George H. W. Bush recently celebrated his 93rd birthday. In 4 1/2 months, he is on course to surpass Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford as the former president who lived the longest. His son George W. is much better known for his religious convictions, but the senior Bush has a very strong faith as well, which significantly shaped his character and policies as president.
Bush was raised by devout Episcopalian parents and remained affiliated with this denomination almost his entire life. His father, Prescott, a Republican senator from Connecticut, and his mother Dorothy led family worship every morning, using readings from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and A Diary of Private Prayer by Scottish Presbyterian theologian John Baillie. They strove to teach their children how the Bible applied to daily life. Although he has worshiped for many years at Episcopal churches in Houston, Washington and Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush’s theology and social policies have more in common with evangelicals than with many fellow Episcopalians.
While flying a combat mission for the Navy in September 1944, Bush found his plane severely damaged on a bombing mission, forcing him to parachute into the Pacific Ocean south of Japan. The Japanese hunted him, but a U.S. submarine picked him up. Bush thanked God for saving his life and asked, “Why had I been spared, and what did God have for me?”
Their 3-year-old daughter Robin’s battle with and eventual death from leukemia in the early 1950s both tested and deepened Bush’s faith. He declared that “prayer had always been part” of his and his wife Barbara’s lives, but it became more fervent during this ordeal. “Our faith,” Bush testified, “truly sustained us.”
Bush saw God as active and all-powerful and the Bible as divinely inspired and authoritative. “One cannot be America’s president,” the Republican frequently asserted, without “the strength that your faith gives to you.” The Bible, which had helped shape America’s values and institutions, Bush attested, “has always been a great source of comfort to me.” He affirmed that Jesus was God’s divine Son and frequently referred to Christ as “our Savior.” Moreover, Bush peppered his speeches with biblical quotations, precepts and stories to underscore his positions.
Bush began his 1989 inaugural address by praying, “Heavenly Father, we … thank You for Your love.” Strengthen us “to do Your work.” Make us “willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: ‘Use power to help people.'” Bush’s cabinet meetings always began with prayer. The Bushes prayed together every night before going to sleep. “My husband,” Barbara declared, “prays and believes enormously.” During his presidency, Bush referred to prayer in 220 different speeches, proclamations and remarks. In hundreds of letters, Bush thanked citizens for praying for him and testified that he drew “great strength” from their prayers.
Bush continually exhorted Americans to seek God’s aid in dealing with the nation’s problems. No other chief executive asserted as often as he did that the United States was “one nation under God” and accountable to Him. God, the Texan averred, placed Americans on earth “to do His work.” “Without God’s help,” he declared, “we can do nothing,” but “with it, we can do great things.” As president, he wrote dozens of letters assuring Americans that God would help them cope with the challenges of life.
Bush repeatedly insisted that both individuals and nations should adhere to transcendent moral norms and that America was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles. Government, he argued, had a limited, but important, role to play in promoting the common good and remedying social ills. “It is very important,” Bush declared, “to follow the teachings of our heavenly Father in carrying out the responsibilities of government.” The federal government, he insisted, could not remedy America’s many social ills by itself. Alleviating them also required the active efforts of local governments, parents, teachers, businesses, and churches.
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SOURCE: Charisma News / Center for Vision & Values – Gary S. Smith