Linger at any karaoke bar worldwide, past the crooning of current hits by Bruno Mars or Beyoncé, and inevitably one will hear a signature keyboard riff. It leads into a high-tenor opening line few singers can hit, though many try: “Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world / She took the midnight train going anywhere.”
Used by political campaigns and sports teams for decades, the rock ballad “Don’t Stop Believin’” has become the most downloaded track of the twentieth century, according to iTunes. First recorded in 1981 by arena rock band Journey, co-writer Jonathan Cain says the chorus hook came when he was a struggling musician back in the 1970s.
“I was doing poorly in Hollywood and had a lot of rejection,” says Cain. “I was thinking of coming back home to Chicago, and my father said those words to me: ‘Don’t stop believing, Jon.’ I wrote that down in a notebook and brought it with me to San Francisco.”
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past April, Journey continues to tour as members pursue projects on the side. Over the past three years, Cain remarried and rediscovered faith. His wife happens to be Paula White-Cain, the closest spiritual advisor to President Donald Trump and chairwoman of the White House evangelical advisory board.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of Paula White,” says Stephen Mansfield, author of “Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him.” “She profoundly impacted his campaign. The lynchpin that binds them together was his admiration for her as a Christian leader, yet one who was flawed and with a troubled background.”
Cain has an international following, and just released a solo Christmas album entitled “Unsung Noel.” He sometimes leads worship at New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, where White-Cain pastors. He’s also often in Washington by her side, as she convenes faith leaders and privately counsels the Trump family.
“I’m a nonpartisan guy,” says Cain about visiting the White House. “There have been Democrats and Republicans I’ve voted for. I’ve sat in on some of these meetings. They’re not there to speak to his politics; they speak to his soul.”
A Journey from Fame to Faith
Journey still draws thousands to their live shows. “Some nights we transform into the old band,” says Cain, “especially now that Steve Smith is back—it had been almost 30 years since he played with us live. It really brings back the magic.”
Another lineup change helped give Journey a second wind. In 2007, Cain and bandmate Neal Schon found their new lead singer the twenty-first-century way: on YouTube. As chronicled in the documentary “Everyman’s Journey,” they first heard Filipino vocalist Arnel Pineda from his clips belting out Journey standards at local bars. His voice is an uncanny match for original lead singer Steve Perry, whom an injury sidelined years ago.
With a younger front man, Journey has made greater inroads with international audiences even as older bandmates work to match Pineda’s pace. “His energy level is pretty high and he brings a different read to all the songs every night,” says Cain. “After the life he had, coming out of homelessness, poverty and brokenness, it’s truly God’s work.”
Their shows became a hot ticket again. Yet with Cain’s second marriage falling apart, he felt his life lacked meaning. In September 2011, the band boarded a commercial flight for a concert in San Antonio. There Cain met White when they sat across the aisle from each other.
“Journey hardly ever flew Southwest, and I learned later she hardly did either,” he says. “It was one of those coincidences. Somehow we started comparing notes about life. She told me she was a pastor, which she hardly tells anybody. I had questions about redemption.”
“Can God forgive a guy who’s lost his way?” he asked.
“There’s a weight in your spirit,” said White. “You need to return to him. You need to come back.”
“When I was a kid, I loved to pray,” replied Cain. “Is it possible to find the Jesus I knew when I was eight years old? Is it possible I could get that back again? I feel like I let him down in so many ways.”
“You have to repent,” she told him. “You have to call on him, you have to start praying.”
Although they exchanged contact information, Cain says they barely e-mailed for months. The blond televangelist he encountered would soon become one of America’s most prominent and controversial faith leaders.
Crisis and Controversy
Mansfield has a unique vantage point on the surprising 2016 election. The author of books on presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush’s faith found that grasping his fellow evangelicals’ support of Donald Trump meant getting to know his spiritual advisor.
“Paula White is essential to understanding the Donald Trump story,” says Mansfield. He recounts the two met 15 years ago after Trump saw White on television: “He heard her teaching on vision, which is something he talks a lot about, in a very practical way. It wasn’t mystical. He called her up, they began a friendship, and she became chaplain to a lot of people in The Trump Organization.”
White soon faced scandal as her own second marriage collapsed. Yet she took no respite from ministry, moving to nearby New Destiny Christian Center. She was appointed senior pastor when the church founder, who had a history of drug abuse, died of an overdose in 2011. All the while, Trump valued her spiritual advice and urged his staff to read White’s books.
“Here was a woman who had a divorce, misstatements in the press, and investigations of financial misdealings in her church,” observes Mansfield. “She had a spotted history and certainly a difficult childhood. I think [Trump] relates to that more than perhaps [to] Franklin Graham or those who seem to walk a straighter line.”
White’s experiences also caused Cain to reach out for help. His son had fallen into drug abuse, which the rock star had seen destroy many friends. “I remembered her son had dealt with addiction,” he says, recalling their airplane chat. “So I emailed her, What do I do?”
The reply was marked urgent: You need to get him into rehab. “We found a good center,” he says. “It’s heartbreaking to go to rehab—to see teens who were doing heroin and cutting themselves. But my son is 100 percent okay now.”
Then Cain’s second marriage also dissolved. He called White, asking about his path ahead. “It was tricky,” he says, noting she recommended counseling. “There was a lot of therapy that had to happen first. As I came out of therapy, I realized the one that really cared about me and helped me had been Paula. I asked her if we could start dating.”
