Nav Bar
Nav Bar

Dr. Leonard Sweet, United Methodist Minister and Dean of the Divinity School, Drew University.
FL: Could you talk about the flare ups of Dole over the years...and, what is the emotional background to them?


There are these perplexing and persistent flare-ups that Dole has. And how does one interpret it? And I think that part of what is going on here is that he is trying to live his life according to his values and his belief system, and if you can't see that, then he gets frustrated. And he's got to make a decision, "Do I expose myself? Do I make myself vulnerable? Or do I stick to my guns?". So I think it must be tremendously frustrating for this guy, not being able to articulate.

There's some dysfunctionality about expressing himself. But also, this ice tradition is "I shouldn't have to [do] that. You should be able to see this, and how I live my life." And this culture in a sense has passed him by. This culture wants that type of intimacy. This culture needs this intimacy and he doesn't get this. It's a generational thing but it's also a Midwestern Methodist thing too. He thinks "this is bad form. It's cheap to have to do this. I don't want to have to do this. I don't need to do this" And the culture needs it. The culture has to have it. But he's just not going to give it. Now, there is also an emotional issue here: how he has trouble expressing his emotions. Now there's a religious issue here. It's a different style, a different substance of how one builds one's faith.

FL: Could you contrast the style of the faith. Compare it to the Southern Baptist and Clinton style.


It's a marvelous contrast between Clinton's Southern Baptist style and Dole's kind of ice Methodist style. If you went to a Southern Baptist Church, singing would be effervescent. There would be a song leader. . . some testimony time perhaps. A very impassioned ceremony. Very, very emotional, demonstrative, high energy, in some ways a little boisterous even.

You go to the Methodist Church in Kansas. Everybody would enter very silently. It would be very decorous. In many ways, refined, dignified, nothing very demonstrative. Very different emotional styles. Now, one is as deep as the other, it's just different expressions of a way in which you do worship. I don't imagine that, and I'd have to look at this more, but that Dole grew up to many alter calls, out in that Methodist Church in Kansas. I don't imagine Dole had a lot of testimony time, that he was witness to or that he was asked to participate in. I think these contrasting rituals of worship are fascinating to look at.

FL: When you observed Dole on the stump . . . What is it about the way he carries himself, or what you know about his politics, or how he expresses himself that seems very typical about this Methodist Church? Because that's your point of view of him, the way you observe him.


I never met Dole. I don't know this guy. All I'm trying to do is look at him and understand him as a United Methodist minister and as a scholar of the Weslyan tradition.

But I know him. And I see him. I preach to him. He's one of the hardest, and his generation in larger terms, but his type particularly, this ice type, one of the hardest people to preach to. You can preach to them and they show no emotion. I mean absolutely they are emotionless. There's a church I know, United Methodist Church in Atlanta, that has over the doors to the sanctuary "Be Quiet". You know. This is the "get serious" generation. This is the group that doesn't express itself while your preaching, doesn't express itself.

Now after the sermon is over, they can be very friendly. They'll tell you what they thought of the service. You get immediate feedback. I preach to these people all the time . . . they're wonderful people. They've been taught, religion is serious. When you are in worship this is a time to get serious. To reach this generation I say as a pastor you have to get serious. And actually when I'm preaching to them I try to work on them, I try to break them down. And I can't do it. I'm looking at them and, you look at them and you'd think they were born in crab apple season. They're so severe, and stern. But that's their style. That's how they express their faith.

And we've got a generational thing here with Clinton and Dole. Clinton: get relevant. Dole: get serious.

FL: What do you know in reading the papers, biographies about how he and Elizabeth Dole express their faiths? What do you know about that?

SWEET: In many ways, Bob and Elizabeth Dole combine two very different strands of Methodism. I mean Elizabeth Dole [is] a blood relation to Francis Asbury. In many ways, you know, she embodies more of the fire side of the Methodist movement as he embodies the ice side. So their coming together is a fascinating mixture. They . . . I'd like to know have they ever prayed together? I can't imagine Dole doing that. But I'd love to ask the question. Do you read the Bible together? Do you talk together about your faith, your religion.

