Is George W. Bush a Christian?
Amy Sullivan, guest blogging at Political Animal, cites an interesting TAP piece arguing that President Bush isn’t nearly as religious as people think.
Like no president in recent memory, George W. Bush wields his Christian righteousness like a flaming sword. Indeed, hundreds of news stories and nearly half a dozen books have evinced a White House that, according to BBC Washington correspondent Justin Webb, Ã¢€œhums to the sound of prayer.Ã¢€ Yet for the past four years the mainstream press has trod lightly, rarely venturing beyond the biographical to probe the depth, or sincerity, of Bush’s Christian beliefs. Bush has no doubt benefited from the mediaÃ¢€™s reluctance; Newsweek, for example, in the heat of the run-up to the Iraq War, ran a cover package on the presidentÃ¢€™s faith under the headline Ã¢€œBush and GodÃ¢€ — a story whose timing lent the war the aura of having heavenly sanction. Even lefty believers like Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, and Amy Sullivan, journalist and Democratic adviser, politely maintain that BushÃ¢€™s faith is strong, if misguided.
Bush does not demonstrate a life of faith by his actions, and neither Methodists, evangelicals, nor fundamentalists can rightly call him brother. In fact, the available evidence raises serious questions about whether Bush is really a Christian at all.
Ironically for a man who once famously named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher during a campaign debate, it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint a single instance wherein Christian teaching has won out over partisan politics in the Bush White House. Though Bush easily weaves Christian language and themes into his political communication, empty religious jargon is no substitute for a bedrock faith. Even little children in Sunday school know that Jesus taught his disciples to live according to his commandments, not simply to talk about them a lot. In BushÃ¢€™s case, faith without works is not just dead faith — itÃ¢€™s evangelical agitprop.
This is a rather powerful charge. What evidence does she proffer?
Judging him on his record, George W. BushÃ¢€™s spiritual transformation seems to have consisted of little more than staying on the wagon, with Jesus as a sort of talismanic Alcoholics Anonymous counselor. Bush came to his faith through a small group program created by Community Bible Study, which de-emphasizes sin and resembles a sort of Jesus-centered therapy session.
But sin is crucial to Christianity. To be born again, a seeker must painfully acknowledge his or her innate sinfulness, and then turn away from it completely. And though today Bush is sober, he does not live and govern like a man who Ã¢€œwalksÃ¢€ with God, using the Bible as a moral compass for his decision making. Twice in the past year — once during an April press conference and most recently at a presidential debate — the president was unable to name any mistake he has made during his term. His steadfast unwillingness to fess up to a single error betrays a strikingly un-Christian lack of attention to the importance of self-criticism, the pervasiveness of sin, and the centrality of humility, repentance, and redemption. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine George W. Bush delivering an address like Jimmy CarterÃ¢€™s legendary Ã¢€œmalaiseÃ¢€ speech (in which he did not actually say the word Ã¢€œmalaiseÃ¢€) in 1979.
No references to Commandments broken or lack of faith here. Bush isn’t a Christian because he is more arrogant than Jimmy Carter? That’s mighty thin gruel, methinks. And then there’s this:
Once and for all: George W. Bush is neither born again nor evangelical. As Alan Cooperman reported in The Washington Post last month, the president has been careful never to use either term to describe his faith. Unlike millions of evangelicals, Bush did not have a single born-again experience; instead, he slowly came to Christianity over the course of several years, beginning with a deep conversation with the Reverend Billy Graham in the mid-1980s. And there is virtually no evidence that Bush places any emphasis on evangelizing — or spreading the gospel — in either his personal or professional life. Contrast this to Carter, who notoriously told every foreign dignitary he encountered about the good news of Jesus Christ.
Whether the conversion that transformed Bush from an drunkard to a fitness nut constitutes being “born again” is a debate that I find of rather little consequence. But it’s hard to imagine a president more evangelical than Bush. He constantly and publically references the impact that his faith has had on him. He’s even started federal programs to aid faith-based volunteerism. McGarvey claims that this is all mere rhetorical posturing, a charge that defies falsification. One would presume, however, that the burden of proof falls on her to disprove what seems true on its face rather than on Bush’s defenders to prove what’s in the man’s heart.
Bush, on the other hand, is no ascetic firebrand. The president has a net worth of nearly $20 million, and there is no indication that he is on the brink of abandoning his fortune to live righteously with the poor. And unlike Wesley, Bush has never compromised his political standing to challenge the conservative status quo — regardless of its Christian righteousness.
So, one can’t actually be a Christian unless one takes a vow of poverty and adopts a leftist social agenda? Since when?
McGarvey begins with a view of Christianity that is very much in the liberal Catholic/Episcopal tradition and then uses it to test a conservative evangelical. Obviously, he’s not going to pass it. But it’s a very strange test indeed. The overwhelming majority of evangelicals–indeed, religious people, period– in this country support Bush and his policies. Are they not Christians, either?