The Jesus Factor
Written, Produced and
GEORGE W. BUSH: My relationship with God through Christ
gives me meaning and direction.
ANNOUNCER: He is by most accounts the most openly
religious president in generations.
DIONNE, Jr., Author, Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: The interest
in religion is not made up. It has
to do with Bush's self-presentation and what he thinks he is about.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I'll talk about it, OK? I've got a personal faith. Billy Graham came into my life.
ANNOUNCER: From the beginnings of his faith--
LEAVERTON, Midland Men's Community Bible Study:
He told me at that point, he said, you know, "I realized that I had to
be born again."
ANNOUNCER: --and his mission to become president--
RICHARD LAND, Southern Baptist Convention: Among the
things he said to us was, "I believe that God wants me to be president."
ANNOUNCER: --to his embrace of conservative
WEAD, Advisor to Pres. George H.W. Bush: The message
did come home. My God, you could
win the White House with nothing but evangelicals.
ANNOUNCER: --and his ideas on God and government--
GEORGE W. BUSH: We need commonsense judges who
understand that our rights were derived from God.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, FRONTLINE examines a president--
GEORGE W. BUSH: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly
ANNOUNCER: --and his faith.
NARRATOR: George W. Bush has often said that to
understand him, one must go to Midland, Texas. And it's in Midland that his religious journey begins.
SLATER, Sr. Political Writer, Dallas Morning News: The thing to understand about Midland
is that it's probably the most conservative area of Texas. It's flat. There's nothing to do here but to make money, if you're in
the oil business, or to work for companies that make money because of the oil
business, and to go to church.
NARRATOR: Midland's motto is "Where the sky's the
limit," but in the mid-1980s, during the biggest oil bust in a generation, that
kind of optimism was hard to find.
The downturn lead to bankruptcies, divorce, even suicide. And it was during those desperate times
that this group was formed, Midland's chapter of Community Bible Study, or CBS,
as it's called.
HEDGPETH, Midland Men's Community Bible Study: Men were searching for help, trying to
have an air of confidence for their families that things were going to be
OK. And they were themselves
looking for help to find out that everything was going to be OK.
STUDY LEADER: Tonight in Romans 5, the Apostle Paul
is going to help us discover the vast riches that are available to all people
through faith in Jesus Christ.
HEDGPETH: Hard times have a way of making people
draw closer to God. Out of the
struggles, we become aware that, you know, we're not in charge of everything. And so we start looking for a power
greater than ourselves to help us when we're in our troubles.
NARRATOR: Facing his own troubles, in the fall of
1985, George W. Bush joined the Bible study group.
LEAVERTON: When he came, it was noteworthy. It was always neat to me because I
thought, "Isn't that wonderful?
Here's a guy who has so much in his life, and yet he has a need, just
like I do."
NARRATOR: Bush had been given so much in his
life. He was from a privileged
family with powerful business and political connections going back
generations. But very little had
gone well in Bush's own life. As
his father had before him, Bush had moved to Midland hoping to make his fortune
in the oil business. But in the
middle of the oil bust, facing bankruptcy, he had been forced to sell his
SLATER: As Bush approached 40 years old, he
found himself as the dark sheep of the family. He talked about that.
NARRATOR: Wayne Slater is a Texas newspaperman
who has followed George W. Bush throughout his political career.
SLATER: Jeb was the one who was going to be the
political success of the family.
George told the Queen of England one time, "Well, I'm the black sheep in
NARRATOR: Bush's family were East Coast
Episcopalians, churchgoing but not particularly devout. When he had married Laura Welsh, Bush
had adopted her family's United Methodist Church.
SLATER: His father and mother's church, the
Episcopalian Church, is seen by some Methodists as a liberal or much too
tolerant offshoot. The Methodist
Church gives you an opportunity, and the Baptist Church even more, to believe
in certain absolutes in an absolute way.
NARRATOR: But Bush had expressed little interest
in religion. Though he had gone to
church every Sunday, by his own admission, he had been more interested in an
active social life, fueled by heavy drinking. But with a wife and two young girls, his lifestyle had begun
to cause problems.
WEAD: He knows he's got a drinking
problem. He loves his daughters,
and he was going to lose his daughters if he lost his marriage. And he was going to lose his marriage
if he didn't stop drinking. But
he's going every Sunday to this Methodist church with Laura, for the kids'
sake, for the girls' sake. No
matter what he believes, he's there, he's hearing this stuff. He's already had some literature that
shows that people who are able to beat their drinking problem often do by
invoking a higher power.
NARRATOR: Then, the summer before he turned 40,
he had a conversation with the Reverend Billy Graham, an old Bush family
friend. Years later, Bush would
write, "Graham planted a mustard seed in my soul." And soon after his 40th birthday, Bush made a decision.
WEAD: He woke up one morning and he said,
"Eureka. That's it. I'll take God. I'll beat drinking. I keep Laura and the girls. That simple. I will never take a drink again the rest of my life. Done. So where do you go to sign up? How do you believe?
