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."
He is a conservative and his views were consistent with just war theory.
Is it his style that got him banned? Or are we forbidden to take issue with President Bush over the war plans involving Iraq and other nations?
I do not understand this banning at all, especially when other Freepers are allowed to roam the threads with endless anti-Catholic invective.
FWIW, I don't agree with his view of Pres. Bush, but I don't think someone should be banned for holding that view.
I am really against this war as well. I don't think it fits the bill as a "just" war, and, what's more, Bush's not closing the borders and expelling illegals tells me WE AREN'T IN IT TO WIN! (Just like Viet Nam)
Bush needs to be careful invoking God as he has. A country that sees abortion as a "civil right" has no claim to its essential goodness. We are warned against tempting God. And every day we are slipping more and more into godlessness--no, paganism.
After this last State of the Union address how can anyone call Bush a conservative? With one hand he called for tax cuts and with 10 others he called for spending increases. BTW, did you know that if Medicare picks up the tab for meds, that will include Viagra?
This man is a one-termer, and we are on the road to destruction.
We voted him in as the anti-Clinton, and in many ways he has turned out to be one and the same policy-wise.
You know your style cannot be imitated! You are an original and although at first I thought you were bombastic and loud, after a while I realized you just like to push buttons when people got too full of themselves. You also have a great sense of humor and you made me laugh a lot. I'll miss that and you. God Bless.
Ultima, your post sounds like the post of a spoiled kid AND sour grapes. Lighten up.
I hope those who are so satisfied with our activity in Afghanastan,note that many who live there are not that happy with the return of the Northern Alliance. There are those that think the pederasts with their "boy toys" back on the streets,the reopening of the drug routes and the "oil" question diminish the glow of the "democracy" we wish to bring them after we liberate them from the evil "Taliban".
While I agree with CG's post #3 for the larger part,I disagree with CG's characterization of George W Bush, I think too many people equate smart with glib. He is not glib,he is not articulate but I believe he is smart and sincere. I also believe he is misguided,as are so many people these days;there are so many lies and so little trust,we have created and live in a "culture of death",and so many are too dead to notice.
I am not surprised that you are a Bush-bot, and blame bubba for everything type. That is fitting with your other allegiences.
Please. War for fashion change is a specious arguement
This Forum as well as certain of its moderators (and possibly Jim Robinson himself?) have an unapologetic anti-Catholic bigoted bias.
CatholicGuy's banning is further proof of the same.
They will tolerate any sort of anti-Catholic bigotry, leave the most vile anti-Catholic reports in the News forum/Breaking News sections, and banish anything in which Catholicism is seen in a positive light to the Religion Forum ghetto, but they draw the line when us Papists get uppity.
There's a reason this Forum has such a bigoted anti-Catholic bias:
Jim Robinson permits it at best, and at worst actively fosters it by letting certain of his bigoted moderators get away with their anti-Catholic censorship.
I have consistently contributed to this Forum since I joined up, and I have consistently encouraged my Catholic peers here to do likewise.
I cannot however in good conscience continue to support, or encourage others to support, an organization with such an openly enforced bigoted anti-Catholic bias.
Jim Robinson, you should be ashamed of yourself for allowing this bigoted anti-Catholic censorship on your Forum. You're a good guy. You should know better. You should do better. Reign in your bigoted anti-Catholic moderators.
If they are simply doing your will in carrying out an active anti-Catholic bias and censorship, then just say so.
Pope John Paul II is opposed to this war.
If he was a FReeper and outlined his objections to Bush's plans here, Jim Robinson would ban him too.
Yes, we are forbidden. Especially if we're uppity Papists.
Mark my words: Bush engaging this war, wrapped in the mantle of the Christian nation with a mandate from God will be the destruction of this country.
There is no place in scriptural prophecy for America. It will either be annihilated or relegated to third world insignificance before the End Times. It has no role to play in the end.
This war will be the beginning of the transformation of America into third world insignificance.
And Bush's belief in his Divine Mandate, while running a country that is the greatest disseminator of the culture of death on the globe, will be the final sacrilege that leads to our destruction.
Frankly, let Bush go to it.
This country deserves its chastisement.
And it is coming.
And this Forum has fallen into irrelevancy by their censorship. The Catholic Caucus would do well in disengaging from it.
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