Skip to comments.God & W. at 1600 Penn.
Posted on 03/05/2003 6:41:36 AM PST by conservativecorner
How his faith defines the 43rd president.
By Paul Kengor
t was January 5, 2002 in Ontario, California, 37 miles east of Los Angeles. Though the perfect weather was representative of a typical day in southern California, the scene and times were not. The president, after all, was in town. And his wasn't a routine stop during a routine period in American history. Only a few months earlier, thousands of Americans were murdered as Muslim extremists converted commercial airliners into bombs in New York City, Washington, D.C., and in a nondescript field in the woods of Western Pennsylvania. It was an act that the speaker present on this day, President George W. Bush, would repeatedly denounce in language laden with Biblical connotation "evil."
"They were fixing to hurt the American people," declared Bush, who interchangeably spoke English, Spanish, and Texan. But, he rallied, "The evil ones awakened a mighty giant." He would use the term "evil ones" four times in his remarks that day. He used "evil" generally ten times.
A concerned citizen spoke up. Mr. President, he began earnestly, how could he and others help their commander-in-chief in this difficult new war on terror? Bush had a simple answer: prayer.
He said he knew the American people were already praying for him. "I can just feel it," he said. "I can't describe it very well, but I feel comforted by the prayer." He asked that Americans pray for "God's protection," a "shield of protection" a "spiritual shield that protects the country."
The response is a metaphor for the religious Bush. The dominant theme in Bush's religious faith is his belief in "the power of prayer" and the transforming force of it and God in his life and presidency. He regularly seeks prayer for himself and his country.
"I want to tell you," he lectured a frenetic May 2002 audience at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, where he again spoke both English and Spanish, "the greatest gift that people can give to a president or people in positions of responsibility anybody else, for that matter is prayer. I work the rope lines a lot, and people say, 'Mr. President, I pray for you and your family.' I turn to them, I look them in the eye, and say, that's the greatest gift you can give . I mean it with all sincerity."
THE REAL DEAL George W. Bush has never been conventional. Fittingly, his intense piety hasn't run a straight, uninterrupted line begun on the lap of a parent the modern presidential tradition. Rather, his spiritual journey came late, taking flight as an adult in the mid-1980s. He spent the 1970s and 1980s searching for meaning in the oil fields of Texas. His company, Arbusto, missed black gold everywhere it poked earth. Rival drillers began referring to Arbusto as "Ar-busted." Bush did, too. He started drinking.
A number of encounters with certain friends and pastors including a life-changing conversation in Maine in 1985 with Billy Graham, who, according to Bush, "planted a mustard seed in my soul" set him on the road to the Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin. A bellwether of his seriousness was the evening he and his buddies gave up Monday Night Football for Monday-night Bible study.
At one point in that journey, he gave up the bottle for the Bible. "I quit drinking in 1986 and haven't had a drop since then," he now explains. "It wasn't because of a government program in my case. I heard a higher calling."
And so he did. By the end of the 1980s, his life changed noticeably. When, in the 2000 presidential debates, he used phrases like "born again" to describe himself, and said things such as Jesus Christ is the political philosopher or thinker he most admired "because he changed my heart," those who knew him were not surprised. He committed to something higher and charted a new direction for his life and career.
We live in a cynical age where a politician's expression of faith is eyed skeptically. In Bush's case, however, it is not an exaggeration to say that his faith became his compass. Looking back at that transformation and ahead to the future, he tellingly titled his pre-presidential memoir A Charge to Keep, the title of a church hymn by Charles Wesley, which underscores a Christian's need "to serve the present age" and "to do my master's will" that is the "calling to fulfill." Bush interprets it as an ode to determination, direction, and divine purpose. A painting inspired by the hymn hung on the wall in his office at the state capitol in Austin.
He brought that sense of obligation to the Oval Office. From day one, according to aides, he has begun each day praying on his knees. Each morning he reads the Bible and studies from a guide that features a daily Bible lesson. It is nothing for him to turn to a Cabinet member and request a prayer before kicking off a Cabinet meeting.
Faith and prayer achieved a heightened importance to Bush after September 11, 2001. It was the pivotal point in his presidency. The events on that day summoned his faith more acutely. At the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2002 to Bush, those breakfasts truly are about prayer he spoke openly about how the events six months earlier had driven him to "bended knee." He maintained that the many prayers that rang out across the nation since the dread day were a part of "the good that has come from the evil of September 11."
The religious community noticed. "President Bush, from the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center, has led the nation with a deft spiritual presence that radiates solidarity with people of all faiths," began a cover feature in mainstream Christianity Today two months after the attack. "After the September 11 attack, Bush displayed great skill at expressing his spiritual and moral convictions." One aide said the events were "spiritually defining" for Bush.
Aides and observers speak of Bush's post-9/11 sense that he has been called for a purpose. He has an almost sureness, and a corresponding contentedness, that he has been placed in office at this grave moment in history a divine appointment; a destiny.
This is not unlike how Ronald Reagan's brush with death inspired him with a sense of divine mission, a commitment to slay the Red Menace the global challenge he saw confronting him and his nation. The Reagan analogy is apt. Though his father's son, Bush, in many ways, is the spiritual heir to Reagan, minus the astrology rap and lack of church attendance a crucial difference. He has appealed to conservative Christians, including even Catholics, in ways not seen since Reagan and surpassing Reagan.
The voting data on this is shocking. Though Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore split the popular vote almost 50:50, Bush cleaned up among churchgoers. Among those who attend religious services weekly, he beat Gore 57 to 40%. For those who attend more than weekly, he won 63 to 36%. (Gore won by 61 to 32% among those who said they "never" attend church, suggesting that the former veep easily bagged the atheist vote.) Among whites who identified themselves as "religious right," Bush beat Gore 80 to 18%. Bush took white Protestants by 63 to 34% and white Catholics by 52 to 45%. Bush advisers believe that it was the "religiously active Catholic" that narrowly brought him victory in 2000 and could hold the key to 2004. By one estimate, over half of Bush's 2000 vote came from serious Catholics and Protestants.
What explains this appeal?
"He's our first modern president who is born again not only in his heart and mind but in his actions," states Marvin Olasky, the World magazine editor who knew and advised Bush in Texas. "He shows his belief that Christianity makes a difference." This assessment is common among religious conservatives.
One person with her hand on the pulse of this support is Janet Parshall, host of a syndicated radio talk show carried on 130 Christian radio stations, daily reaching 3.5 million. She is a religious broadcaster, a field of work that Bush dubs "a great commission." She has never witnessed such an outpouring of sustained support for a president among Christian conservatives. "They call me and say they're praying for him," Parshall says of her listeners. "My callers like him and are thankful. They actually tell me they cried when they watched the State of the Union Address. Imagine that! They love this man."
Parshall is a popular speaker at Christian conferences around the country. She speaks of how people stand in line long after her presentation simply to express their pleasure with the sitting president and to say they pray for him. "That's unsolicited," says Parshall. "They just come up and say it."
She agrees that the positive reaction stems from the fact that Christians see Bush as the real deal he walks the walk. They perceive what his aides repeatedly emphasize: He is in public what he is in private, and his faith guides him in both. "He's so unhesitatingly, unembarrassed by his faith," says Parshall. "He works it into his verbiage, his public policy, his comportment. He's so comfortable with his faith. And he's sincere about it. His faith so totally defines him." She also believes that the evangelical community is responding to Bush's personal integrity in his private life, especially regarding the First Lady an important contrast from his predecessor.
THE CHRISTIAN DIFFERENCE From the outset, conservative Christians saw a distinct policy difference under Bush. On his literal first day in office, he signed an executive order banning all U.S. funding of international abortion-rights groups, reversing President Bill Clinton's executive order.
His faith clearly affects his policies, particularly his support of faith-based organizations. Bush refers to these religiously affiliated institutions, everything from soup kitchens to shelters for battered women, as "platoons in the armies of compassion." Because of their faith-rooted component and motivations, they can "demonstrate compassion and inspire hope in a way that government never can. And they inspire life-changing faith in a way that government never should." An effective war on poverty, he pushed at Notre Dame, must deploy "the weapons of the spirit." Churches, said Bush, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., are not the master or servant of the state but, rather, "the conscience of the state."
This is the essence of his compassionate conservatism, a concept created by Olasky. Though Olasky takes credit for writing the book and creating the concept as it is now used, he says Bush "saw its potential, developed it, ran with it, and made it a hit."
Bush laid it out in his acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention, where he shared the story of Mary Jo Copeland, whose Minneapolis ministry Sharing and Caring Hands dishes out 1,000 meals a week to the city's homeless. Copeland advises her hungry to "look after your feet," because they "must carry you a long way in this world, and then all the way to God." Citing this Copeland gospel, Bush emphasized the deeper change that must take place before the downtrodden truly step up. While government can feed the body, he says, it cannot feed the soul.
The same theme was back for his presidential inaugural. The speech, written by Mike Gerson, featured one of Bush's favorites the story of the Good Samaritan. He made a pledge to the nation in those first minutes of his presidency: "When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side."
Lest anyone dismiss this as mere rhetoric, the man from Midland took action once in office. The apotheosis of his faith-based message was a December 2002 address at the Downtown Marriott in Philadelphia. He considered the event a hallmark of his presidency. There he signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to provide equal treatment in awarding social service grants to organizations. In other words, faith-based organizations should not be held to a different standard because they are faith-based. Their religious component should not deny them a government grant. "The days of discriminating against religious groups because they are religious are coming to an end," insisted Bush, to roaring approval.