STUDY LEADER: "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." Sing it twice.
NARRATOR: The Bible study that Bush joined was
evangelical Christian. To
evangelicals, it is not their Christian denomination that connects them but a
series of beliefs. One of the most
important is committing yourself to Jesus Christ, or being "born again."
LEAVERTON: We all have that deep yearning for
something genuine, something real.
And I'm sure that's exactly what George was feeling. He'd changed, and all of a sudden,
studying the Bible was important.
NARRATOR: Bush became one of a 120 Midland men
who began a rigorous study of the Bible.
STUDY LEADER: This week's passage provides a
beautiful picture of God's unconditional love.
NARRATOR: Many of the men in this room today were
in the group 19 years ago when George Bush joined.
STUDY LEADER: If ever there is a Scripture verse that
defines the grace of God this is this one. So who's got the memory work this week?
More on Midland's Bible study class]
NARRATOR: Conservative evangelicals consider the
Bible to be the word of God, and without error, and reading it daily is more
important even than going to church.
STUDY PARTICIPANT: God demonstrates his own love for us in
this. Christ died for us.
STUDY PARTICIPANT: It's Romans 5-8.
STUDY PARTICIPANT: Amen to that.
STUDY PARTICIPANT: Thanks, brother.
LEAVERTON: I remember after George Bush had been
in CBS for about a year, a year-and-a-half, my wife and I went to the Yucca
Theater, which is a little downtown theater. And there were these little tables you could sit at. I sat down, my wife Vikki, and I. And then George and Laura Bush came in
and set at this little table with us.
leaned over to him, and I said, "George.
How have you been enjoying CBS?"
Really kind of conversational.
I wasn't trying to get deep with him at-- you know, at this play. And he looked at me, and really just
very strong eyes and feeling in his voice, he said, "CBS has changed my
life." I was really taken aback by
the fervor, the way he said it. It
was something deep. And he talked
about the fact that when we had studied about Nicodemus and how Nicodemus asked
Jesus about life, and Jesus told him, "Nicodemus, you've got to be born again,"
and that little story really impacted him because he told me, at that point, he
said, "You know, I realized through studying that that I had to be born again."
NARRATOR: But being born again did not solve all
his problems. In 1987, still
struggling with his career, George W. Bush left Midland and moved to
Washington, D.C. His father was
running for president, and he had a problem.
Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH, Presidential Candidate:
Let me say we've just gotten the returns in from Iowa. Round two is over. And I congratulate both Mr. Dole and--
Senator Dole and Pat Robertson.
SUPPORTERS: Hats off for Pat! Hats off for Pat!
NARRATOR: The Bush campaign was stunned when
their candidate came in third in the Iowa caucus behind televangelist Pat
PAT ROBERTSON, Presidential Candidate: Thank you very much! I must say that my campaign for the
presidency has been given an enormous boost here in Iowa tonight.
NARRATOR: Robertson was the latest in a line of
conservative evangelical leaders who had been having increasing success in
getting religious voters to the polls.
In his campaign, he had emphasized the moral issues that conservative
evangelicals had been rallying around for years, such as school prayer and
PAT ROBERTSON: You and I know we must restore the
greatness of America through moral strength!
NARRATOR: But George Bush, Sr., was not an
evangelical Christian, and he was never comfortable discussing his religion in
public. To craft a better message
to religious conservatives, he had hired evangelical political adviser Doug
WEAD: I was writing a memorandum for George
Bush, Sr. on how to build a relationship with the evangelical community-- how to
define it, who they are, where they come from, what's their language.
NARRATOR: Soon it was clear someone other than
Bush, Sr., was reading Wead's memos.
WEAD: I was churning out hundreds of pages of
memorandum, and he was sending them back with little notations. And so someone was talking in his ear
about this information I was feeding him.
I suspected it was Billy Graham.
It had to be someone sharp, who understood evangelical
Christianity. But it turned out he
was vetting them with his son.
this was part of the equation. The
vice president was receiving this memorandum from me that had data and facts
and demographics and percentages, and then he was hearing verbally, at the same
time, from his son, saying, "Mom, Dad, this is real America. This is-- this is out here. I've tasted it myself."
SLATER: If it wasn't for the son, George Bush
the father wouldn't have received as much support as he did in the evangelical
community. George W. Bush reached
out to some key evangelical ministers, reassuring them about the values of his
father in a way his father, an Episcopalian, could not do.
WEAD: I remember one meeting where we
thoroughly prepped the vice president.
And he had been in many sessions already. He was very good.
But we were with a group of evangelicals. They were really tough. And they started peeling the onion back so fast that I
thought, "Uh-oh!" And finally, the
vice president said, "Hey, fellas, you need to talk to my son. He's a real born-again Christian."
NARRATOR: Often, Wead and the younger Bush would
talk to evangelical groups themselves.
