Skip to comments.George Bush's Theology: Does President Believe He Has Divine Mandate?
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."
Nope. Terrible things have happened in the past, terrible things will happen in the future.
I just don't see things like attacks from al-Qaeda as anything but evil men taking out their hatred, a hatred that must be crammed back down their throats as soon and as often as possible.
Utter BS. You guys do the majority of the Catholic bashing.
You Calvinists are only happy when you're persecuting others or when (you perceive) you're being persecuted.
I don't either, sinkspur. But I can imagine far, far, far, worse - things bad enough to make even you wonder... God both loves and angers...
Unless there is divine intervention it is only a matter of time and it utterly amazes me that either people don't know it or they are ignoring it,hoping that it will all go away and people will not have to change their way of living,morally and materially. This division crosses over and effects every religion,including secular humanism,and almost every nation. It was to prevent thid that Christ came and ommanded His Apostles to teach all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father,Son and Holy Ghost.When some enlightened folks decided He meant follow your conscience and your heart,they derailed His plsn.
Whine on whine on..It is you that is whining about being persucuted..grow up!
The Bible tells him so
The bible was written By the Holy Spirit not a Church...as for the non canonical books..they are not a part of the inspired Hebrew Cannon
Question: St Jerome was persuaded, against his original inclination, to include the deuterocanonicals in his Vulgate edition of the Scriptures.
Answer: True, yet he classed the Apocrypha in a separated category. He differentiated between the canonical books and ecclesiastical books, which he did not recognize as authoritative Scripture. This is admitted by the modern Catholic church:
St. Jerome distinguished between canonical books and ecclesiastical books. The latter he judged were circulated by the Church as good spiritual reading but were not recognized as authoritative Scripture. The situation remained unclear in the ensuing centuries...For example, John of Damascus, Gregory the Great, Walafrid, Nicolas of Lyra and Tostado continued to doubt the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books. According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church at the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament Canon. That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, The Canon).
How do you declare the Roman Catholic Church "one authority", when a thousand Catholics disagree on the meaning of various aspects of the Bible.
The only thing they agree on is "Whatever, as long as it's not Protestant"!
Because individual Roman Catholics are of thousands of different opinions regarding Scripture makes your charge of a thousand different Protestant denominations completely irrelevant!
Christians make up about five percent of Iraq's 22 million people.
John Paul himself has said any new war with Iraq would be a "defeat for humanity."
Hmmmm...CG was in good company, at least.
There is much more to this situation than meets the eye.
I guess so.
I guess so."
Or perhaps the Pope simply doesn't have a clue!
Yes, for the same reason Jesus is against war. "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust." [Mat 5:44-45]
he is against anything America does;
calumny; real Christians don't slander. The only thing in America he is against is SIN. Got a guilty conscience?
he is a poster child for the Democrats (excepting abortion).
More calumny; On the moral front JPII stands against abortion, euthanasia, adultery, homosexuality, unchastity, theft, murder, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly: shall I go on?. All these things exist considerably in these hedonistic times in the USA (especially in the Democratic Party). He has spoken out against them often and harshly. On the political front, one must never forget the alliance between Ronald Reagan and John Paul II and the fall of communism.
and lets see....he wrote the following in 1997...
"The Founding Fathers of the United States asserted their claim to freedom and independence on the basis of certain "self-evident" truths about the human person: truths which could be discerned in human nature, built into it by "natures God." Thus they meant to bring into being, not just an independent territory, but a great experiment in what George Washington called "ordered liberty": an experiment in which men and women would enjoy equality of rights and opportunities in the pursuit of happiness and in service to the common good. Reading the founding documents of the United States, one has to be impressed by the concept of freedom they enshrine: a freedom designed to enable people to fulfill their duties and responsibilities toward the family and toward the common good of the community. Their authors clearly understood that there could be no true freedom without moral responsibility and accountability, and no happiness without respect and support for the natural units or groupings through which people exist, develop, and seek the higher purposes of life in concert with others.
The American democratic experiment has been successful in many ways. Millions of people around the world look to the United States as a model in their search for freedom, dignity, and prosperity. But the continuing success of American democracy depends on the degree to which each new generation, native-born and immigrant, makes its own the moral truths on which the Founding Fathers staked the future of your Republic. Their commitment to build a free society with liberty and justice for all must be constantly renewed if the United States is to fulfill the destiny to which the Founders pledged their "lives . . . fortunes . . . and sacred honor."
Your rhetoric is full of slander. Shame.
I'm going to give it a shot as soon as I get home.
Silly. Catholics, in the end, adhere to one, not multiple dogma, doctrines and creeds as Protestant and other non-Catholic Christians do. Catholics dont make the mistake of confusing their opinion with inspired interpretation.