President as Pastor Is No Way to Run a Nation

Listening to President George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, I thought I was at a tent rival where Bush’s Republican Congress was his Amen corner. Only thing missing at the closing of Bush’s homily was Julia Ward Howe’s famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to serve as postlude music as he and his Congress gallantly processed out.

But instead the American public heard Bush paraphrase Lewis E. Jones’s 1899 popular evangelical hymn “There Is Power in the Blood” when he said, “There is power — wonder-working power — in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.” Lewis’ hymn, however, speaks of the “wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb,” referring to the blood Jesus Christ shed at his crucifixion as a Christian symbol of salvation.

I was struck by how Bush unapologetically espouses a theocratic model for government to effect laws and government structures in this country according to his Christian ideal — an ideal that never worked, on the best of his days in office, in the favor of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

As I listened to Bush’s bellicose religious rhetoric, nowhere in his address to the nation were the concerns and issues of LGBT people remotely included. And it appears these days there is no room to challenge a presidency that is hell-bent on war concerning his exclusion of a sector of the American population.

From its onset, Bush’s presidency has always been about creating a theocracy instead of a democracy. His platform on faith-based initiatives justifies increased federal funding for religious groups.

But let us not be fooled by his rhetoric of compassionate conservatism. Compassion is an embodied feeling and act of sharing the struggles and suffering of others. Compassion has an ethic of inclusion that moves people in a mutual goal toward justice. Bush’s compassionate conservatism is seemingly reserved only for the funding of religious Christian groups that self-righteously think they are upholding the gospel of Jesus Christ by promulgating and practicing heterosexism not only in their churches, but also in their daily lives.

I was struck by how Bush unapologetically espouses a theocratic model for government to effect laws and government structures in this country according to his Christian ideal — an ideal that never worked, on the best of his days in office, in the favor of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

A fundraising letter in November 2002 from Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (the largest LGBT political organization in the country), stated, “The Salvation Army was in secret negotiations with the White House to win the legal right to discriminate against gay and lesbian workers in exchange for supporting President Bush’s ‘faith-based charity’ initiative.”

The inherent discrimination in organizations like the Salvation Army and Bush’s faith-based initiatives show how uncompassionate Christian organizations can be, despite supposedly preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and doing service in the community.

In terms of which groups get picked and which ones don’t in Bush’s faith-based initiatives, LGBT activists and our allies have shown the slim likelihood of queer faith-based groups like Metropolitan Community Church or Dignity receiving funding, compared to Christian rights groups.

Who would have ever thought that the hard gains that have been won to separate the church, an institution that summarily can and has excluded LGBT people, from the institution of the state, an institution that we have leverage to be included in, would one day easily vanish with this presidency?

And equally disturbing about all of this is that Bush has a devout Amen corner to back him up.

Do I wish Bush would conceal his zeal as a born-again Christian? Not at all.

[B]ecause of his providential selection, Bush can proudly and unequivocally stand-in as God’s servant. So as the right man in office, God’s divine power and presence is working through Bush for the good of not just Americans, but for the good of the entire world.

“Freedom of religion is a good thing. So is freedom from the religion others may wish to impose on those who differ,” wrote Charles Kimball, author of When Religion Becomes Evil.

American democracy suffers when people have to be closeted about their faith because it fosters a climate of religious intolerance. And while our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and not freedom from religion, it prohibits the establishment of a state religion. Bush, however, has molded his presidency into that of a Christian church-state. And in so doing, his theistic imperative is solely to do the will of God and not the will of the American people.

After all, Bush sees is presidency as providential. His ascendancy to office is not by a democratic election by the American people, but instead his ascendancy to office is by selection. And because of his providential selection, Bush can proudly and unequivocally stand-in as God’s servant. So as the right man in office, God’s divine power and presence is working through Bush for the good of not just Americans, but for the good of the entire world.

And when you have a direct line to God, as Bush believes he does, one can see why Bush invokes God as his compelling argument for his unilateral and preemptive war against Iraq. “The course of this nation does not depend on the decision of others,” Bush told the nation.

With Bush asserting that God is on our side helping Americans, who are God’s foot soldiers, fight against the evildoers of injustice, and helping us dismantle the axis of evil, Bush’s Christian rhetoric sends a coded message, albeit unintentional, that the war on terrorism is between Christians and Muslims.

However, in his theistic imperative to do God’s will, Bush’s eliding of church and state boundaries diminishes not only his political authority as a world leader that he so cherishes, but it also diminishes one of the central objectives he wishes to obtain during his presidency — moral authority.

Espousing religious truth claims gives Bush uncritical and authoritative leadership, a leadership that could not only close the door for negotiations toward peace, but could also show a face of indifference to the people and religions of the world.

Bush does not realize that for him to obtain moral authority he must first be a good political leader, one whose leadership is neither fraught with hubris nor shaped by his avowed religious truth claims. Espousing religious truth claims gives Bush uncritical and authoritative leadership, a leadership that could not only close the door for negotiations toward peace, but could also show a face of indifference to the people and religions of the world.

“Why is the United States behaving so arrogantly? . . . Who are they now to pretend that they are the policemen of the world, the ones that should decide for the people of Iraq what should be done with their government and leadership? . . . All that (Bush) wants is Iraqi oil,” Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, stated at the International Women’s Forum.

As a servant of God, Bush removes himself immediately from the highest office in this country as president, representing all Americans, to that of the country’s pastor, representing the problematic theology of the religious right. Like so many of us confused about Bush’s role in serving the American people, (i>New York Times journalist Laurie Goodstein wrote commenting on Bush’s State of the Union address, that, “The president continues to talk and lead like a preacher.”

In Bush’s closing remarks in his address to the nation, he said, “Americans are a free people who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not American’s gift to the world; it is God’s gift to humanity . . . May he guide us now, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.”

In order for Americans to be a free people, we need a president who does not impose his religious views into the fabric of American democracy. When Bush exorcises his Christian evangelicalism from his presidency, only then can he effectively run the country.

However, should Bush continue to do so, not only does he diminishes the rights of LGBT people, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and many others, he also diminishes his own presidency.

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