WEAD: We in the Republican Party can humble
ourselves and put down our golf clubs long enough to welcome in the new
NARRATOR: And the evangelicals liked what they
W. BUSH: No matter how busy George Bush has been
in his past, he's never let us down as a father.
CIZIK, Natl Association of Evangelicals:
Bush indicated on multiple occasions that he understood us. He wasn't just a fixer who was trying
to fix a political problem, he was somebody who understood us and had a heart
that was akin to our own.
NARRATOR: Richard Cizik heads up the government
affairs office of the National Association of Evangelicals. The group represents 45,000 churches.
CIZIK: And he was saying, "I not only share
your concerns but I'll do what I can."
And that was all that was needed.
NARRATOR: With his son's help, George Bush, Sr.,
won by a landslide.
WEAD: We lost, as we always do, the Jewish
vote and the Hispanic vote and all those votes. We lost the Catholic vote. We were the first modern presidency to win an election -- and
it was a landslide -- and not win the Catholic vote-- just barely, but we lost
the Catholic vote. And how did we
do it? We carried 82 percent or 83
percent of the evangelical vote.
While we were frightened by the fact that we lost all these votes and
still won the White House, the message did come home. "My God, you can win the White House with nothing but
evangelicals, if you can get enough of them, if you get them all."
NARRATOR: And George W. Bush had learned
WEAD: Sometimes, when we would prepare these
memos for his father, we would prepare a memorandum on a region or a
state. And I remember George W.
reviewing the memorandum on the state of Texas, and he just lit up. "Ah!" You know, "I could do this in
Texas." You know, "I can make this
work in Texas." I think there was
no secret he was talking about running for governor.
Read the interview with Doug Wead]
NARRATOR: Bush had already run for political
office once before--
W. BUSH: I'm George Bush, running for the
NARRATOR: --in 1978, in a failed bid for Congress.
WEAD: His opponent had played the evangelical
culture card against him by saying everybody at George's house is going to go
out and have a beer, before the election.
You know, "We're different.
Our people are different."
And he got beat.
W. BUSH: I welcome the relaxation and welcome
the chance to be alone with Laura in the house, but it has been tough to
WEAD: Now, he had become an evangelical
Christian himself. So he's reading
this strategy, and he's thinking, "Whoa."
W. BUSH: [1994 campaign commercial]
I am running for governor to change this state. We can right the wrongs in Texas if
guided by one basic principle: Individuals should be responsible and
accountable for their actions.
SLATER: It was a marvelous transformation from
the outsider, rich wastrel, who would drink, to the inside Texan--
[campaign commercial] --a family man active in civic and
church programs to help the disadvantaged--
SLATER: --a person who understood the values,
the religious ethic, the social ethic, the cultural ethic that was so missing
in his first campaign.
NARRATOR: But as Bush learned to blend his
personal faith with public politics, he sometimes found himself in trouble.
HERMAN, Reporter, Austin American-Statesman: He was very open about his
religion. One of the theses of my
first story of him was differences between him and his father. Obviously, the similarities were
striking and obvious, but I found some of the differences to be also.
NARRATOR: Ken Herman was a reporter for The
Houston Post. He interviewed Bush on the day he
announced his intention to run for governor. As they talked, the new candidate offered Herman a
HERMAN: Him and his mother were having a difference of opinion about whether you have to accept Christ to go to heaven, a perfectly legitimate thing for a family to discuss. His mother's belief was, as Bush told me, sort of, "Maybe you don't. But more importantly, maybe you shouldn't worry about it, just sort of take care of yourself. And you know, we'll see what happens when the time comes."
To make the point that this family operates different than others, through their long-time contact with Billy Graham, they decided, "Let's get Billy Graham on the phone"-- you know, kind of God's right-hand man right on the planet. As it turns out, Reverend Graham said, "Just don't worry about it. Live your life the way you're supposed to. Love everybody and move on." Bush, however, said he himself held the personal belief that you have to accept Christ to get to heaven.
WEAD: The political ramifications of that
were huge. I mean, if I'm not a
Christian, if I'm Jewish or some other faith, I'm damned? And so he doesn't talk about that
NARRATOR: But in Texas, it wasn't a problem. With overwhelming support from
conservative evangelicals and other religious conservatives, Bush toppled Ann
Richards, one of the most popular governors in Texas history. On election night, his supporters
cheered to his victory song. It
was called "God Blessed Texas."
God blessed Texas with his own hand. He brought down angels from the promised land. And I've been sent to spread the message. God blessed Texas.
NARRATOR: But it was a more traditional religious
melody that Bush invoked early on as governor. In this memo to his staff, Bush wrote about a painting that
he had hung in his governor's office.
The painting was titled "A Charge to Keep" and was based on one of
Bush's favorite Methodist hymns.
SLATER: "A Charge to Keep" was about these
Methodist circuit riders, who would go to one church and preach and then go to
another community and preach. And
in that way, the charge to keep was a charge to spread the Gospel as broadly as
NARRATOR: The word "evangel" means good news and spreading
the Gospel, or good news, is an important part of being evangelical. In his memo, Bush wrote of the circuit
riders, "This is us," and ended with a message, "We serve one greater than
Read the full memo]
That was the message that George
Bush was saying in that memo, that this was an administration that was going to
express values-- fundamental values, Christian values, Methodist-Protestant
NARRATOR: Just six months into his term, Bush was
given an opportunity to put his faith into action. Marvin Olasky, the editor of the conservative evangelical
magazine "World," had written a cover story alerting his readers to a Christian
drug treatment group that had come under fire from the state government.
OLASKY, Editor-In-Chief, World Magazine:
There was an anti-drug group in San Antonio called Teen Challenge of
South Texas that was helping people out of addiction, but it did it its own
way. It did it by saying that the
reason people get into drugs or alcohol is because they have a hole in their
soul, and we can fill that hole in your soul, or God can fill that hole in your
soul, and fill it with Jesus.
NARRATOR: When a state agency threatened to take
away Teen Challenge's operating license for failure to follow regulations, the
group had gone public.
OLASKY: The Teen Challenge people organized a
rally, with great Texas symbolism, in front of the Alamo. There were 200, 300 people there
holding up signs that said things like, you know, "Thank you, Jesus, for
changing my life."
NARRATOR: Bush was reminded of the change in his
own life, and he asked to see Olasky.
OLASKY: His whole thing was, "Hey, this
program works. Let's find a way to
essentially call off the dogs, let it work."
SLATER: It's a fundamental understanding that
he had that in order to make people's lives better, you don't just
institutionally give them jobs to a bureaucracy, but you fundamentally change
their heart. And to do that, Bush
was receptive to the idea that the people that ought to do it would be the
people whose hearts had been changed.
Bush believed that people who had been transformed in their own life,
much the way that George Bush had, were the perfect kind of teachers.
NARRATOR: "I support faith-based programs,"
Governor Bush said at the time. "I believe that a conversion to religion, by
its very nature, promotes sobriety."
Bush made it known that he supported Teen Challenge, and his state agency
backed down. Ultimately, his
interest in faith-based programs would lead to this report published by his
office, "Faith in Action: A New Vision for Church-State Cooperation in Texas."
each bear a responsibility to do justice and love our neighbors," the report
concluded, "a responsibility that comes from God. We see no threat to promoting the general welfare when
government contracts with faith-based social service organizations."
desire to change the relationship between churches and government was an idea
that Bush would carry towards his future presidency.
Tuesday, January 19th, 1999, Bush and his family attended a private church
service in Austin, Texas. The
service was a Texan tradition.
Later that day, Bush would be sworn in for his second term as
governor. He had won the election
in a landslide and was now one of the most popular governors in the country.
Bush's political promise suddenly seemed boundless and talk had begun of a
possible run for the presidency.
The invited guests crowded into the small Austin church that morning.
PEDERSON, Editor-at-Large, Dallas Morning News: It was former President George Bush and
Barbara Bush, the Bush daughters, their very closest friends and closest party
supporters. I attended because I
go to the same church that the Bushes attend, Highland Park Methodist in
Dallas, and I wanted to see what the minister would have to say on this special
NARRATOR: The minister's sermon was taken from
the book of Exodus. He talked to
his audience about how God had called on Moses to lead his people. He said that Moses had been unsure of
himself, uncertain he was the right man for the task.
PEDERSON: He said that Moses tried to beg off and
said, "Oh, not me. You want
somebody else." You know, "I'm
busy. I've got a family. I've got this speech impediment." But he followed that by saying,
"The country's hungry for leadership."
you have to remember the context of the times. This was 1999.
George W. Bush was about 52-- you know, just about time for a mid-life reckoning. "What do I do with the rest of my
life? How do I do what's
meaningful?" The minister counted
off the number of seconds and minutes in a year and said, "This is how many
seconds in your year in your life.
What are you going to do with it?"
He was looking right at the president. You could just feel a currency in the air. I think everyone knew something
NARRATOR: Late that afternoon, Bush gathered
together with some close colleagues at his residence. In the group was Richard Land, one of the directors of the
conservative evangelical Southern Baptist Convention.
LAND: The day he was inaugurated, there were
several of us who met with him at the governor's mansion. And among the things he said to us was,
"I believe that God wants me to be president."
NARRATOR: Twelve years after his father had
finished behind Pat Robertson in the Iowa caucus, George W. Bush landed at Des
Moines International Airport. He
was in Iowa as one of six candidates battling for the Republican nomination for
president. They had all gathered
for the third Republican debate.
the debate, the moderator asked the candidates what political philosopher or
thinker they most identified with.
Steve Forbes answered John Locke.
Alan Keyes named the Founding Fathers.
Governor Bush, a philosopher/thinker. And why.
