When Dr. Ben Carson spoke at February’s National Prayer Breakfast in front of United States President Barack Obama, his critical views on national healthcare legislation and the country’s increasing debt set the media abuzz.
His comments have since led to appearances and features in top news agencies, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and Fox News.
Carson, 61, is no stranger to the spotlight. He first gained international recognition in 1987 for successfully separating cranially conjoined twins. He has served as director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, since he was 33 years old.
A lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, he is a member of the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spencerville, Maryland.
Carson is the author of four books. His first, “Gifted Hands,” tells the story of his rise from a single-parent home in the inner city to a renowned medical career. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed Carson in an HBO movie of the same title. Carson and his wife, Candy, launched the Carson Scholar’s Fund in 1994 to promote reading and scholastic achievement, offering trophies as big as those awarded to high school athletes.
He spoke to ANN briefly by telephone earlier this week, after having completed four surgeries in the morning and waiting for a team to call him to a fifth.
While the Seventh-day Adventist Church doesn’t corporately become involved in politics, ANN interviewed Carson about how he as an Adventist shoulders responsibility of media attention. He also discussed how his views stemming from his faith shape his beliefs about the earth’s origins, as well as his promotion of reading and educational opportunities in underprivileged communities.
The unedited interview in its entirety:
Adventist News Network: Do you feel a special sense of responsibility and stewardship for the attention you get?
Dr. Ben Carson: There’s no question God sets these things up. My whole life I feel has been orchestrated by him. When you’re placed on a platform, you have a definite responsibility to remember who put you there and why.
ANN: How do you handle the spotlight?
Carson: Prayerfully, humbly, recognizing that you always have to make sure you keep yourself in the background. It’s very easy when all the spotlights are on you to think, “Oh, wow, I’m a great person.” You have to make sure to resist the urge to think that, and always remember that whatever you do, God is first.
ANN: What do you want people to understand about the Seventh-day Adventist Church by looking at your life?
Carson: I want them to understand that we’re very reasonable people and kind people, but we do have values and principles that we live by, and those are the things God has set forth in his word.
ANN: Are there ever any times when you feel it’s best to distinguish yourself from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and what it teaches?
Carson: No, I don’t. You know, I’ve seen a lot of articles that say, “Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist, and that means he believes in the six-day creation. Ha ha ha.” You know, I’m proud of the fact that I believe what God has said, and I’ve said many times that I’ll defend it before anyone. If they want to criticize the fact that I believe in a literal, six-day creation, let’s have at it because I will poke all kinds of holes in what they believe. In the end it depends on where you want to place your faith – do you want to place your faith in what God’s word says, or do you want to place your faith in an invention of man. You’re perfectly welcome to choose. I’ve chosen the one I want.
ANN: Are there any other things you think Seventh-day Adventists should speak out on?
Carson: Yeah, I think we should be the people who truly advocate for life. Abortions that are done on-demand are not within the purview of God’s will. We sit around and criticize ancient pagans for sacrificing babies and saying what heathens they were. But are we really any different if we go around killing babies because they’re inconvenient? I feel very strongly that we should be speaking out on those issues and don’t just go along to get along.
ANN: Some have said your message at the prayer breakfast was overly political in a setting that was supposed to focus on God. How do you respond?
Carson: I think a prayer breakfast is an excellent place to talk about the spiritual state of the nation, which unfortunately is critical at this state because people are afraid to talk about what they believe. One of the founding tenets of our nation was freedom of speech. So if you’re not going to be able to talk about that at a prayer breakfast, it’s pretty ironic that we can’t have freedom of speech at a prayer breakfast. And then some people have been critical of the fact that I brought up tithing, the Bible, God – it’s a prayer breakfast. Give me a break.
ANN: With the increased media attention, do you keep Sabbath any differently than you did before?
Carson: Not really. Sabbath is still a precious day for us. We go to church as often as we can. Even if we’re on the road we treat it as a different day than all the others.
ANN: How would you want to change the world?
Carson: Well, there are a number of things. First of all, particularly focusing on our nation, I want us to remember that we are one nation under God. And I want everyone to be able to say it and to say it with pride, not to say it shamefully. I also would like to bring back a real definition of fairness. Fairness means treating everybody the same, not just your special group or those special interest groups who contribute to your well-being.
ANN: Are there any biblical characters that offer you an example or encouragement?
Carson: Joseph, because he had a pretty difficult life. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers, decided to make the best of it and became the head of Potiphar’s household. And then living up to high moral standards caused him to be thrown in jail. He wasn’t resentful about that. He became a model prisoner. He gained position of authority there and started interpreting dreams and became governor of the most powerful nation in the world. That said a lot to me about not griping and complaining about where you are, but using the situation, trusting in God and making the best of it.
ANN: What does retirement look like for you in June?
Carson: It looks very busy. I may have to come back to work to get a break. I’ve got 10 international trips scheduled already and multiple engagements around the country – too numerous to count. Our scholarship fund is in all 50 states and we’re penetrating different counties. We’re putting in our reading rooms all over the country to try to increase the interest in reading, particularly in Title I school districts because the people who founded this nation said it is dependent on a well-educated and informed populace, and without that it cannot survive.
ANN: Anything else as we end?
Carson: We always have to remember that no matter what’s going on, no matter how much of a spotlight we have, that all of that comes from God and everything we do should reflect glory on his name.