New scrutiny of role of religion in Bush's policies
The president's rhetoric worries even some evangelicals
President Bush has never been shy about injecting his faith into the public arena - his campaign remark that Jesus Christ was his "favorite political philosopher" was an early signal. But his rising use of religious language and imagery in recent months, especially with regard to the US role in the world, has stirred concern both at home and abroad.Skip to next paragraph
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In this year's State of the Union address, for example, Bush quoted an evangelical hymn that refers to the power of Christ. "'There's power, wonder-working power,' in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people," he said.
Now, some critics are wondering whether the influence of Bush's evangelical faith goes beyond public rhetoric to shape his foreign policy regarding Iraq and the Middle East.
With public speculation in full swing, the Christian Century last week insisted that "the American people have a right to know how the president's faith is informing his public policies, not least his design on Iraq."
No one presumes to know how another's personal faith plays out in public life, and the president's spokesman insists that Mr. Bush makes his decisions as a "secular leader."
Yet among those who share his evangelical Christianity, the satisfaction of having a born-again believer in the White House doesn't necessarily preclude an uneasiness with some of his rhetoric and policies.
Forty evangelical leaders, for instance, wrote the president last summer seeking an "evenhanded US policy" toward Israel and the Palestinians and rejecting "the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support" for Israel. Some evangelical groups are close allies of the Sharon government and work in the US to build support.
Still, the infusion of religious conviction into presidential speeches warms many hearts. To one of his most vocal supporters, Bush is simply using the language of American civil religion.
"George Bush is standing squarely in a tradition as old as the country," says Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "Lincoln's Second Inaugural address is like a sermon. The Declaration of Independence says we are endowed by our Creator with rights and appeals to God for the success of the Revolutionary cause."
As for the president's frequent remarks on the US leading the fight of good against evil in the world, he adds, "Saddam Hussein is evil, and compared to him we are pure and good."
Others applaud Bush's clarity in a time of national crisis. "He has reintroduced into the culture the language of morality and moral distinctions," says Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, Calif.
Yet Dr. Mouw worries about explicitly Christian phraseology that Jews and Muslims hear in the light of their own histories. And he sees lessons in how two other presidents communicated their convictions.
Jimmy Carter, for instance, carefully avoided using Christian language in public. Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, regularly used the language of Scripture, yet invoked the will of God not for one side or the other in war, but to call everyone to humility, repentance, and reconciliation.
"We may have to go to war in Iraq," Mouw says, but "we are at a place internationally where, if the president does want to use the language of religion, he might do better to admit some of our mistakes. What if he actually asked forgiveness on behalf of a nation that in the past supported Saddam Hussein?"