GEORGE W. BUSH (R), Texas: Christ, because he changed my
WEAD: I think that was instinctive and
genuine. The media elite and
non-evangelicals see that statement and they think it's calculated. The evangelicals know it's not
calculated. They know it didn't
help him. So they tend to believe
C. GREEN, Ph.D., Author, Religion and the Culture Wars: It may very well be that that was just
the real Bush speaking. But it did
have a very important political effect.
Evangelical Christians and other conservative Protestants immediately
understood what he was talking about, and they began to identify with President
I think the viewer would like to know more on how he's changed your
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, if they don't know, it's going to
be hard to explain. When you turn
your heart and life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as a savior, it
changes your heart and changes your life.
And that's what happened to me.
DIONNE, Jr., Author, Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: When he was asked to explain this, he
basically said, "If you haven't had this experience, you don't know what it
is." I was offended by that
because I thought, in a tolerant democracy, a politician has an obligation to
explain things to people who don't necessarily accept their religious
terms. I had an assistant at the
time who was a Democrat, no friend of Bush's but an evangelical Christian. And she was actually upset with me
because she said, "That's how we talk.
You should understand that."
And I think it's those moments when Bush speaks like that that
evangelicals know in their heart that he's one of them.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Faith gives us conscious to keep us
honest even when no one else is watching.
And faith can change lives.
I know because it changed mine.
NARRATOR: Bush spoke openly about his faith
throughout the 2000 campaign.
GEORGE W. BUSH: There came a point in my life when I
felt something was missing on the inside.
By chance -- maybe it was more than chance -- one day, I spent a weekend
with the great Billy Graham.
NARRATOR: The Bush campaign knew their
candidate's ability to reach out to evangelicals as one of them was key to
winning the White House.
GEORGE W. BUSH: --and decided then and there to recommit
NARRATOR: By 2000, over 40 percent of Americans
described themselves as evangelical or born again. Of those who vote, at least 70 percent are were considered
GEORGE W. BUSH: And my relationship with God through
Christ gives me meaning and direction.
NARRATOR: But as he worked to appeal to religious
conservatives, Bush was aware of the political danger of appearing too close to
them, a lesson he had learned from his father's campaign eight years
earlier. By 1992, his father's '88
rival, Pat Robertson, was now the president of a powerful organization that
mobilized conservative Christian voters.
It was headed by a young Southerner named Ralph Reed, and it was called
the Christian Coalition.
C. GREEN: Christian right organizations like the
Christian Coalition were absolutely critical to moving evangelical Protestants
into the Republican Party.
There is a voter guide on the back of this insert today--
C. GREEN: One of the things they did right was to
engage in grass roots mobilization to actually get information out to people in
the pews that showed that voting for a Republican candidate was superior to
voting for a Democratic candidate.
NARRATOR: But not just any Republican
candidate. Although conservative
evangelicals had given George Bush, Sr., their support in 1988, his moderate
record as president had angered them. At the '92 Republican convention, in a last ditch effort to
shore up support among religious voters, the party gave center stage to a
number of conservative religious leaders, including Pat Robertson.
PAT ROBERTSON: To me and to most Republicans, traditional
values start with faith in almighty God!
WEAD: That convention was not in the best
interests of the candidate. I
mean, Pat Robertson offered to speak at the national convention. Well, he wasn't even a candidate for
president. Why should he be
BUCHANAN: Yes, we disagreed with President Bush,
NARRATOR: After Robertson, conservative
commentator Pat Buchanan addressed the convention.
BUCHANAN: --and we stand with him against the
amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law
as married men and women. We stand
with President Bush--
WEAD: You have to be careful how you appeal
to the evangelical constituency.
I'd have had Bush, Sr. go ride horses with Pat Robertson on his private
estates and say all kinds of things, and kiss in secret, but not in
public. And he didn't have that
kind of a calculated campaign, and the result was there was backlash.
BUCHANAN: There is a religious war going on in
NARRATOR: The convention alienated moderate
voters, and in the end, evangelicals divided their votes between Bush, Sr.,
Ross Perot and even Bill Clinton--
BUCHANAN: And George Bush is on our side!
NARRATOR: And Clinton won the White House.
years later, George W. Bush and his advisers crafted a message that would
appeal across the Republican political spectrum. They called it "compassionate conservatism."
GEORGE W. BUSH: Without support, more support and
resources, both private and public, we are asking the armies of compassion to
make bricks without straw.
SLATER: It's a great way of knocking off the
rough edges. When you say you're a
compassionate conservative, the people who are conservative say, "Ah. I like that because he's conservative." The people who are more moderate say,
"He's compassionate. I like
that. That means he's not really
NARRATOR: And religious voters liked Bush's plan,
too. The compassion that he spoke
of would come not from government-run programs but from the faith that he
believed could change people's lives.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Governments cannot make people love one
another. It's been the great false
hope of the past. All you got to
do is pass a law, and people will love one another. But love comes from a higher calling, a higher
authority. The great strength of
America lies in the hearts and souls of citizens who've heard that call, not in
the halls of government--
NARRATOR: In the end, Bush won the closest
presidential contest in history.
