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George Bush's Theology: Does President Believe He Has Divine Mandate?
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ^ | February 12, 2003 | Deborah Caldwell

Posted on 02/12/2003 8:35:27 PM PST by rwfromkansas

In the spring of 1999, as George W. Bush was about to announce his run for President, he agreed to be interviewed about his religious faith -- grudgingly. "I want people to judge me on my deeds, not how I try to define myself as a religious person of words."

It's hard to believe that's the same George W. Bush as now. Since taking office -- and especially in the last weeks -- Bush's personal faith has turned highly public, arguably more so than any modern president. What's important is not that Bush is talking about God but that he's talking about him differently. We are witnessing a shift in Bush's theology – from talking mostly about a Wesleyan theology of "personal transformation" to describing a Calvinist "divine plan" laid out by a sovereign God for the country and himself. This shift has the potential to affect Bush's approach to terrorism, Iraq and his presidency.

On Thursday (Feb.6) at the National Prayer Breakfast, for instance, Bush said, "we can be confident in the ways of Providence. ... Behind all of life and all of history, there's a dedication and purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful God."

Calvin, whose ideas are critical to contemporary evangelical thought, focused on the idea of a powerful God who governs "the vast machinery of the whole world."

Bush has made several statements indicating he believes God is involved in world events and that he and America have a divinely guided mission:

-- After Bush's Sept. 20, 2001, speech to Congress, Bush speechwriter Mike Gerson called the president and said: "Mr. President, when I saw you on television, I thought -- God wanted you there." "He wants us all here, Gerson," the president responded.

In that speech, Bush said, "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them." The implication: God will intervene on the world stage, mediating between good and evil.

At the prayer breakfast, during which he talked about God's impact on history, he also said, he felt "the presence of the Almighty" while comforting the families of the shuttle astronauts during the Houston memorial service on Feb. 4.

-- In his State of the Union address last month, Bush said the nation puts its confidence in the loving God "behind all of life, and all of history" and that "we go forward with confidence, because this call of history has come to the right country. May He guide us now."

In addition to these public statements indicating a divine intervention in world events, there is evidence Bush believes his election as president was a result of God's acts.

A month after the World Trade Center attack, World Magazine, a conservative Christian publication, quoted Tim Goeglein, deputy director of White House public liaison, saying, "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour, and I say this with a great sense of humility." Time magazine reported, "Privately, Bush even talked of being chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." The net effect is a theology that seems to imply that God is intervening in events, is on America's side, and has chosen Bush to be in the White House at this critical moment.

"All sorts of warning signals ought to go off when a sense of personal chosenness and calling gets translated into a sense of calling and mission for a nation," says Robin Lovin, a United Methodist ethicist and professor of religion and political thought at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Lovin says what the president seems to be lacking is theological humility and an awareness of moral ambiguity.

Richard Land, a top Southern Baptist leader with close ties to the White House, argues that Bush's sense of divine oversight is part of why he has become such a good wartime leader. He brings a moral clarity and self-confidence that inspires Americans and scares enemies. "We don't inhabit that relativist universe (of European leaders)," Land says. "We really believe some things are good and some things bad."

It's even possible that Bush's belief in America's moral rightness makes the country's military threats seem more genuine because the world thinks Bush is "on a mission."

Presidents have always used Scripture in their speeches as a source of poetry and morality, according to Michael Waldman, President Clinton's chief speechwriter, author of "POTUS Speaks" and now a visiting professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Lincoln, he says, was the first president to use the Bible extensively in his speeches, but one of the main reasons was that his audience knew the Bible -- Lincoln was using what was then common language. Theodore Roosevelt, in his 1912 speech to the Progressive Party, closed with these words: "We stand at the edge of Armageddon." Carter, Reagan and Clinton all used Scripture, but Waldman says their use was more as a "grace note."

Bush is different, because he uses theology as the guts of his argument. "That's very unusual in the long sweep of American history," Waldman says.

Bush has clearly seen a divine aspect to his presidency since before he ran. Many Americans know the president had a religious conversion at age 39, when he, as he describes it, "came to the Lord" after a weekend of talks with the Rev. Billy Graham. Within a year, he gave up drinking and joined a men's Bible study group at First United Methodist Church in Midland, Texas. From that point on, he has often said, his Christian faith has grown.

