If you are interested in this subject, I encourage you to read the book GOD IN THE WHITE HOUSE by Randall Balmer (2007), which examines how politics and religion have interacted from the time of John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. Amazon.com and Half.com both carry it at a discount.
The paper below was originally titled “God in the White House.” The title has been changed and the content slightly updated for this post. It was my first graduate paper and was written in 2003, when George W. Bush was still in the White House.
United States Presidents have called upon God from the very beginning of our nation. Thomas Jefferson, who would become the third President of the United States, wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
George Washington was not shy about calling upon a Supreme Being in the first Thanksgiving proclamation, decreeing that November 26 “be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country . . .” It was also Washington, who, when taking the oath of office as the first President, added this four-word prayer of his own: “So help me God.” Abraham Lincoln, 16th President, told his Cabinet that the victory during the United States Civil War at Antietam was a sign from God that Lincoln should issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which announced an end to slavery in the United States. Every President since Washington has acknowledged his Christian belief, some more fervently so than others. Woodrow Wilson, President during World War I, spoke publicly of praying “on bended knee.” Franklin Roosevelt, on the day of D-day, of the greatest military invasion of modern times, led the nation in prayer. Every President since Dwight Eisenhower took office in 1953 has addressed the National Prayer Breakfast each year. Jimmy Carter, 39th President, was a Sunday School teacher while living in his home state of Georgia and still publicly speaks about his faith.
This long history of God in the White House is offered as a platform, from which we will investigate its former occupant, George W. Bush and examine his use of God in his political actions. Bush’s comments and actions will be evaluated solely by how it compares to the Holy Bible. Other documents and writings will be considered, but the Bible will be the final arbitrator as to the accuracy of Bush’s statements. What will not be done is to examine Bush’s political actions outside of faith-based statements and actions, looking only at those things in which Bush explicitly invokes God and/or scripture.
GEORGE BUSH’S CHRISTIANITY
George Bush is an avowed Christian. In December, 1999, during his campaign for the presidency, Bush was asked during a debate “What political philosopher or thinker do you most identify with and why?”” Bush answered “Christ, because he changed my heart.” When asked to explain more, Bush continued “When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart and changes your life. And that’s what happened to me.”
It was no less a religious personage than the Rev. Billy Graham who brought about the change in Bush’s beliefs. The Rev. Graham was spending a few days with the senior George Bush and his family. One morning, George Jr. and the Rev. Graham went for a walk together. In his autobiography, Bush writes that Graham “sparked a change in my heart. (He) planted a mustard seed in my soul, a seed that grew over the next year. He led me to the path, and I began walking. It was the beginning of a change in my life. I had always been a ‘religious’ person, had regularly attended church, even taught Sunday school and served as an altar boy. But that weekend, my faith took on a new meaning.”
The Rev. Graham would go on to be a friend of the Bush family by appearing in Florida, the home of Governor Jeb Bush, George’s brother, two days before the election in November 2000. The Rev. Graham, appearing with George Bush in a church in Jacksonville, the state capital, said “I don’t endorse candidates. But I’ve come as close to it, I guess, now as any time in my life, because I think it’s extremely important,” adding “I believe in the integrity of this man.” Eventually, Bush would be put in the White House based on a difference of 537 votes out of 5,825,043 . It cannot be stated that Bush won Florida and eventually became President because of Graham’s endorsement but it can be generally accepted that any endorsement from someone so well known and respected as the Rev. Billy Graham would make a positive difference in the number of votes cast for Bush, especially in so close a race.
BUSH AND CREATIONISM
Bush is a firm advocate of Creationism, the belief in the literal interpretation o f the Bible regarding how everything was created. In respect to education, Bush has “no problem explaining that there are differences about how the world was formed. I mean, after all, religion has been around a lot longer than Darwinism . . .. I believe God did create the world. And I think we’re finding out more and more and more as to how it actually happened.”