Now when they are pounding the streets of Washington, doing their good deeds, they're living their faith. And I think they see that as an expression of their faith together. But do they say grace together over meals? Nobody knows this. I'd love to probe this a little more and to find out what they're doing. I think in their own way, from what we do know, they are very involved together in social justice issues, as they define them, and social programs. And both Elizabeth and Bob Dole have a wonderful spirit of compassion towards those in need and are trying to reach out to that group. And that's an expression of their faith. Which is a powerful one. And that's the holiness movement, the holiness tradition. You express your faith in your works of justice. But, to what extent are there these other aspects. And nobody knows. At least I don't know anybody who knows.

FL: Quite specifically what do they do? Could you talk about those "good works".


Well, when they pound the pavement, they're out there in food kitchens, and food pantries, and homeless shelters, and they're not inviting cameras to come. They're just bringing together this public sector and this private agenda and just doing it out of their own expressions of piety and their personal need to have something hands on, person to person, face to face, that meets human need.

FL: I think lets go back a little about Doran Dole and the Western Union man. Because we're having someone talk about it early on in the film, but perhaps you could tell that story and perhaps make a virtue about having no emotion. Let's begin that story

SWEET: One of the things that jumped out at me is the way the Western Union man used Bob Dole's father to deliver the War Department wires to families in Russell City, Kansas to the families who had lost a son, or whose son was wounded. And they chose him, some say because he was somewhat stoic and didn't show emotion. But they chose him for a larger reason.

When Kenny died, Bob Dole came back to Russell, Kansas, to talk to the pastor there and said, "you know, Kenny was in many ways chaplain to this community. . . "And the pastor said to me, I really didn't think he was talking about Kenny, I thought he was talking about his father. And I think Bob in a way saw his father as a chaplain to that community of Russell, Kansas. Now a chaplain, is somebody who is strong enough to get in there in the trenches and help pick you up. And you need someone who has that kind of, that little bit of stoicism. Someone to help drag you out of the pit without staying there with you. We know he had a wonderful way of meeting people. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He could express his presence through silence, which is very important to this Midwestern culture.

The church also used Bob Dole's father in the same way, to visit the people who were sick, people who were hospitalized. And Bob Dole's father's the one who called on them, and visited with them, and in his own way ministered to them. Not ministered to them in terms of getting down on hands and knees and praying with them I think, but in sharing the silence, offering his presence and all that he stood for and represented. And the strength that those people found just in his presence, his ministering presence.

FL: The two sisters all talked about the church in Russell as being the center of all social activity, in a way that I don't think is understandable in big cities today. . . Everybody said that.

SWEET: Well at this time in American culture, the church was the hub of the community. Everything centered around the church. It's a high prestige position, to be a pastor of a church like Trinity Church of Russell, Kansas or First Methodist Church. It's hard for us to understand that today because the pastor profession today is low respect, back then it was high respect, high prestige. And nothing happens that in some ways in a small town that doesn't revolve around the church and center in that church, and headquater around that church. So Bob was raised in that kind of environment where everything rotates and revolves around the activities of the church, the rhythms of the church, the rituals of the church.

At this point in American history, in American culture, in a small town, in the Midwest, everything revolves around the church. Nothing takes place that is not in some way headquatered and centered in that church. A pastor is a high prestige position, high esteem, in a small town. So Bob Dole grew up in an environment where everything is ordered and organized by the rituals and the rhythms of that church. And he learned the small town values of a, of a church that is this white clap or steeple church that is kind of a, almost a cliche, but everything it stands for has an ordering, organizing, a centering of one's life and that's where, that's where religion was centered and that's where you centered your faith, through the rhythms and rituals of that church.

FL: Talk about the kids' social life.... Give me some specifics about that.


Well, growing up, this is how you lived your social life, in the suppers of the church, in the youth groups of the church. And it's not just Bob Dole, Elizabeth's Dole mother used to take her to Lake Geneloska, which is a summer camp. Well why? Well, because that's where you meet good Methodist boys, is at Lake Geneloska. So it's not just the rhythms of the church in that setting. The church used to have a farm system. It used to grow people in the faith all the way down the line and they used to have summer camps for this. And so Elizabeth Dole was taken by her mother to this great summer camp to meet a good Methodist boy. And eventually she did meet one. It took a while.

stories of bill | stories of bob | interact | photo gallery | four colloquies | readings | reactions | tapes & transcripts | explore frontline | pbs online | wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation