“As I deepened my understanding of Christ, I came closer to my original goal of being a better person — not because I was racking up points on the positive side of the heavenly ledger, but because I was moved by God’s love.” George W. Bush, (Decision Points, page 33)
Perhaps like no American President since Jimmy Carter has faith been so integral in their decisions while in office than George W. Bush. I have been reading about the fascinating role that personal faith has played in the life of the 43rd President.
For my birthday last week, my mother-in-law bought me a copy of President Bush’s book, Decision Points. I admit that I like the 43rd President and, given the choice of the current occupant or a Bush sitting in the Oval Office, I should be happy to take George W. or his father, George H.W. Bush. Hey, at this point, I would even take the last Baptist that served in the White House instead of President Obama!
I have only read the first 80 pages of this 481 page tome, just now getting to the section dealing with the Florida recount. As one who was a resident of Florida in 2000, I was privileged to cast my vote for George W. Bush for President. I guess one (or a few thousand) votes can really make a difference in the outcome of an election.
As a student of politics, I have thus far found President Bush’s “memoirs” to be engaging. Whenever I have picked up Decision Points to read a few pages, I find myself not being able to put it down. In the first two chapters alone, there have already been passages which have piqued my curiosity because the issues raised intersect both politics and religion.
Between now and the end of the year, I will devote one blog post each week to an analysis and discussion of those issues where President Bush’s personal faith intersected with his politics and governance. Some of these issues touch on principles of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. In the two years since Bush left office, many of these hot-button issues have only intensified, most especially the view of Islam within American culture. In these posts, I will not only state my agreements with the former President, but also my disagreements as well.
Perhaps the best place to start is with Bush’s own personal faith journey, which began in earnest after a visit with well-know evangelist Billy Graham. It was the summer of 1985 and Rev. Graham had been invited by George and Barbara Bush to visit them at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Graham, a Southern Baptist who was the most influential Christian evangelist in the 20th Century, has been a friend and advisor to every President since Dwight Eisenhower.
During a Q & A with the entire Bush clan (about 30 in all), Bush 41 asked Billy Graham about being born again:
“Billy, some people say you have to have a born-again experience to go to heaven. Mother here is the most religious, kind person I know, yet she has had no born-again experience. Will she go to heaven?”
In what I hope was just Dr. Graham’s way of not trying to offend his hosts, he gave what appears to be a Biblically weak answer. To this question, Graham said:
“George, some of us require a born-again experience to understand God, and some of us are born Christians. It sounds as if your mom was just born a Christian.” (Decision Points, page 31)
Far be it from me to disagree with Rev. Graham, but his answer to George H.W. Bush conflicts with Jesus’ own words recorded in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. Contrary to what Billy Graham told the Bush family that summer night, I find no “loopholes” to Jesus twice-stated requirement that Nicodemus and everyone else must be “born again” in order to see the Kingdom of God.
Thankfully for George W. Bush, the following day’s activities included a walk around the compound with Rev. Graham where the evangelist provided a much clearer (and Biblical) explanation of salvation. According to Bush’s own account:
“Billy explained that we are all sinners, and that we cannot earn God’s love through good deeds. He made clear that the path to salvation is through the grace of God. And the way to find that grace is to embrace Christ as the risen Lord — the son of a (sic) God so powerful and loving that He gave His only Son to conquer death and defeat sin.” (Decision Points, page 31)
There’s no question that George W. Bush was greatly influenced by Billy Graham’s Gospel witness 25 years ago. Not only would his deeper understanding of the Christian faith have a profound affect on his life, but Bush’s personal faith would influence the way he viewed his role as President and the decisions that he made during his eight years in office.
From his answer in the Presidential debate about his favorite philosopher to his faith-based initiative to his view of Islam as a “religion of peace” (remember, he was Commander-in-Chief, not Theologian-in-Chief), President George W. Bush had an active faith that played a vital role in his Presidency. And his faith, like ours, led him to make decisions that he thought were right. We’ll explore some of those decisions — the right ones and the wrong ones — as we tackle those issues where politics and religion collided in the Bush White House.