And religion, it turned out, was key.
LAND, Southern Baptist Convention:
The single most reliable predictor of how a person voted in the 2000
election was whether they went to church or synagogue or mosque at least once a
week. If they went to church or
synagogue or mosque at least once a week, two thirds of them voted for George
REHNQUIST, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court:
--preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
GEORGE W. BUSH: --preserve, protect and defend the
Constitution of the United States.
Justice WILLIAM REHNQUIST: So help me God.
GEORGE W. BUSH: So help me God.
NARRATOR: As he took office, Bush put his
campaign promise of compassionate conservatism immediately to work. In his first executive order, he
established the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives inside the
GEORGE W. BUSH: When we see social needs in America, my
administration will look first to faith-based programs and community groups.
NARRATOR: In the early days of his presidency,
Bush's faith-based initiative was called his signature program. Bush asked Congress to expand on
something called "charitable choice," a provision that had been passed as part of
the 1996 Welfare reform bill.
Championed by then senator John Ashcroft, a Pentecostal Christian and a
member of the conservative Assemblies of God church, charitable choice had
opened the door to allow smaller and more overtly religious groups to receive
government money for providing social services. Now Bush wanted the principles from Ashcroft's provision to
be applied to most of his government agencies.
CIZIK, Natl Association of Evangelicals: We
believe there has to be equality of treatment towards religious social service
providers so that they're treated the same as secular service providers, equal
competitors for federal dollars to be able to dispense services.
DIONNE, Jr., Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution: I had an argument about this with a
conservative evangelical friend, who said, "Look, their method is Freud, our
method is Jesus. Why should Freud
get the money and Jesus not get the money?" And I thought that was an interesting argument. But we still do have the 1st Amendment,
and it raises a real question.
ZOE LOFGREN (D), California: Consider the plain language of the 1st
Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion." I think that's clear.
NARRATOR: Interpreting the 1st Amendment was at
the heart of the debates in Congress, with critics charging the president's
initiative threatened the separation of church and state.
ZOE LOFGREN: Will the Sikhs or Hindus receive the
day care contract? Will the
Muslims or Jews run the nursing home where your mother will live? Pity the local government who must
NARRATOR: Proponents of the president's bill also
invoked the 1st Amendment, arguing that they were trying to reverse years of
discrimination against religious groups.
CLIFF STEARNS (R), Florida: The 1st Amendment provides that the
government cannot establish one religion, or religion over a non-religion. But it also, my colleagues, provides
that the government shall not prohibit the free exercise of religion.
NARRATOR: Ultimately, Congress failed to
move. But the faith-based
initiative did not die.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I asked Congress to join me and pass
what I called the faith-based initiative, which would help change the culture
of Washington and the behavior of bureaucracies. They've stalled.
So I just signed an executive order.
NARRATOR: Bush's orders set up faith-based
offices inside seven of his own executive agencies, such as the Department of
Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, the Labor Department and
the Department of Justice. As he
had done in Texas, he ordered these agencies to actively encourage faith-based
groups to apply for money.
GEORGE W. BUSH: My attitude is the government should
not fear faith-based programs. We
ought to welcome faith-based programs, and we ought to fund faith-based
NARRATOR: And as he has pushed for access to more
funds, Bush has also defended the right of these groups to maintain their
religious character, including their right to hire only members of their own
GEORGE W. BUSH: Government oftentimes will say, "Yeah,
you can participate, but you've got to change your board of directors to meet
our qualifications." You know,
"You got to conform to our rules."
The problem is, faith-based programs only conform to one set of rules,
and it's bigger than government rules.
NARRATOR: But critics of the faith-based
initiative, including some evangelical Christians, have warned that this kind
of rhetoric will lead to the entanglement of the church and the state, hurting
Gaddy is a Baptist minister and heads up the Interfaith Alliance, an
organization of liberal religious leaders.
Dr. C. WELTON GADDY, President, The Interfaith Alliance: Religious institutions, wanting federal
funds, jeopardize the integrity of their freedom as and identity as religious
institutions because with those federal tax dollars come federal
regulations. President Bush made a
speech, and in the course of his speech, he held up the Bible and said, "This
is the guidebook, not federal regulations."
GEORGE W. BUSH: The handbook of this particular child
care is a universal handbook. It's
been around for a long time. It
doesn't need to be invented. It's
a-- let me see your handbook there.
This handbook is a good book.
It's a good go-by.
C. WELTON GADDY: The Bible, guidebook for public
policy? Now, President Bush is the
chief executive officer of this nation, pledged to defend the Constitution. He was speaking as a religious leader,
not worried about the constitutional implications of that rhetoric.
