campaign, says Cain is representative of many conservative black evangelicals - though he might not be getting many votes from the folks at Antioch.

The question remains whether Cain’s blend of self-determination and striving to complete what he sees as God’s plan will land him the Republican presidential nomination - whether he wants it or not.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Baptist • Belief • Christianity • Georgia • Herman Cain • Politics • Race • United States

soundoff (1,421 Responses)
  1. Katie

    Why people in this country insist that the devoutness of a leader is so important to his ability to lead is beyond me. Why anyone thinks someone who claims to have a direct line to God should be a leader doesn't know their history. Faith is NO reason to base a decision or a vote.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • John

      The capital "g". And so it continues.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  2. Just Me

    and God told me not to waste my one and only vote on him should I be faced with that option.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • John

      Gives god a capital "g". I wonder why.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  3. John

    "god told me to do it." Humans have been saying it for 10,000 years to justify their actions whether it be murder, persecution, invasion, or prejudice. Again, the dreamworld of the unconscious human, the leaders of the 21st century. Let's all bow down and pray that our troubles will be resolved. The true voices Bachman, Cain, Perry and other despots.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  4. tr

    So, did god tell the candidates to endorse water boarding and ignore the no less than 2,000 times that the bible mentions helping the poor?

    November 20, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • John

      Wake up.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  5. itoldyouso10

    @clear, remember, those are the doctor's who think that even today, in 2011, there is a "normal" that everyone needs to conform too...if Herman Cain talked to them, then they would be on his side. However, if someone tried to talk reasonably with these doctors about how screwed up religion can often be, then they would be considered "abnormal". The doctors need to talk with the doctors!!!

    November 20, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • itoldyouso10

      And frankly in my opinion, when it comes right down to it: IT WAS THE GRAYS LOLOLOLOL!!! and if you say i am talking about a myth there, then why do you all believe in a book that is just as much of a myth? So what that people believed that for centuries and you we're raised on it...are you going to believe something because it was shoved down your throat or look at what is best for humanity and moving towards a better world in the future? Sure religion may make you feel better and give a background for better behavior, BUT YOU CAN THINK FOR YOURSELVES IF YOU TRY HUMANITY! YOU DON'T NEED SOME ANCIENT TEXTS TO TELL YOU HOW TO LIVE!!! USE YOUR BRAINS, REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOUR BACKGROUND IS PERIOD!!!

      November 20, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  6. snore

    The biggest flaw with Herman Cain's belief that he pulled himself out of poverty so anyone can. This is typical Republican thinking. There are many reasons that people who are poor simply cannot work their way out of the ghettos and impoverished neighborhoods. Instead, we blame them, saying it is their own fault. No one wants to be poor.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • Mirosal

      With almost 10% unemployment, maybe ol' Herman can tell us just exactly where the jobs are? He didn't deliver the pizzas, he was sitting in the CEO's seat playing dic.k-tation with his secretaries. So Herman, with 10% unemployment, WHERE are those jobs that will lift us out of despair?

      November 20, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • jim

      Yet, the poor tend to do things that essentially guarantees that they will remain poor. The Liberal solution has been tried and hundreds of billiions spent on the poor, which continues to only make matters worse.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • Katie

      Very true. Those that pull themselves out of poverty into wealth and status do not seem to learn anything but disdain and condescension for their fellow man. Those are hardly Christian ideals.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  7. Rudedog

    ...and let us not forget that God told Bush to invade Iraq.
    I suppose next he'll say God told him to grope all those women.
    Why doesn't God tell them to take their miilions $ and feed the poor, pay for schools n hospitals? I am sick to death that religiofascists blame their lusts on God.
    What are the odds that what they want and God wants are both the same???

    November 20, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  8. Mary Derricotte

    America is and will not always be a country of religious idiots. When old people get closer to death they cling to anything that brings the mind relief. Religion is a games best solution to keeping the masses ignorant to life . If people new the truth that there is no god no life after this but this one. It is the same for animals we would be cherishing the earth and life on this planet. Religion is a divides people and do we need organized religion any way. What does it actually do for people nothing. This god who does noting. Man and science get little credit for food shelter clothing and wealth. And when I am sick on my death bed I don't want some one named god I want a doctor. So hermain Cain , alias Little hitler who seems to mesmorise the people like his predisessor. Little Hitler has the ability to confuse his audience annd give them the hope of winning this presidency regardlwess of what kind of lying decieving imbasil that is not fit to lead a pack of cabboses. The youth are not bying relgion.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  9. Jay

    How sad is it that any candidate for high-level office has to make this dog-and-pony show of thier faith. It should be a non-issue!

    November 20, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • Mirosal

      It's SUPPOSED to be a non-issue. For reference, please read Article 6 of that little parchment we like to call the US Consti.tution.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:32 am |
    • jim

      It appears that the "dog and pony show" is a CNN creation.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  10. clear

    Another dude who hears voices...they should talk to a doctor about it, as it is considered a symptom.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  11. dogs rule

    This guy's more arrogant and dangerous – if it's possible – than Sarah Palin! He actually makes me miss her...........

    November 20, 2011 at 7:18 am |
  12. maggie

    and he has some really nice swamp land in florida he'd like to sell you.......

    November 20, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  13. XIE XIE

    I liked the way America WAS when it believed it could be a Christian Nation. Heck, even the Hail Mary pass was named after a prayer. But , Like anything the more they get the more they want. I am speaking of organized religion. My beliefs are my own and I follow God in my heart nowhere else because you get Rich people Like Cain who live the life of luxury while they believe it is prudent for so many others to be allowed to suffer, and struggle at their bottom dollar. Give me someone real to believe in. Still, Americans like to be doped. And they will be by both parties, s they are both part of the New World Order.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • Occupado

      If you struggle at the bottom, it's still your own fault. No politician ever pulled any man up from poverty. That's something each individual has to figure out for him or herself.

      Always has been. Always will be.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  14. AvdBerg

    The above article by Eric Marrapodi is a lie and a fabrication of the truth. Herman Cain does not know what he worships as he worships after an image of a false God. He does not preach the Gospel of Christ but rather a false Christ in which there is no salvation (Matthew 24:24). Herman Cain is separated from God and unless he repents and turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18) he will remain spiritually blind. God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth (John 9:31). For a better understanding who Herman Cain worships and what it means to be a sinner, we invite you to read the articles ‘What is Sin’ and ‘Victory over Sin’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    Also, to give people a better understanding of the destructive forces behind CNN and US Politics and the issues that divide this world, we invite you to read the article ‘CNN Belief Blog ~ Sign of the Times’.

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how this whole world has been deceived as confirmed by the Word of God in Revelation 12:9. The Bible is true in all things and is the discerner of every thought and the intent of the heart (Hebrews 5:12). The truth is that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). This is why we call all of mankind to repentance.

    Seek, and ye shall find (Matthew 7:7).

    November 20, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • SCAtheist

      And god came down and told you all this nonsense?

      November 20, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  15. dogs rule

    God forbid this nut-job gets elected. If he does, the idiots who voted for him will get their just desserts. Unfortunately, they'll inflict him on the rest of us as well. Seriously folks?? "God" told him to do it? Anyone remember Flip Wilson's famous line: "The devil made me do it"? Only we KNEW he was just being a comedian.... This freak is dead serious!

    November 20, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • maggie

      Obaa will have him for lunch. There aren't that many rabid right wingers and the normal ones are probably embarrassed by this buffoon.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • Occupado

      Where are the jobs?

      November 20, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  16. pprty

    I don't question his faith, I question his actions.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • mb2010a

      And I question his sanity...

      November 20, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  17. itoldyouso10

    @Rucking Fetard, you are right, fairy tales can guide humanity better then them thinking for themselves and actually using their biologically capable brains...if zeus is your uncle, then it makes so much sense that the world was created in a week before there was even a sun and world to calculate the calender, and the first two human beings who existed were created in an instant and had an instestious relationship to create the rest of humanity...no wonder we're so stupid! Let's face it, the only news that makes sense and ground breaking these days for the future isn't what comes from some ancient book of fairy tales, but the fact that we are discovering that some particles may or may not travel faster than light and time can possibly go backward IF IT IS CONFIRMED!!! People, GET OUT THE BRONZE AGE AND USE YOUR HEADS!!!

    November 20, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  18. Issy

    "...until he saw President Barack Obama’s “arrogant disregard for the people," So where was Cain for the previous 8 years?

    November 20, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • Occupado

      Building business and creating private sector wealth, as opposed to our current president, who was a "community organizer".

      What do community organizers create?

      Malaise. That's all they know. Economic malaise.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Supply an example.

      November 20, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  19. Bill

    "Faith and Freedom." The best way to preserve freedom is to have citizens who refuse to be rational. That way, arrogant, unqualified bullies like Herman Cain can avoid the issues and manipulate people's emotions.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  20. SCAtheist

    I believe........Herman Cain is a liar.

    November 20, 2011 at 7:13 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.