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August 14, 2004
Column #1,198

              The Faith and Politics of Presidential Candidates
                                                    
      During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush was asked who his favorite
political philosopher was, and he answered: "Jesus Christ, because he changed my life."

     No president has been as outspoken about his faith, or been as inclined to
translate those beliefs into political action as George Bush. In doing so, he has made both friends and enemies.

     His most committed backers are fellow evangelicals, a quarter of the electorate, 86% of whom support his re-election. They know his story. A man born to wealth and political prominence, whose grandfather was a U.S. Senator, and father, a President. But the fallen-away Episcopalian left the comfort of Connecticut as a young man to go into the Texas oil business, where he became a hard-drinking, unsuccessful businessman.

     At his parents' Maine home, Bush took a  long walk with Billy Graham, who
led him to make a fresh commitment to Christ. No other American President made such a conversion as an adult. His business and political fortunes changed. Today  he reads Scripture daily.

     "I am... a lowly sinner who sought redemption and found it," he told USA Today. "That doesn't make me better than anybody. It just adds perspective, I hope. I think people are going to find that in tough times...they're going to see a steady hand because the rock on which I stand is something other than the moment, the emotion of the day. Faith can be a steadying influence."

     When he considered running for president, he met evangelist James Robison
and said, he felt "something was going to happen" and that the country would need his leadership. The crisis of 9/11 seemed to him evidence that Providence chose him to lead the country at the time. His faith was undoubtedly a factor in his characterizing the war against terrorism as a battle between forces of good and evil. Such language was repugnant to secularists here and in Europe.

     Like Woodrow Wilson who was the first to propose a League of Nations, Bush's vision of foreign policy is grand in design. He's said that "Freedom is not America's
gift to the world, but God's gift to mankind." Both visions rest on a Christian conviction that "changed people and transformed communities are possible," asserts a National Association of Evangelicals document, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility."

     However, both Wilson and Bush's visions were flawed in their execution. The League did not stop Hitler. Bush found it far easier to topple Saddam than to restore security afterwards.

     Jesus proclaimed we are to "love our neighbor as a ourselves." Therefore Bush supported a $15 billion AIDS initiative to halt the unnecessary deaths of millions of
Africans and Asians. And he signed a law to fight the trafficking of women and children for sexual abuse.

     Psalm 139 states, "You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Therefore evangelicals believe abortion is an unjust taking of a human life. Bush signed a law to prohibit partial birth abortions, the first limitation of abortion. For similar reasons, his Administration has opposed Oregon doctors using drugs for euthanasia.

     Sometimes this principle leads Bush to take unpopular stands, such as his opposition to embryonic stem cell research, on grounds that it requires the killing of  potential human beings.

     Like many politicians, he compromised, however, allowing federally funded research to continue on a limited number of "stem cell lines." While only half of them have been used by scientists, and though there's no evidence embryonic stem cells can cure disease, polls show opposition to Bush's stand.

     Knowing that faith-based programs are freeing people from drugs and other problems, he has had federal rules re-written so that churches could compete for federal funds to do such work.

     Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 teach that man and woman are both made in God's image, and they are "to be united" in marriage. Bush was the first to say in 2002, "My administration will give unprecedented support to strengthening marriages." He proposed spending $200 million a year to help couples "get married and stay married." However, Congress did not pass that bill. One of his tax reforms removed tax incentives for couples to cohabit rather than to marry.

     However, three major tax cuts combined with greater outlays to fight terrorism and to add drug benefits to Medicare - have created monster deficits that will cost our children trillions.

     Although Bush's record is flawed it has been based on high Biblical ideals.

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