Examining Bush’s comment in respect to the Bible, he says “I believe God did create the world.” In Genesis 1:1, the Bible reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (NIV) The two statements are almost identical.
BUSH AND THE POSTING OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority in the country, have made many rulings regarding the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property, most recently regarding Alabama State Chief Justice Roy Moore’s placement of a monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Judicial Building in Montgomery, Alabama. The Supreme Court refused to block an order forcing the chief justice to remove the monument from the state’s Judicial Building, ruling that state support for the Ten Commandments violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
George Bush’s view are contrary to the views of the judicial branch of the US government. Bush has said he has “no problem with the Ten Commandments posted on the walls of every public space.” Unfortunately, when asked which version of the Ten Commandments he would like to see posted, he responded “The standard version.”
Unless President Bush was referring to the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version, there is no “standard” Bible and, hence, no “standard” interpretation of the Ten Commandments. In fact, there are countless available English translations, including the New International Version, The Message, Amplified Bible, New Living Translation, King James Version, Contemporary English Version, Reader’s Digest Version, New King James Version, Twenty-first Century King James Version, Worldwide English, Young’s Literal, Translation, Darby Translation, Wycliffe New Testament and the New International Version – UK . A sampling of two of these Bibles, taken at random, show differences in their interpretations of the Ten Commandments. Though the similarities far outweigh the differences, the differences must be considered and extend far beyond “Thou shalt” vs. “You will.” The New International Version reads, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. . .” The New American Standard Bible reads, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. . .” The difference between misusing the name of God and taking it in vain can be considered significant. One more comparison to make our point has the NIV reading “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The NAS reads “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” One version says the Sabbath day is already holy and is kept so by being remembered. The other version says that the sabbath (lower case “s” included!) must be kept holy through the ongoing working of remembering it. Subtle differences perhaps, but differences nonetheless and compounded exponentially when factoring in all the other versions of the Ten Commandments available. So when George Bush says “Surely we can agree as a society on a version that everyone can agree to,” he is not only grammatically flummoxed, but offers a challenge that cannot be met.
“FREEDOM IS GOD’S GIFT”
George Bush has often used a variation of the phrase “Freedom (or Liberty) is God’s gift to humanity.” He often phrases the statement as “The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world. It is God’s gift to humanity.” In his 2003 State of the Union speech, he proclaimed that “the liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world. It is God’s gift to humanity.” After Saddam Hussein had been captured by American troops, President Bush announced, “You’ve heard me say this a lot — and I say it a lot because I truly believe it – that freedom is the almighty God’s gift to every person, every man and woman who lives in this world.” Bush went on to say, in regard to Hussein’s capture, “Justice was being delivered to a man who defied that gift (of freedom) from the Almighty to the people of Iraq.”
It’s a nice sentiment. But is it Biblically sound? Does the Bible, in fact, say that freedom and liberty are God’s gift to God’s people? A concordance search of the words “freedom” and “liberty” only produce 19 passages from the Bible, none of which proclaim or imply that freedom or liberty is a gift from God. A more intense study of the Bible may find such references and certainly analogies can be made from many of the Bible stories. Also, as theologians, we can say that everything is a gift from God. But when the topic is specifically researched, the Bible is nearly mute. Galatians 5:1 reads “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to yoke of slavery.”(NIV) Though freedom through Christ is a very real experience for Christians, it is non-existent for the vast majority of the Muslim people of Iraq. The Old Testament reading of Isaiah 61:1 also comes close to touching this subject, in proclaiming “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me . . .to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.”
It seems almost picayune and mean-spirited to begrudge the President this comment. His thoughts are not far from those of Thomas Jefferson, who is generally accepted as one of the most intelligent presidents ever to occupy the White House. In 1774, two years prior to the nation’s Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” Unfortunately, be it one of our earliest Presidents or our 43rd President, the statement does not stand the test of a basic Biblical examination.
