SIOUX CITY | Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson didn’t share any platform planks or make an open pitch for his campaign at the Sioux City Orpheum Theatre Saturday afternoon.
Instead, he talked about a past that included anger, a threatened paternity suit and an awakening that occurred when he was 14 after he almost stabbed a friend. “I am a person who centers my life on God,” the retired neurosurgeon told the more than 1,000 people in attendance. “Nothing else matters.”
Part of the Revive714 worship “experience” – a service that included appearances by actor Kirk Cameron and the group Casting Crowns – Carson played with his reputation as a soft-spoken politician and, in telling his life story, admitted his mother was so thrifty “I would love to appoint her Secretary of the Treasury.”
The closest the two-and-a-half-hour event got to politics was when Cameron, a star of TV’s “Growing Pains,” said, “We don’t need loudmouths. We need leaders with resolve. ... Dr. Carson will not shout at you.”
Carson said opponents had been looking for scandals and couldn’t find any. Early in his career, he was accused of fathering a boy in Florida and was threatened with a paternity suit. Officials wanted him to submit to a blood test but he refused. “I knew the only woman I had slept with was my wife,” he said. The threat disappeared.
God, Carson said, was responsible for the successes he had in life. “When God changes you, he does it from the inside. It’s not just a paint job.”
After telling the story of a surgery he did on a 4-year-old with a brain tumor, he introduced the now-35-year-old who has become a minister. The patient, Chris Pylant, told his story, too, and said he was thrilled to be speaking in front of Carson. “The nation is in need of God’s healing and restoration,” Pylant said.
Revive714 is based on Second Chronicles 7:14, which says when people humble themselves and seek God, he promises healing. To reinforce the message, several ministers, including Dr. James MacDonald and Dr. Marshall Foster, spoke.
A 14-year-old, Abby Ward, who was born blind but gained her sight in childhood, sang the National Anthem and an original called “Fire.”
Casting Crowns, an award-winning contemporary Christian group, offered a handful of songs and alluded to its own challenges, including lead singer Mark Hall’s battle with cancer.
Singer/songwriter Warren Barfield, who has appeared with Cameron at marriage encounter weekends, sang “Love is Not a Fight” (a cut from Cameron’s film “Fireproof”) and said, “There’s a time to speak and the time is now.”
Carson, surprisingly, offered the most humor, talking about his childhood and his desire to be a physician. He said he liked going to the doctor’s office so he could smell the alcohol swabs. “I was a strange kid,” he joked. Anger colored his teen years and, as a result, his grades suffered. He realized “to lash out at somebody was not a sign of strength. It was a sign of weakness. You could be controlled by others.”
Braden Joplin, the 25-year-old Carson campaign worker who died in a car accident earlier in the week, was remembered at the start of the event and during Carson’s remarks.
While others on the bill sang and spoke, Carson sat in the front row, Secret Service nearby. Audience members had to go through metal detectors before taking their seats; bags were searched. In the lobby, tables with Carson and Revive714 T-shirts, books and CDs were available.
Before dismissing the crowd, Cameron urged them to set their cellphone alarms to 7:14 a.m. or p.m. to remember to pray. He asked attendees to raise their phones as a show of support and, in minutes, the theater lit up.