Less well known is that, in 1995, soon after he was elected Texas governor, Bush sent a memo to his staff, asking them to stop by his office to look at a painting entitled "A Charge to Keep" by W.H.D. Koerner, lent to him by Joe O'Neill, a friend from Midland. The painting is based on the Charles Wesley hymn of the same name, and Bush told his staff he especially liked the second verse: "To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master's will." Bush said those words represented their mission. "What adds complete life to the painting for me is the message of Charles Wesley that we serve One greater than ourselves."

By 1999, Bush was saying he believed in a "divine plan that supersedes all human plans." He talked of being inspired to run for president by a sermon delivered by the Rev. Mark Craig, pastor of Bush's Dallas congregation, Highland Park United Methodist Church.

Craig talked about the reluctance of Moses to become a leader. But, said Mr. Craig, then as now, people were "starved for leadership" -- leaders who sacrifice to do the right thing. Bush said the sermon "spoke directly to my heart and talked about a higher calling." But in 1999, as he prepared to run for president, he was quick to add in an interview: "Elections are determined by human beings."

Richard Land recalls being part of a group of about a dozen people who met after Bush's second inauguration as Texas governor in 1999.

At the time, everyone in Texas was talking about Bush's potential to become the next president. During the meeting, Land says, Bush said, "I believe God wants me to be president, but if that doesn't happen, it's OK." Land points out that Bush didn't say that God actually wanted him to be president. He said he believed God wanted him to be president.

During World War II, the American Protestant thinker Reinhold Niebuhr wrote about God's role in political decision-making. He believed every political leader and every political system falls short of absolute justice -- that the Allies didn't represent absolute right and Hitler didn't represent absolute evil because all of us, as humans, stand under the ultimate judgment of God. That doesn't mean politicians can't make judgments based on what they believe is right; it does mean they need to understand that their position isn't absolutely morally clear.

"Sometimes Bush comes close to crossing the line of trying to serve the nation as its religious leader, rather than its political leader," says C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a clergy-led liberal lobbying group.

Certainly, European leaders seem to be bothered by Bush's rhetoric and it possibly does contribute to a sense in Islamic countries that Bush is on an anti-Islamic "crusade."

Radwan Masmoudi, executive director of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, worries about it. "Muslims, all over the world, are very concerned that the war on terrorism is being hijacked by right-wing fundamentalists, and transformed into a war, or at least a conflict, with Islam. President Bush is a man of faith, and that is a positive attribute, but he also needs to learn about and respect the other faiths, including Islam, in order to represent and serve all Americans."

In hindsight, even Bush's inaugural address presaged his emerging theology. He quoted a colonist who wrote to Thomas Jefferson that "We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?" Then Bush said: "Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The years and changes accumulate, but the themes of this day he would know, `our nation's grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity.'

"We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another. Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today; to make our country more just and generous; to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life.

"This work continues. This story goes on. And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm."

TOPICS: Current Events; Evangelical Christian; Religion & Culture; Religion & Politics
KEYWORDS: bush; catholiclist; providence; religion
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To: Gophack
Catholics (including our bishops and priests) should have the courage to stand up for our beliefs, regardless of what vitriol we might be subjected to. If Christ could take torture and death, we can certainly take a little argument, or even vituperative remarks, on this forum! We should stop whining and get on with the witness of our faith.
161 posted on 02/14/2003 10:31:36 AM PST by yendu bwam
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To: Matchett-PI
You need to do your homework on colonial Episcopalians. Some may be described as Zwinglian, but you will not be able to describe them as Calvinist no matter how much you laugh.
162 posted on 02/14/2003 10:35:47 AM PST by Siobhan († Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet †)
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To: Gophack
In the colonial period, none of them could be described as Calvinist in the sense used by Matchett-PI.
163 posted on 02/14/2003 10:37:20 AM PST by Siobhan († Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet †)
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To: Siobhan; Matchett-PI
"...A glance at English history readily shows us that it was Calvinism which made Protestantism triumphant in that land. Many of the leading Protestants who fled to Geneva during the reign of Queen Mary afterward obtained high positions in the Church under Queen Elizabeth. Among them were the translators of the Geneva version of the Bible, which owes much to Calvin and Beza, and which continued to be the most popular English version till the middle of the seventeenth century when it was superseded by the King James version. The influence of Calvin is shown in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, especially in Article XVII which states the doctrine of Predestination. Cunningham has shown that all of the great theologians of the Established Church during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth were thorough-going predestinarians and that the Arminianism of Laud and his successors was a deviation from that original position."

