She’s the intelligent, gorgeous, Democratic commentator at Fox News who has been an atheist for much of her life until she says she had a personal encounter with Jesus.
It was in 2006 during an overseas trip that Kirsten Powers says, “I woke up in what felt like a strange cross between a dream and reality. Jesus came to me and said, ‘Here I am.’”
“It felt so real. I didn’t know what to make of it,” Powers explains in Christianity Today. “I called my boyfriend, but before I had time to tell him about it, he told me he had been praying the night before and felt we were supposed to break up. So we did. Honestly, while I was upset, I was more traumatized by Jesus visiting me.
“I tried to write off the experience as misfiring synapses, but I couldn’t shake it. When I returned to New York a few days later, I was lost. I suddenly felt God everywhere and it was terrifying. More important, it was unwelcome. It felt like an invasion. I started to fear I was going crazy.”
In a Fox News Channel interview with Howard Kurtz, Powers explained the revelation to her “wasn’t a one-moment-kind-of-thing. It was something that over a year probably of going to church and studying the Bible and a lot of different things.
“And I had this experience where I had a dream that sort of up-ended my world a little bit and that I, at first, just thought was just a dream, you know, because I didn’t really believe in things like that. And maybe it was just a dream, I don’t know, but it put me on a path of then sort of seeking out to learn more about it. I ended up in a Bible study and the rest is sort of history.”
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The transformation of Powers is noteworthy, as the veteran of the Clinton administration felt certain she would never have anything to do with the God of the Bible.
“If there was one thing in which I was completely secure, it was that I would never adhere to any religion – especially to evangelical Christianity, which I held in particular contempt,” she wrote in Christianity Today.
In the beginning …
Kirsten grew up in the Episcopal Church in Alaska, but admits her belief was “superficial and flimsy.”
She absorbed it from her archaeologist father, and was able to get through high school by leaning on his faith. But by the time she was off to college, any ostensible presence of God had vanished, especially since her dad began confiding in her his own doubts.
“What little faith I had couldn’t withstand this revelation,” she explains. “From my early twenties on, I would waver between atheism and agnosticism, never coming close to considering that God could be real.”
After graduating from college, Powers worked with the Clinton team from 1992 to 1998, noting Democratic politics “was our religion, to a certain extent.”
“All my friends were secular, liberal,” she told Focus on the Family radio. “So I really got even more deeply into just an incredibly secular world. Now all my friends were basically atheists, or if they had any kind of spirituality, they were very hostile toward religion, Christianity in particular. So I didn’t really have any interest in it.”
Powers encountered Christians only in the news cycle, and didn't feel she was missing much because "inevitably they were saying something about gay people or feminists."
"So when I began dating a man who was into Jesus," she writes, "I was not looking for God. In fact, the week before I met him, a friend had asked me if I had any deal breakers in dating. My response: 'Just nobody who is religious.'"
A few months into their relationship, her boyfriend asked her point blank on her couch in New York City, "Do you believe Jesus is your Savior?"
"My stomach sank. I started to panic," she recalls. "Oh no, was my first thought. He's crazy."
When Kirsten responded in the negative, her boyfriend then asked, "Do you think you could ever believe it?"
He was looking to get married, possibly to Kirsten, but stressed he couldn't tie the knot with a non-Christian.
"I said I didn't want to mislead him – that I would never believe in Jesus," says Powers. "Then he said the magic words for a liberal: 'Do you think you could keep an open mind about it?' Well, of course. 'I'm very open-minded!' Even though I wasn't at all. I derided Christians as anti-intellectual bigots who were too weak to face the reality that there is no rhyme or reason to the world. I had found this man's church attendance an oddity to overlook, not a point in his favor."
Powers admits feeling a conflict growing inside her as her boyfriend continued to talk.
"On the one hand, I was creeped out. On the other hand, I had enormous respect for him. He is smart, educated, and intellectually curious. I remember thinking, What if this is true, and I'm not even willing to consider it?"
Her curiosity got the best of her, and a few weeks later, she attended church with him.
"But I told him up front: I'll never become a Christian. It's never gonna happen."
"I was so clueless about Christianity that I didn't know that some Presbyterians were evangelicals. So when we arrived at the Upper East Side service of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, I was shocked and repelled by what I saw. I was used to the high-church liturgy of my youth. We were meeting in an auditorium with a band playing what I later learned was 'praise music.' I thought, How am I going to tell him I can never come back?"
Let there be light
That's when she heard the preaching of pastor Tim Keller and became fascinated.
"I had never heard a pastor talk about the things he did, she says, explaining the message "was intellectually rigorous, weaving in art and history and philosophy. I decided to come back to hear him again. Soon, hearing Keller speak on Sunday became the highlight of my week. I thought of it as just an interesting lecture – not really church. I just tolerated the rest of it in order to hear him. Any person who is familiar with Keller's preaching knows that he usually brings Jesus in at the end of the sermon to tie his points together. For the first few months, I left feeling frustrated: Why did he have to ruin a perfectly good talk with this Jesus nonsense?"
Week after week, Keller would make the case for Christianity and the case against atheism and agnosticism. It prompted Powers to start reading the Holy Bible and her boyfriend to pray with her for God to reveal Himself to the journalist.
