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Faith was central to Bush message (The Ventura Star) August 10, 2000

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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Presidential candidate George W. Bush brings faith to the forefront of his vision for leadership.

The slightly fractured English on the hotel sign in Paris has always amused me: “Please leave your values at the front desk.” Yet the message has also struck me as symbolic of how many Christians, including politicians, have dealt with their spiritual values in their careers — they check them at the front desk and rarely carry them into their work.

So I listened with interest as Gov. George W. Bush launched his general election campaign last week with his all-important convention acceptance speech. Knowing that he is a committed Christian, I nevertheless wondered if he would check those values at the front desk as he began the fall campaign.

And if he included them in his speech, as I expected he might, would they be central or merely peripheral? Would his Christianity be only a rhetorical device or would it integrate into the heart of his message and campaign?

I am encouraged to say that for a guy who does not wear his religion on his sleeve, Bush nevertheless integrated his faith fully into his speech.

Actually the message that Bush’s spiritual values make a difference foreshadowed his own appearance, as the pastor of his church was chosen to speak shortly before the keynote address. Then as Bush described the important influences in his upbringing, he clearly included “churches to remind us that every soul is equal in value and equal in need.”

The speech included wonderful rhetorical flourishes built upon his faith: “I believe in tolerance, not in spite of my faith but because of it. I believe in a God who calls us not to judge our neighbors but to love them. I believe in grace because I’ve seen it and peace because I’ve felt it, and forgiveness because I’ve needed it.” In a world where religion is often a wedge issue dividing voters, Bush sought to employ it as a unifier.

Just as one of the subtle messages of the Republican Convention is that “this is not your father’s Republican Party,” Bush’s integration of faith and politics is also not the traditional approach. He actually believes that faith-based organizations have a place at the table in the larger national agenda.

For example, his reference to a ministry helping the poor in Minneapolis led to his conclusion that “government cannot do this work. It can feed the body but it cannot reach the soul.” In a real way, Bush suggests that government should encourage helpers such as churches and ministries. This is a potentially ground-breaking path in a nation that speaks often of the “wall of separation” of church and state.

Perhaps the most important, the central theme of Bush’s speech seemed to integrate his faith and politics. The notion that economic prosperity has not led to moral goodness clearly suggests that Bush is building a national agenda that grows from his faith. Again and again, he returned to themes of character and values, whether in education, aid to the poor, or national priorities generally.

Happily, Bush has not checked his spiritual values at the front desk. Nor has he rolled them out in only traditional ways — to inform us of his views of abortion, or to provide rhetorical highlights in his message.

Rather, Bush has integrated his faith into his central message and his leadership. We will wait with interest to see how Vice President Al Gore, also a Christian, will respond to this faith-based challenge.

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