".. Calvinism came to America in the Mayflower, and Bancroft, the greatest of American historians, pronounces the Pilgrim Fathers "Calvinists in their faith according to the straightest system." 18 John Endicott, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; John Winthrop, the second governor of that Colony; Thomas Hooker, the founder of Connecticut; John Davenport, the founder of the New Haven Colony; and Roger Williams, the founder of the Rhode Island Colony, were all Calvinists. William Penn was a disciple of the Huguenots. It is estimated that of the 3,000,000 Americans at the time of the American Revolution, 900,000 were of Scotch or Scotch-Irish origin, 600,000 were Puritan English, and 400,000 were German or Dutch Reformed. In addition to this the Episcopalians had a Calvinistic confession in their Thirty-nine Articles; and many French Huguenots also had come to this western world. Thus we see that about two-thirds of the colonial population had been trained in the school of Calvin. Never in the world's history had a nation been founded by such people as these. Furthermore these people came to America not primarily for commercial gain or advantage, but because of deep religious convictions. It seems that the religious persecutions in various European countries had been providentially used to select out the most progressive and enlightened people for the colonization of America. At any rate it is quite generally admitted that the English, Scotch, Germans, and Dutch have been the most masterful people of Europe. Let it be especially remembered that the Puritans, who formed the great bulk of the settlers in New England, brought with them a Calvinistic Protestantism, that they were truly devoted to the doctrines of the great Reformers, that they had an aversion for formalism and oppression whether in the Church or in the State, and that in New England Calvinism remained the ruling theology throughout the entire Colonial period."

History lesson

164 posted on 02/14/2003 10:46:14 AM PST by RnMomof7 (Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,)
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To: BlackElk
Roger Cardinal Etchegarry was a very poor excuse for a cardinal before going to schmooze with Saddam.

Thank you for noting this...and the timing too...given the kurds were gassed a decade ago.
165 posted on 02/14/2003 10:48:40 AM PST by Domestic Church (AMDG)
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To: sinkspur; Siobhan
Hoping for some kind of cataclysm to teach your fellow citizens a lesson is, frankly, sick. Some of that hellfire could splash over in your back yard, too.

You would rather this culture of death continue to consume souls and consign them to eternal perdition. That is, frankly, sick.

OUR LADY OF AKITA is a Church appoved apparition.

    The First Message on July 6, 1973

    The Second Message on August 3, 1973

    The Third and the Last message on October 13, 1973:

So is Fatima:

"After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: 'Penance, Penance, Penance!'. And we saw in an immense light that is God: 'something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White 'we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God."

You are a fool if you so blithely ignore these warnings.

166 posted on 02/14/2003 10:51:33 AM PST by Polycarp
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To: Siobhan
"You need to do your homework on colonial Episcopalians. Some may be described as Zwinglian, but you will not be able to describe them as Calvinist no matter how much you laugh."

Try telling that to one of the foremost experts on the subject and make even more of a fool of yourself:

Dr. George Bancroft, arguably the most prominent American historian of the 19th century — and not a Calvinist — stated:

"He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty"

167 posted on 02/14/2003 10:55:09 AM PST by Matchett-PI (Those who love the tyranny of Rome are enemies of freedom as America's founders knew.)
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To: B Knotts
He could have simply stated he believed Bush was wrong.

No, he decided to basically call Bush the spawn of Satan.

I am glad he is banned.
168 posted on 02/14/2003 10:59:52 AM PST by rwfromkansas (What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. --- Westminster Catechism Q1)
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To: Polycarp
Oh give me a break. The only unprotected religious group is the Calvinists.