After about eight months of listening to Keller, she concluded "the weight of evidence was on the side of Christianity. But I didn't feel any connection to God, and frankly, I was fine with that. I continued to think that people who talked of hearing from God or experiencing God were either delusional or lying. In my most generous moments, I allowed that they were just imagining things that made them feel good."
"I just intellectually actually I felt like it's not even smart to reject this," she elaborated to Focus on the Family. "It just doesn't seem like a good intellectual decision. So I think I sort of nominally thought, 'Yeah, I'm like that, but I'm not one of those crazies.'
It was at this point when, during her trip to Taiwan seven years ago, she had her meeting with the Creator who said, "Here I am," and events just snowballed.
"It was just sort of like God sort of invading my life. It was very unwelcome and I didn't like it and all of a sudden I started having a lot of different experiences where I just felt God doing a lot of things in my life. It's kind of hard to describe but I did just have this moment of the scales falling off of my eyes, and just saying it's just totally true. Like I don't even have any doubt.
"And then, rather than what I would have thought it would be like which is the clouds part and the angels sing and it's all so wonderful, it was horrible! Because all of a sudden I thought, 'Well what I am I supposed to do now? I don't want to be one of these people.' I'm not a Republican and I just had nothing in common with them and I didn't know any Christians. And so I was really quite freaked out and really resisted it, frankly, for a while and I thought maybe I'm having an episode or some sort of bad – I really thought this is like a phase and it's gonna pass."
It took Kirsten a couple of years to accept what was happening to her, as the world as she had known it was "imploding."
She attended Kathy Keller's Bible study to learn more, and remembers walking in for the first time, her stomach tied in knots.
"In my mind, only weirdoes and zealots went to Bible studies," Powers writes. "I don't remember what was said that day. All I know is that when I left, everything had changed. I'll never forget standing outside that apartment on the Upper East Side and saying to myself, 'It's true. It's completely true.' The world looked entirely different, like a veil had been lifted off it. I had not an iota of doubt. I was filled with indescribable joy.
"The horror of the prospect of being a devout Christian crept back in almost immediately. I spent the next few months doing my best to wrestle away from God. It was pointless. Everywhere I turned, there he was. Slowly there was less fear and more joy. The Hound of Heaven had pursued me and caught me – whether I liked it or not."
Powers, 44, says her family's reaction to her Christian conversion has not been one of rejoicing.
"They were not very happy about it," she told Kurtz. "I come from a very intellectual family, a very liberal family – my parents were professors – and they thought it was just extremely odd and didn't really like it very much. And I remember I said to my mother, 'I'm going to a Bible study,' and she said, 'OK ... that's good, that's a nice education for literature and things like that.' And I said, 'No, I believe it!'"
However, reaction from others has been much more uplifting and welcoming.
"Very positive. I was surprised," she said. "I got so many emails, and I even heard from some of my friends who are atheists who really were interested in it and appreciated it and were inspired by it."
She says there was nothing courageous about making the jump from atheist to Christian.
I really don't feel like I have any courage," she told Focus on the Family.
"In even describing when I became a Christian, I just gave in. It wasn't courageous. I didn't have any choice. I kept trying to not believe and I kept just couldn't avoid it. If I could have avoided it, I would have. There's nothing convenient about it in my life in the world that I live in. It's not like living in the South or living somewhere where everybody's Christian. I live in a world where nobody's a believer."
She told Kurtz her metamorphosis was "a real culture shock for me, and still sometimes is, honestly."
"It was a world that was completely new to me. It was a world where most of the people I came in contact with were conservative. If I had a dollar for every time somebody said, 'I don't understand: how can you be a Democrat and be a Christian?' I'd be a millionaire."
She added: "I think what they meant by that was an orthodox Christian. If I had been somebody who was sort of 'Well, yes, I believe in God,' and wasn't too serious about it. But the fact that I was sort of this orthodox Christian – I felt a little bit like a fish out of water. I didn't feel very comfortable there. It was many years until I started meeting other people who were like me: very progressive-minded politically but also very conservative theologically."
In a cautionary note to fellow believers, Powers told Kurtz that while "the media is not the most Christian-friendly place in the world for the most part, at the same time, a lot of these Christians bring [poor public perception] on themselves."
"You do have people coming out and saying 9/11 happened or Hurricane Katrina happened because of lesbians. So they are bringing it on themselves. Those people, of course, don't necessarily represent the bulk of Christians – at least, as I know them. But there are people out there that think that way. And so I think when Christians say, 'Oh we're being unfairly persecuted,' it's like, 'Well, stop saying things like that.'"
While Powers still leans left politically, she flayed her colleagues in the national news media in April for burying the trial of Kermit Gosnell, who ran an abortion-clinic horror in Philadelphia.
"Let me state the obvious. This should be front page news," she wrote in a USA Today column. "When Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, there was non-stop media hysteria. The venerable NBC Nightly News' Brian Williams intoned, 'A firestorm of outrage from women after a crude tirade from Rush Limbaugh,' as he teased a segment on the brouhaha. Yet, accusations of babies having their heads severed – a major human rights story if there ever was one – doesn't make the cut.
"You don't have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy. This is not about being 'pro-choice' or 'pro-life.' It's about basic human rights. The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace."