Drawing On The Divine
Listening to President Bush's religious rhetoric, some Americans may wonder if they elected a president or a pastor. Critics describe his use of explicitly Christian language and imagery as divisive and exclusionary. But many who share Bush's evangelical brand of Christianity point out that presidents throughout history have given voice to their faith, some far more pointedly. Evangelical leaders see a man who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. "President Bush is comfortable using the language of faith," says Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, "because it's who he is."
It wasn't always so. Raised an Episcopalian, Bush became a mainline Methodist when he married but underwent a "born-again" conversion in the 1980s after talking with Billy Graham. He gave up drinking and adopted a daily regimen of prayer and Bible reading. The story resonates with evangelicals. Says the Rev. D. James Kennedy, a televangelist and head of Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida: "I'm personally convinced the man has been changed by an encounter with God."
Taking sides. By large margins, evangelical leaders say Bush is right on Iraq. Most say a pre-emptive strike would meet the traditional Christian criteria of a just war, a view from which the nation's Roman Catholic bishops and leaders of mainline Protestant denominations sharply dissent. "The question, as Lincoln said during the Civil War, is not whether God is on our side, but are we on God's?" says Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals. "I think President Bush is doing his best to be on God's side."
Still, some wonder if the president might be influenced by evangelical teachings that envision an end-of-the-world battle between Israel and its enemies. "It would be dangerous for a president to take a particular theology like that and apply it to world events," says Charles Colson, an evangelical commentator and former Nixon aide. "I have no reason to believe President Bush has done that." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has emphasized that Bush makes his judgments on Iraq and other issues as a "secular leader." Even so, Bush's religious allies say they're comforted knowing he seeks divine wisdom. "I sleep more peacefully at night," says Cizik, "knowing that the president is a man who trusts in the Lord." -Jeffery L. Sheler
This story appears in the March 10, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.