“I BELIEVE WE WORSHIP THE SAME GOD”
In a joint news conference on November 20, 2003 with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush was asked, “When you talk about peace in the Middle East, you’ve often said that freedom is granted by the Almighty. Some people who share your beliefs don’t believe that Muslims worship the same Almighty. I wonder about your views on that.” President Bush answered, “I do say that freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every person. I also condition it by saying freedom is not America’s gift to the world. It’s much greater than that, of course. And I believe we worship the same God.”
This was not the first time a President made such a remark. Found amongst his personal papers after his death in 1972, Harry S Truman, 33rd President of the United States, was a handwritten manuscript. Truman wrote, “Jews, Mohammadians, Buddhists, and Confucians worship the same God as the Christians say they do. He is all seeing, all hearing, and all knowing.” Though Truman’s comments are merely a footnote to history, George Bush’s same declaration has incurred controversy and discussion. Richard Lano of the Southern Baptist Convention told the Baptist Press that Bush’s comment was in error. Lano said “We should always remember that (Bush) is the commander in chief, not theologian in chief.” Theologians have argued on both sides of the fence as to the accuracy of Bush’s remark. To answer the question, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God”, requires an understanding of the Muslim faith.
Muhammad was a man born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, around 570 AD. He married at 25 and became a trader. According to the Muslim faith, about 15 years later, when Muhammad was around 40, he had an encounter with the Angel Gabriel, the same Angel Gabriel who came to Zechariah in Luke 1:18 and whom God sent to Mary in Luke 1:26. Although Muhammad was illiterate, the angel Gabriel, over the course of 23 years, gave the trader Muhammad the directions that would become the Qur’an (Koran), which is the holy book of the Islam faith. Because of this encounter and Muhammad’s spreading of the teachings he learned, Muhammad is recognized as “the Messenger of God.”
The Qur’an identifies Allah as the same God to whom Abraham offered his son Isaac in Genesis 22. Abraham then made the first pilgrimage to Mecca, which is now the holy city of Islam. Historically, the first Christians were Jews, whose belief in one Supreme Being is what separated them from the polytheists of the time. As these Jews were converted to Christianity, they understood that though they now worshiped Christ, the power of Christ came from his Father, the same Father which the Jews worshiped as God.
The Qur’an reads, in Chapter Two, Verse 163 “And your God is One God; there is no God but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful”. When Mohammad began preaching the Qur’an, he included Christians and Jews amongst his converts. It is not a stretch of faith by any means, then, to accept that, when the monotheistic Jews and Christians converted to Islam, that the one God of which Mohammad spoke is the same God under which the Jews and Christians practiced their faith.
Another indication that Muslims, Jews and Christians worship the same God is shown in the warring history of the Muslims, who battle polytheist – those who worshiped multiple gods – but did not battle Jews and Christians, accepting that they were all worshipers of the same God or, in Arabic, Allah.
The most telling evidence of Muslims worshiping the same God as Jews and Christians comes from the Qur’an itself. Chapter 5, Verse 69 reads “…[T]hose who believe (in the message of Islam), and the Jews, the Sabaeans, and the Christians – all those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and act righteously – no fear shall come upon them…” However, Timothy George, writing in ChristianityToday.Com, states that the God of Muhammad cannot be the God of Jesus. George reminds us that we are baptized as Christians in the name of the Creator, the Messiah and the Holy Spirit. Many worship services are dismissed with the blessing “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Though it may be one of the most difficult aspects of Christianity to grasp, Christians acknowledge that Creator, Christ and the Holy Spirit are all one as God. The Bible tells us that God and Christ are one in John , which reads “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. . . .The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Clearly, John was speaking about the Christ. This is in direct contradiction of the Muslim faith, whose first basic guideline is to “Eliminate any anthropomorphism (human qualities) from their conception of Allah. His attributes are not like human attributes, despite similar labels or appellations.” In short, the Islamic God cannot be human in any form, unlike the Christian God, who came to earth as Jesus Christ.
