Bush’s faith opened door to evan­gel­i­cals

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Religion - LORI JOHN­STON

Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who died on Nov. 30 and whose fu­neral ser­vices were held this week, was a life­time Epis­co­palian, part of the blue-blood of Amer­ica’s found­ing Chris­tian­ity. But as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, he was part of a Repub­li­can open­ing to evan­gel­i­cal­ism that changed the coun­try’s land­scape.

A bomb­ing mis­sion that plunged him into the Pa­cific Ocean dur­ing World War II and his younger daugh­ter’s death from leukemia were among the times when he said he looked to God and prayer.

Bush at­tended Christ Epis­co­pal Church in Green­wich, Conn., as a child. His fa­ther, Prescott Bush, was a Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from Con­necti­cut. The fu­ture pres­i­dent’s mother, Dorothy Walker, would read to her fam­ily from the Epis­co­pal Book of Com­mon Prayer.

“He was Epis­co­palian by tra­di­tion. His mother was ex­tremely de­vout, read all the books. And he loved his mother and so he loved the tra­di­tion,” said Doug Wead, who co-au­thored the 1988 book, Ge­orge Bush, Man of In­tegrity, with Bush and served as a spe­cial as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent, told The Wash­ing­ton Post in April.

The sea­side St. Ann’s Epis­co­pal Church, in Ken­neb­unkport, Maine, has been a site for fam­ily wed­dings. The Rev. Billy Gra­ham also was in­vited to preach there, as he wrote in his book, Just As I Am.

A Wash­ing­ton Post story in 1988 quoted Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s cousin, Ge­orge Her­bert Walker III, as say­ing the pres­i­dent es­poused “a happy Chris­tian­ity, rarely dwelling on suf­fer­ing or sin. It was up­beat, ‘Do your duty,’ ‘It’s a great world out there.’”

One of Bush’s most fre­quently cited faith mo­ments was af­ter a Septem­ber 1944 bomb­ing mis­sion. Bush, a naval avi­a­tor, parachuted into the Pa­cific Ocean af­ter his plane was dam­aged. Bush has been quoted as say­ing he won­dered: “Why had I been spared and what did God have for me?”

“He def­i­nitely felt that his ex­pe­ri­ence in World War II was a spir­i­tual mo­ment for him,” Wead said. “He def­i­nitely had some­thing hap­pen there … and [had] sev­eral other ex­pe­ri­ences through his life. When he would be asked about whether he was born again, he’d say, ‘I didn’t have one spe­cific mo­ment above all oth­ers that I can point to where ev­ery­thing turned around, I had sev­eral.’ And that res­cue in World War II was one of them.’”

He and his wife, Bar­bara, mar­ried in 1945 at First Pres­by­te­rian Church in Bar­bara’s home­town of Rye, N.Y. When they moved to Texas in the early 1950s, they first joined a Pres­by­te­rian church, ac­cord­ing to the book, Re­li­gion in the Oval Of­fice by Gary Smith.

The book quotes Bush as say­ing that the cou­ple’s faith “truly sus­tained us” af­ter their daugh­ter, Robin, died of leukemia at age 3 in 1953.

Bush was one of 11 pres­i­dents who iden­ti­fied as Epis­co­palian, ac­cord­ing to Pew Re­search Cen­ter. In Hous­ton, where Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Bar­bara Bush moved in 1960, they at­tended St. Martin’s Epis­co­pal Church, where her pri­vate fu­neral was held this spring.

Bush be­gan to talk about his re­li­gious be­liefs in pub­lic as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. He had to touch

the in­creas­ing evan­gel­i­cal move­ment, Wead says, and the dis­cus­sion when he was vice pres­i­dent was how he could build a re­la­tion­ship with and show re­spect to the evan­gel­i­cal move­ment.

As a can­di­date for pres­i­dent in 1988, Bush ran against Demo­cratic can­di­date Michael Dukakis, who sup­ported abor­tion rights.

Dur­ing the sec­ond pres­i­den­tial de­bate, on Oct. 13, 1988, Bush said: “I think hu­man life is very, very pre­cious. And, look, this hasn’t been an easy de­ci­sion for me to meet. I know oth­ers dis­agree with it. But when I was in that lit­tle church across the river from Wash­ing­ton and saw our grand­child chris­tened in our faith, I was very pleased in­deed that the mother had not aborted that child, and put the child up for adop­tion (his son, Marvin Bush, and his wife, Margaret Con­way, adopted two chil­dren). And so I just feel this is where I’m com­ing from. And it is per­sonal. And I don’t as­sail [Michael Dukakis] on that is­sue,

or oth­ers on that is­sue. But that’s the way I, Ge­orge Bush, feel about it.”

While the Bush fam­ily has had both con­ser­va­tive and liberal views on re­pro­duc­tive health and birth control, Ronald Green, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus for the Study of Ethics and Hu­man Val­ues at Dart­mouth Col­lege, said the Bush fam­ily has led, to some ex­tent, the move­ment of pa­tri­cian Repub­li­cans from cen­trist think­ing to con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian op­po­si­tion to birth control, abor­tion and re­search on re­pro­duc­tive health, such as the use of stem cells or fe­tal tis­sue in trans­plan­ta­tion.

“G.H.W. started this move­ment and the po­lit­i­cally ac­tive sons ac­cen­tu­ated it,” said Green, who has fol­lowed the Bush fam­ily on bioethics is­sues for 28 years.

Smith’s book, Re­li­gion in the Oval Of­fice, notes that Bush cel­e­brated the na­tion’s Judeo-Chris­tian her­itage and he viewed fam­ily and faith as Amer­ica’s “moral com­pass.”

When he ac­cepted the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 1988, his ad­dress to the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in­cluded these com­ments: “I am guided by cer­tain tra­di­tions. One is that there’s a God, and He is good and His love, while free, has a self-im­posed cost: We must be good to one an­other.”

Dur­ing his pres­i­dency from 1989 to 1993, Bush at­tended St. John’s Epis­co­pal Church in Wash­ing­ton. In his 1989 in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, he said his first act as the na­tion’s 41st pres­i­dent would be to pray.

“I ask you to bow your heads,” he said. “Heav­enly Fa­ther, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Ac­cept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes its con­tin­u­ance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, will­ing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: ‘Use power to help peo­ple.’ For we are given power not to ad­vance our

own pur­poses, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve peo­ple. Help us re­mem­ber, Lord. Amen.”

He men­tioned prayer in 220 speeches, re­marks and procla­ma­tions while pres­i­dent, wrote Smith, also au­thor of Faith and the Pres­i­dency: From Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton to Ge­orge W. Bush, and a fel­low for faith and pol­i­tics in the Cen­ter for Vi­sion and Val­ues at Grove City Col­lege, a Chris­tian liberal arts school in Penn­syl­va­nia.

In his Thanks­giv­ing Day re­marks on 1990, Bush dis­cussed the na­tion’s faith her­itage, say­ing, “The grand ex­per­i­ment called Amer­ica is but a re­cent man­i­fes­ta­tion of hu­man­ity’s time­less yearn­ing to be free. Only in free­dom can we achieve hu­man­ity’s great­est hope: peace. From the wis­dom of Solomon to the won­der of the Ser­mon on the Mount, from the prophe­cies of Isa­iah to the teach­ings of Is­lam, the holy books that are our com­mon her­itage speak of­ten of the many bless­ings be­stowed upon mankind, of­ten of the love of lib­erty, of­ten of the cause of peace.”


For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H. W. Bush lies in state in the U.S. Capi­tol Ro­tunda on Tues­day in Wash­ing­ton. A life­long Epis­co­palian, Bush is cred­ited by some for help­ing move Repub­li­cans to­ward con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian­ity.


A group of nuns views the flag-draped cas­ket of for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush as he lies in state in the Capi­tol Ro­tunda in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day. Bush kept his faith on dis­play as pres­i­dent, and his first act af­ter in­au­gu­ra­tion was to pray.

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