I have got in trouble for some posts before on the news/activism area about Catholicism. I try to keep my debate over here, where it rightly should be. It should not be filling up the other forum.
169 posted on 02/14/2003 11:03:35 AM PST by rwfromkansas (What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. --- Westminster Catechism Q1)
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To: Polycarp
Of course the Pope is against the war; he is against anything America does; he is a poster child for the Democrats (excepting abortion).
170 posted on 02/14/2003 11:04:28 AM PST by rwfromkansas (What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. --- Westminster Catechism Q1)
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To: Maximilian
Personally, I agree with CatholicGuy's general premise that a proposed attack on Iraq does not rise to the qualifications of a just war. But that does not give me the right to cross over the line into personal assaults on the characters of everyone who disagrees with me.

Thank you for stating the obvious, sir! The sign says "NO personal attacks." If a person is in love with his or her own invective and decides not to follow the rules, well, there you go.

CatholicGuy could have expressed his opinion perfectly clearly in a civilized way. He chose not to. There's nothing Catholic or even Christian about nasty name-calling; there's nothing anti-Catholic about enforcing rules so that everyone can have a tolerable discussion.

For the record, I agree with the war, reluctantly, not that my opinion matters to anyone but me!

171 posted on 02/14/2003 11:07:52 AM PST by Tax-chick
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To: PayNoAttentionManBehindCurtain
Do you need another tour in purgatory? ;o)
172 posted on 02/14/2003 11:08:10 AM PST by al_c
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To: rwfromkansas; Polycarp; Matchett-PI
Oh give me a break. The only unprotected religious group is the Calvinists. I have got in trouble for some posts before on the news/activism area about Catholicism. I try to keep my debate over here, where it rightly should be. It should not be filling up the other forum.

Correct..I have been warned also..but let the whinning continue..

Good thing that the founders were Calvinists..or we would still be whinning to the king to be nice to us..or the constitution would have had a PC clause

173 posted on 02/14/2003 11:08:37 AM PST by RnMomof7 (Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,)
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To: Polycarp
You are a fool if you so blithely ignore these warnings.

I don't put much stock in apparitions. Church approbation means the Church acknowledges that an apparition took place; it does not mean the Church consigns the remembrances of children and Catherine of Akita to required belief.

You should feel free to adopt whatever devotionals you judge to be positive for your spiritual life. If smugly wagging your finger at your countrymen while you preach armageddon draws you closer to God, then by all means continue.

My reading of Scripture and the New Testament takes me in the direction of the publican, whose only prayer was "Lord,have mercy on me, a sinful man."

174 posted on 02/14/2003 11:08:41 AM PST by sinkspur
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To: Catholicguy
That was a good post. Expect for the sheeple to bask you for it.

175 posted on 02/14/2003 11:09:20 AM PST by Jael (Thy Word is Truth!)
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To: Jael
Yep and he got banned
176 posted on 02/14/2003 11:11:22 AM PST by RnMomof7 (Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,)
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To: Polycarp
If sins increase in number and gravity, there will be no longer pardon for them."

If Our Lady of Akita really said this, she is contradicting Church doctrine and the mercy of God.

177 posted on 02/14/2003 11:12:46 AM PST by sinkspur
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To: Siobhan
Absolutely dead wrong.

Actually, it's not wrong, Siobhan. You ought to study a little Old Testament exegesis. Most of the Old Testament was viewed in the context of "what had happened," not in terms of "what is happening."

178 posted on 02/14/2003 11:14:50 AM PST by sinkspur
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To: drstevej
Works for Diet Coke too.

Cool, what is it? I have a seriously messed up mac keyboard that has effectively rendered the computer useless, not the it was particularly useful before…

179 posted on 02/14/2003 11:14:51 AM PST by conservonator (And I don’t count buying a new one as a “fix”;))
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To: Rambler
But many of the posts there over the last week are just plain nasty.

Hee hee! You should've been over there about a month ago ... it got really ugly and one non-Catholic (I won't mention names) was asked to stay out of the thread. That particular FReeper's posts were hardly the ugliest of the lot though.

It amazes me what some people will post and then call it "debate."

180 posted on 02/14/2003 11:15:31 AM PST by al_c
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