NARRATOR: Despite constitutional concerns, Bush's
executive agencies have already gone ahead and started funding faith-based
groups. The White House
acknowledges $1.1 billion spent so far, but admits it could be millions
more. And determining just how
much has been spent and where this money has gone is difficult.
The only program that specifically records funding to faith-based groups is called the Compassion Capital Fund run by the Department of Health and Human Services. This fund has given out $65 million dollars to what they call 'faith-friendly' organizations.
So far, only Christian groups and a handful of interfaith organizations have received direct federal funding. Jewish, Muslim and other religious charities have not, but a few of them have been supported by those who did receive the federal money.
More on the faith-based initiative]
CIZIK, Natl Association of Evangelicals:
The secularist believes that we're undoing the American experiment, that
we are trampling upon the separation of church and state. The secularist, you see, wants to
relegate religious belief to the margins of public life, and the evangelical,
with his pietistic influence, says, "Absolutely not. I'm going to bring those religious values right into the
center of all of life."
NARRATOR: On September 14th, 2001, Bush gathered
with spiritual and political leaders from around the nation at the National
Cathedral. The president had
declared a national day of prayer and remembrance for the victims of the
September 11th terrorist attacks.
In the wake of those attacks, as he brought the nation into the war on
terror, Bush's public expression of religion took on a new tone, no longer
speaking merely about personal salvation but of biblical themes of good and
GEORGE W. BUSH: We are here in the middle hour of our
grief. Americans do not yet have
the distance of history, but our responsibility to history is already clear: to
answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.
WALLIS, Editor-in-Chief, Sojourners Magazine: After September 11th, Bush's role
changed dramatically, his notion of himself, and his place in history.
NARRATOR: Jim Wallis is the editor of the liberal
evangelical magazine Sojourners and has written extensively on the president's
use of religion since 9/11.
WALLIS: He had been sort of a self-help
Methodist, meaning someone whose faith had made a difference in his personal
life-- solved some drinking issues, and some family issues, kind of a 12-step
God. Then September 11th came, and
the self-help Methodist became now almost a Messianic American Calvinist
speaking of "the mission of America."
GEORGE W. BUSH: In every generation, the world has
produced enemies of human freedom.
They have attacked America because we are freedom's home and defender,
and the commitment of our fathers is now the calling of our time.
LAND, Southern Baptist Convention: As
an evangelical Christian, I was completely in sync with the way the president
put this in context for the nation.
Romans 13 says God instituted civil government to punish those who do
evil and to reward those who do that which is right.
NARRATOR: But in the weeks and months to come,
the president's religious language of absolutes made others uncomfortable.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We will rid the world of the
evildoers. We've never seen this
kind of evil before. But the
evildoers have never seen the American people in action before, either, and
they're about to find out. Thank
you all very much.
WALLIS: To not acknowledge, see, name evil in
the world is bad theology. And yet
Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, "Why do you see the speck in your
neighbor's eye, your adversary's eye, your enemy's eye, and not see the log in
your own eye? Why do you see the
evil in them but not in yourself?"
GEORGE W. BUSH: Every nation in every region now has a
decision to make. Either you are
with us, or you are with the terrorists.
WALLIS: To say that they are evil and we are
good, and that if you're not with us, you're with the terrorists-- that's also
GEORGE W. BUSH: Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty
have always been at war. And we
know that God is not neutral between them.
LAND: The problem with the left is that some
of them don't think God has a side.
George Bush and most of George Bush's supporters believe God has a side.
And we believe that side is freedom.
We believe that side is democracy.
We believe that side is respect for basic human rights.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Ours is the cause of human dignity.
NARRATOR: A year after 9/11, Bush again drew his
message from the Bible.
GEORGE W. BUSH: This idea of America is the hope of all
mankind. That hope drew millions
to this harbor. That hope still
lights our way. And the light
shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
WALLIS: "The light shines in the darkness, and
the darkness has not overcome it."
Well, that's from the Gospel of John. But it's about the light of Christ and the word of God,
which is the light that shines in the darkness and has never been
overcome. Now, all of a sudden,
it's meant to be America as a beacon of light to the world. He changed the meaning of the
text. It's no longer about the
word of God, the light of Christ, it's about us. It's about we being the hope of the world. That's, again, bad theology.
LAND: I can understand that there are a lot
of people on the left who think that-- who are uncomfortable with the concept
that someone thinks they're doing God's will or that they're on a divine
mission. That says more about the
left than it does about George W. Bush.
George W. Bush is standing squarely in the middle of American history
and American tradition in believing in American exceptionalism. Does that mean that America's God's
chosen people? No. No. Does it mean that we believe that an angel still rides in
this storm, as they did at the founding?
WALLIS: This language of righteous empire, of
God being on our side and our having this divine mission-- I think this creates
a framework for the misuse of religion.
And I think the rest of the world hears this and it frightens them,
particularly in the Arab world because they are afraid that we see this as a
clash of civilizations and that this is a religious war.