The two got to know each other over years, marrying in December 2014 in Ghana, with White’s “spiritual father” presiding over the small ceremony. “I fell in love with the woman Paula White and now I’ve fallen in love with her kingdom movement,” says Cain. That movement has critics both inside and outside of Christian circles.
When Convictions Clash
Journey co-founder Neal Schon wants the rock band in no way associated with the current administration. When Cain arranged on July 27 for Pineda and others to meet President Trump, Schon blasted their White House visit on social media. “Journey should never be used and exploited by anyone, especially band members for politics or any one religion,” he wrote on Facebook. “This clearly shows no respect or unity, just divide. This was with intent to exploit the brand and use the name.”
Cain laughs off the drama, recently telling the Washington Post: “It’s a free country.” He further clarifies in our interview, “As a band, we have no political stance.” He takes a stronger tack against Christian leaders who criticize his wife.
Shortly before the inauguration in January, Dr. Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary California accused White of “making God a supporting actor” in her ministry. “She does work for God’s kingdom,” responds Cain. “There is no putting God second. The Holy Spirit is first in her life. She loves Jesus. She is doing work to bring one voice to the church.”
Professor Karen Swallow Prior of Liberty University, who contributed to the forthcoming book “Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning,” says four qualities define evangelicals: “the emphases on Christ’s atonement, the conversion experience, activism fueled by faith, and the centrality of the Bible to doctrine and belief,” says Prior. Based on this long-accepted definition, she questions White’s theology. “Those who teach a prosperity gospel based on extra-biblical words and revelations do not fit the historical definition of evangelical because the authority of the biblical text is superseded by personal revelation.”
The prosperity gospel has more in common with pop spirituality—books like “The Secret” as seen on Oprah—than Christian orthodoxy. It asserts a person’s self-generated faith will lead to material blessing. White’s book “Dare to Dream,” which President Trump endorsed, reflects this distortion. “Our faith allows God to work fully in our lives,” she writes. “Therefore, our faith brings about God’s ‘pleasure’ because He can bless us to a far greater extent.”
Such a transactional view of faith has innate appeal to a real estate magnate, says Dr. Michael Horton: “There is a focus on speaking ‘faith-filled’ words to achieve success, making it to the top, and—above all—believing in yourself,” he states, noting such prosperity teaching predates White. “Donald Trump’s only religious hero and mentor was Norman Vincent Peale, who tried to merge Christianity with mind science.”
He says the error of such beliefs was exposed on the campaign trail. “As a candidate, Trump said he’s never had to confess sin to God. That fits perfectly with this kind of ‘Christless Christianity,’” says Horton, referencing his acclaimed book by that title.
Yet few deny the change evident in Cain since his conversion. Longtime Journey manager Walter Herbert told one reporter that rediscovering faith has made the keyboardist “a better Jon Cain.” Asked how he fits in at New Destiny Christian Center, Cain recalls he responded to an altar call as a teen visiting a Baptist church.
“The pastor laid hands on me and I had this supernatural experience I’d never had before,” says Cain. “I wanted to be back in that Spirit-filled atmosphere. We’re a church that prays. We’re a church that makes a difference in our community.”
Last year Cain released an album of worship songs. “I came to Christian music quite unannounced,” he says, noting he has gotten to know popular artists in the genre like Israel Houghton and Third Day. “They told me, Just be transparent with your faith journey. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Politics, Power, and Praise
During the interview from their Florida home, Cain notes his wife was away fulfilling her role as chairwoman of the White House evangelical advisory board.
“She is in Washington today working on faith-based movements that are going to change and revolutionize the way the church is viewed by the entire world,” he says. Comprised of conservative religious figures like Dr. James Dobson and Tony Perkins, the group offers perspective and counsel on issues when President Trump asks.
On whether the Christian leaders are calling the administration to a higher standard, Cain gives a guarded answer. “To criticize that group right now is probably premature,” he says. “They can’t go and broadcast what’s really going down.”
Having seen such faith councils for other presidents, historian Mansfield thinks this one has had some impact. “The fact that evangelicals have access, the fact that they advise him, and that the Supreme Court has already had a tone change are the main feathers in his cap,” he notes.
“He’s promising more so they hang in there with him, though polls show about a 7 percent loss of evangelical support since he’s been in office,” says Mansfield, who spends his final chapters urging loyalty to principles over any political figure. “Leaders must not to be sycophants or join his PR team. They should challenge him and call him to his best.”
When asked about President Trump himself, Cain offers a terse response. “He’s a businessman who has just gotten into this arena. I think grace takes time. This isn’t an overnight thing,” he says, before adding: “There’s a lot more discipline now—I thank General Kelly for that.” He refers to former Marine general John Kelly, who replaced Reince Preibus as White House chief of staff in late July.
The musician and his unconventional spouse’s unlikely journey has made them close; one reporter observed a “smoldering sexual bond between them.” It’s a rare occasion when he and his wife are not together, Cain says.
“We made a commitment with each other when we got married that we didn’t want to be apart,” he says. “When she comes with me on the road, sometimes she’ll have to fly all night so she can be back to preach on Sundays. Then I was just in Nigeria with her last week. I don’t get to sing in Journey, but now I get to lead praise.”
“She sacrifices quite a bit, and I do the same,” he says. Although questions surround matters of theology and past shipwrecks in their lives, one gets the sense this couple won’t stop believing in their purpose together.