Although historically, Judaism, Christianity and Muslim may have come from the same Creator God, the holy book of the Muslim faith, the Qur’an, is in direct contradiction to the New Testament of Christianity. By the interpretations given to these two books, the God of Islam is not the God of Christianity.
BUSH AND THE WAR IN IRAQ
Every President since George Washington has had to send soldiers into combat. Most of these men who actively served as Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces have also proclaimed to be followers of Jesus Christ, the same Jesus Christ who taught us to “turn the other cheek” and who admonished the disciple who took up a weapon to protect the Messiah.
The world would be substantially better if everyone followed the Christian tenets of peace that are the founding of many other pacifistic faiths. Unfortunately, the short-term risks to life, property and liberties are too great to “lay down our plowshares and turn our swords into pruning hooks.” George W. Bush is no exception and he is a master at putting God on the side of the Americans. In his Easter and Passover radio address on April 19, 2003, President Bush said, in respect to a soldier who had died in combat in Iraq, “America mourns those who have been called home, and we pray that their families will find God’s comfort and God’s grace. His purposes are not always clear to us, yet this season brings a promise: that good can come out of evil, that hope can arise from despair, and that all our grief will someday turn to joy, a joy that can never be taken away. ” The Bible teaches us that we are all sinners and that by accepting Christ into our hearts, we can be redeemed. In the resurrection of Christ, we gain hope from despair. And that with peace through Christ, our joy is eternal.
In the same speech, Bush says, “This holy season reminds us of the value of freedom, and the power of a love stronger than death.” The “power of a love stronger than death” can be attributed to the love of God and the promise fulfilled, again, of the resurrection. However, when Bush tries to turn his war into a religious experience by claiming that Easter and Passover serve as reminders of freedom, he is only tangentially referencing the Easter message. Praising a Christian God for God’s help in battle seems to be paradoxical. The Old Testament is rife with God’s orders to “go and slay” the enemy. But as Christians, we must follow the directions of Jesus Christ.
George Bush is more of an Old Testament believer and never misses a chance to tie the war in Iraq into a religious battle. In his remarks at a White House dinner, with Ambassadors and Muslim Leaders , celebrating Ramadan – a time for Muslims for inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control – Bush addresses the group, saying, “As we gather during this season, we are mindful of the struggles of the men and women around the world who long for the same peace and tolerance we enjoy here in America. Brave American and coalition troops are laboring every day to defend our liberty and to spread freedom and peace, particularly to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The President’s speeches are filled with instances of his calling upon God to help Americans win the war. One more example is the National Day of Prayer Proclamation for April 30, 2003. Of the five paragraphs in the speech, two are dedicated to war: Today, our Nation is strong and prosperous. Our Armed Forces have achieved great success on the battlefield, but challenges still lie ahead. Prayer will not make our path easy, yet prayer can give us strength and hope for the journey. As we continue to fight against terror, we ask the Almighty to protect all those who battle for freedom throughout the world and our brave men and women in uniform, and we ask Him to shield innocents from harm. We recognize the sacrifice of our military families and ask God to grant them peace and strength. We will not forget the men and women who have fallen in service to America and to the cause of freedom. We pray that their loved ones will receive God’s comfort and grace.”
Calling upon the Almighty in times of war is a Presidential action that goes back to the beginning. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington, advised his troops that “The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army …. Let us therefore rely on the goodness of the cause and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions.”
So whereas George Bush – and most every US President before him – has used prayer to advance the cause of war, Biblically it is not congruent with New Testament teachings.
As a Christian, George W. Bush’s faith-related comments and interpretation and use of scripture are far from perfect. However, based on the examples above, his use is no different than his predecessors in office nor does his use waver, excluding the wars, from the intent of the Bible; that is, he is not speaking falsehoods to justify actions that are contrary to Christian teachings. He clearly has a layman’s knowledge of the Bible and the Christian faith and speaks it passionately. His use of God in his political actions is in keeping with biblical scripture.
BIBLIOGRAPHY and footnotes available by request. But really…
George W. Bush and the Bible