NARRATOR: Despite his being the most openly
religious president in recent times, George Bush has kept his devotional life
private. While he tells his
supporters that he reads the Bible daily, unlike most other presidents, he is
rarely seen even going to church.
president has stated that while his faith is central to his life, it does not
affect his policy decisions. Yet
as his critics have pointed out, over the last three years, many of those
decisions have mirrored the agenda of conservative evangelicals, still his most
important voting block.
GEORGE W. BUSH: John Ashcroft will perform his duties
guided by principle.
NARRATOR: He earned their praise when he
nominated John Ashcroft, a hero to many conservative Christians, as his
GEORGE W. BUSH: Embryonic stem cell research is at the
leading edge of a series--
NARRATOR: He pleased the pro-life movement when
he talked about an embryo as a life in his decision on embryonic stem cell
GEORGE W. BUSH: I worry about a culture that devalues
life, and believe, as your president, I have an important obligation to foster
and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world.
NARRATOR: And again, when he signed the so-called
partial birth abortion ban, the first federal legislation banning any type of
abortion since Roe v. Wade had made abortions legal.
LAND: George Bush is pro-life. And let me tell you the difference
between George Bush and Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan was pro-life by gut instinct-- traditional value, American
value, Western civilization kind of gut instinct with him. With George W. Bush, it is a settled faith
conviction. And I'll take settled
faith convictions over gut instincts anytime.
Read the interview with Richard Land]
NARRATOR: Bush has also satisfied his religious
base with the kind of judges he has appointed.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We need commonsense judges who
understand that our rights were derived from God. And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the
NARRATOR: In the last year, in recess
appointments, Bush has pushed through two federal judges, Charles Pickering and
William Pryor, both outspoken religious conservatives.
on the debate over same-sex marriage, an issue that has become the new rallying
cry of conservative Christians, the president appeared to support their
position when he spoke about the issue publicly for the first time.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe a marriage is between a man
and a woman, and I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we've got lawyers looking at the
best way to do that.
NARRATOR: But for conservative Christians, he
hadn't gone far enough. And they
were dissatisfied until seven months later, when he met their demands.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Our nation must enact a constitutional
amendment to protect marriage in America.
CIZIK: There was always this idea, "Oh, if we
could only get a staff person in the White House who would carry our concerns
to the president"-- well, you know, the private joke inside the Beltway nowadays
is, "We don't need a staff person.
We've got one in the Oval Office."
What do you want, a staff person, or do you want the president, who
understands you? I'll take the
NARRATOR: As the 2004 campaign has begun, Bush
has once again moved to rally this crucial voting bloc. In the Southeast, Ralph Reed is his
campaign chairman, hoping to appeal to the same Christian voters he used to
mobilize as the head of the Christian Coalition.
WEAD, Bush Family Friend: There's no
question that the president's faith is calculated, and there's no question that
the president's faith is real, that it's authentic, that it's genuine. I would say that I don't know, and
George Bush doesn't know, when he's operating out of a genuine sense of his own
faith or when it's calculated.
SLATER, Dallas Morning News: In
an odd way, what the Bush campaign is involved in is a political proselytizing
effort, where they go out and express to those people, those voters who need to
hear the good news of the Bush campaign -- who he is and what he stands for --
and recruit them into this effort.
This is about bringing in a community, people who share not just a few
political ideas but something more fundamental. And to do that, they will tell and retell the story of Bush
as a man who has had a religious conversion in his life, has taken Jesus into
his heart and it informs everything he does.
NARRATOR: What began 20 years ago as a personal
religious experience has for George W. Bush become a factor inextricably linked
with his career as a politician and now with the life of the country as
PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
Dallas Morning News
Midland Public Library
Midland Reporter Telegram
Texas State Library and
Laurent at The Algonquin Hotel
FRONTLINE Coproduction with A Little Rain Productions, Inc.
is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.
ANNOUNCER: This report continues on our Web site,
where you'll find FRONTLINE's extended interviews with political analysts
and Bush advisers, evangelical Christian leaders and historians and observers
of evangelical Christianity, plus analysis and readings. And watch the full program again on line. Then join the discussion at pbs.org.
time on FRONTLINE:
There is a cyber-jihad going on right now.
ANNOUNCER: Without a single bomb--
The right people could take out huge sections of American
ANNOUNCER: --terrorists could use the Internet to
cripple the United States.
CLARKE, Former Director, Cyber Security, White House:
We have created a new nervous system for the country, and we've done
nothing to protect it.
ANNOUNCER: How real is the threat?
CLARKE: America is at risk.
ANNOUNCER: Cyber War! Watch FRONTLINE.
order FRONTLINE's The Jesus Factor on videocassette or DVD, call PBS Home
Video at 1-800-PLAY PBS. [$29.98
for FRONTLINE is provided by U.S. News & World Report.
Trust. For over 70 years, a commitment to
playing it straight, getting it right.
U.S. News & World Report.
FRONTLINE is made possible by
contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.