Indeed, Bush singled out several federal agencies that he claimed have a history of discriminating against faith-based groups. Specifically, he ordered that FEMA revise its policy on emergency relief, which denied funding to religious groups seeking to offer assistance after natural disasters. He singled out HUD and HHS. On the flip side, he announced that the federal government would be producing a guidebook explaining how faith-based groups can apply for government grants
The crowd was so energized that it sounded like Bush was preaching at a revival meeting. When he complained that for too long too many in government have argued that there is no room for faith in the public square, he was interrupted by an audience member who yelled, "Preach on, brother!" as others cheered.
It got better. At one point, Bush told the crowd of compassion warriors that he was "incredibly grateful" for what they did. "There is a saying," he continued, "that nobody can teach you how to be a good servant of God. You have to learn it on the job. And you are doing that job so incredibly well." Just then, one attendee shouted, "And you are, too!" Raucous applause followed. This was not just a presidential policy speech; it was a love-in.
HE DOES NOT SHRINK There are other crucial ways in which Bush's faith affects his presidency. Here is a final very relevant one: Agree or disagree with the campaign against Iraq, which he deems crucial in the war on terror, his leadership is undeniable. A leader identifies a threat and directs his nation, despite obstacles. Bush has done this in the face of global protests. A Cabinet member in the Canadian government called him a moron; another in the German government compared him to Hitler. Among sober minds, there is understandable domestic concern that an invasion of Iraq, regardless of vital goals, could be disastrous if U.S. troops encounter chemical and biological weapons.
For a politician, Bush is pursuing something quite risky. If body bags pile up, he could easily be a one-term president. Still, he confidently, calmly plows ahead, unfazed by vicious critics. He is not passing the buck to a one-day successor.
Where does he find this confidence, this serenity? He and his aides point to his wellspring of faith.
PART OF SOMETHING GREATER In short, Bush believes that God "has a plan" for him. He maintains that he could not be president if he didn't believe in a "divine plan that supersedes all human plans."
There was a defining moment in his path to the presidency. One January Sunday in 1999, just before his inauguration for his second term as Texas governor, he sat in a pew and listened to a sermon by Pastor Mark Craig at his Methodist church in downtown Austin. The governor had been carefully contemplating a White House run. He wasn't sure. Then, Craig spoke. He talked of the reluctant Moses in those first pages of Exodus, uneasy over whether he was the one to heed the call and lead the Israelites to the Promised Land.
The Old Testament story spoke to Bush. He felt convicted. He began telling friends he had "heard the call." God was calling him to seek the Oval Office. It was the summit in his spiritual sojourn, which would lead him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Skeptics can make of that what they will. But in the case of this particular politician, it no doubt seems sincere. And, importantly, it's a potent factor in the life and presidency of George W. Bush.
Paul Kengor is associate professor of political science at Grove City College. His forthcoming book is Reagan, God, and the Evil Empire.
Then by some miracle, they are made to look outright stupid when the real truth come out.
It seems that there platforms are built on a sandy base.
My conclusion is therefore, "Stupid is that stupid does"
Many here, and on occasion, myself, have grown impatient with this Iraq thing, saying, "Why can't we just get it over with?" But then this arrest happens and we are reminded that there are a HOST of things going on that we do not know, and cannot see, that must be fit into the big picture. God is in control, and He will control things through a man or woman who is a willing vessel. George W. Bush is that vessel.
I know talk like this makes "squishy" Christians and virtually all non-Christians nervous, because they next envision witch burning and required chapel services. But those of us who know Jesus know He never forced ONE PERSON to follow him, nor could He even keep His own favorite three disciples from falling asleep on the job. So for many Christians, to follow Bush is easy and in keeping with Paul's dictum to "follow me, as I follow Christ."
This is the coalition of Evangelicals and serious Catholics that the atheistic media and intellectual establishment fear so much and therefore are so anxious to split. Divide et impera. That was what the media-driven controversy over Bush's visit to Bob Jones University was all about. As long as these two groups can work together, they will continue to hold the high ground.
I'm a Catholic myself, but I have worked closely with Evangelicals and at one period led an academic organization that is made up mostly of Evangelicals. My own position, which they seem to share, is that we can agree to disagree about certain matters of faith, but that we share a common cause in opposition to the culture of death that swept over our country.
Paradoxically, it's the self-labeled ecumenicists on both sides who are often the biggest problem. They want to toss out any articles of doctrine and faith that cause differences, and they end up believing little or nothing. That's not the way for committed Catholics and Protestants to work together.
Right. This is due to the "age" we live in. It doesn't have anything to do with a President's toting a big, fat Bible around in public on Easter morning, and then returning to the White House for a blow job within the hour. We're just cynical is all.
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