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interviews: richard land
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Richard Land is a director of the conservative evangelical Southern Baptist Convention and is a friend and adviser to President Bush. In this wide-ranging interview he talks about the reception his organization has received from the Bush White House and he assesses how the president has handled issues which matter to evangelicals, such as partial birth abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, the Sudan and human trafficking. He also discusses Bush's "overtly evangelical" expression of his faith and the religious language in the president's speeches, including references to divine providence in America's mission after Sept. 11. "A belief in divine providence is hardly a novel thing in U.S. history," says Land. "And if there are those who find it disquieting, they need to understand, they are the ones who have moved. ... George Bush is not the one that's moved." This transcript is drawn from two interviews conducted on Nov. 18, 2003 and Feb. 4, 2004.

Let's talk about the reception that the Southern Baptist Convention gets inside the White House. I've heard that it's quite welcome.

Well, there's no question this is the most receptive White House to our concerns and to our perspective of any White House that I've dealt with, and I've dealt with every White House from Reagan on.

The day he was inauguarated 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.

In the Reagan administration, they would usually return our phone calls. In the Bush 41 administration, they often would return our phone calls, but not quite as quickly, and sometimes not quite as receptively. In the Clinton administration, they quit accepting our phone calls after a while.

In this administration, they call us, and they say, "What is your take on this? How does your group feel about this?" I don't know if there's any question that this administration understands that Southern Baptists and other evangelicals are a very significant part of their coalition. By some estimates, 40 percent of their raw vote came from evangelicals. Mr. Bush carried every state in which there was a significant Southern Baptist presence.

This president is very popular with Southern Baptists, much more popular than he was in 2000. I think that he carried some baggage from his father's administration. The conservative evangelical groups and people never had quite the same trust level of his father that they had of Reagan. They did have the feeling that there were people in the Bush administration below the president who were not at all sympathetic to where they were coming from; much less so than the Reagan administration.

This administration, everywhere I go -- and I'm in a different Southern Baptist church almost every week, maybe two or three in a week -- they say "Please, tell the president and Mrs. Bush that we're praying for them, and how much we support them and how much we're praying for their safety and for his wisdom and guidance." I've never seen an outpouring quite like it.

What do you think is going on here? Do you think it's simply because Bush is an evangelical himself?

I think that there's no question that this president expresses his faith in overtly evangelical terms in a way that is much more recognizable, much more identifiable as being quote, "one of us" than the presidents that I've known in my lifetime. And I can remember every president from Eisenhower on.

That, I think, comes from the fact that he was essentially raised in Midland, Texas, in his formative years. If I can just contrast him with his father -- his father was raised Episcopal in Connecticut, where it is just not considered good form to talk about one's faith in public.

Well, of course, the very warp and woof of the life in the society in which George W. was raised is a very different one. It's an evangelical one. It is one in which faith is something you talk about a good deal. You're encouraged to talk about it, and people talk about it with each other. He knows the lingo, he knows the style, and he has the substance.

You know, Bill Clinton knew the language. Bill Clinton could talk like a Southern Baptist evangelist when he wanted to. But they hated what he was doing with it, because they were in fundamental disagreement with him about so many very important social issues. Now we have a president who they feel like really sees the world the way they see it, understands them, is sympathetic to them, and has an administration that understands that they are a very important part of a governing coalition for a Republican president.

Let's talk about the people around Bush. We've looked at people like Condoleezza Rice and Andrew Card and Michael Gerson. He has surrounded himself with people who are like-minded in this area.

I think this White House certainly has probably a more homogeneous worldview than some previous Republican White Houses. I don't think it's more homogeneous than the Clinton White House. I think the Clinton White House was pretty homogeneous, but the homogeneous nature of it was postmodern. As my wife said to me, when Bill Clinton was elected president -- my wife and I, we're the same age as the Clintons, same age as the Bushes -- she said, "The people that were sitting around in Volkswagen vans, smoking pot with peace symbols on their vans and hanging around their necks, are running the country now, aren't they?" I said, "Yes, they are." That was Bill Clinton. That was the Clinton administration. I think it was a pretty homogenous administration.

In the Reagan administration and in the Bush administration, you didn't have that homogeneity, and the reason was you had two different kinds of Republicans. You had the Eastern establishment Republicans, who were economic conservatives and international conservatives, in that they agreed on a tough foreign policy, but who were totally at odds with the social conservatives on issues like abortion, issues like homosexuality, like promotion of a tough anti-obscenity enforcement by the Justice Department.

So I think that in previous Republican administrations -- at least certainly in the Reagan administration and in the first Bush administration -- there was much more of a yin and yang.

If you read Peter Robinson's book, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, he talks about Richard Darman and others saying "It's our job to protect the president from himself." Of course, the conservatives were always saying, "Let Reagan be Reagan, because Reagan's instincts were almost always with us," unless Darman or James Baker or Nancy Reagan talked him out of it.

In this White House, there's nobody trying to talk the president out of it. ... This is the Reagan administration without the drag of those old country club Republicans, who really disdained social conservatives, knew they were necessary at election time, but wished they would just go away. This president not only thinks we're important; he shares our concerns. ...

You were mentioning that this White House is very receptive to the concerns of Southern Baptists. I was hoping you could elaborate on that.

I don't think there's any question that this president's heartbeat is close to the heartbeat of Southern Baptists when it comes to very serious and important public policy issues to Southern Baptists. The first one, unquestionably, undeniably is the question of the sanctity of human life.

This issue is as important to Southern Baptists as the slavery issue was to the abolitionists. It bears a great deal of analogy to the abolitionist movement, and the issue bears a great deal to the issue of slavery. The question is whether or not slaves were people. Abolitionists believed they were, and if they were, it was wrong to treat them as property. It was wrong to keep them in involuntary servitude.

If you believe that unborn human beings are human beings, that they are living human beings, that their hearts are beating, that they have brain waves, that the only difference between them and us is time and the opportunity to not be destroyed, then we believe we have a moral and a civic obligation to extend the protections of the law to unborn human beings. That issue's not going to go away, and it trumps other issues.

One of my biggest applause lines -- you have to understand that it doesn't happen very often that people stand up and applaud in the middle of a Baptist church service. But it has happened, and I get a lot of applause from this line -- and that is, "Let me be very clear about this. We need to vote our values, our beliefs and our convictions. We shouldn't be endorsing candidates. We should be looking for candidates who endorse us."...

So the partial birth abortion [bill] that happened, and I do understand that George Bush is pro-life--

He is. George Bush is pro-life. Let me tell you the difference between George Bush and Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was pro-life by gut instinct. It just horrified him. The whole process horrified him. He just couldn't conceive of people arguing that people ought to be able to routinely kill unborn babies. But it was more of a 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.

What do you mean when you say that -- "settled faith?"

He believes that the Bible is very clear that life begins at conception, that God is involved when conception takes place, which is what the Bible clearly teaches. I mean, there's a reason why the Jews were the only civilization in the Mediterranean Basin that did not practice abortion and did not practice infanticide routinely.

The Romans did it. Will and Ariel Durant, in their history of Western civilization, say that as late as the time when Christianity came into the Roman Empire, when the apostle Paul made his first missionary trip to Rome, that 99 out of every 100 girl babies in a Roman family after the first girl was successfully born was killed at birth. The Greeks did it. The Assyrians did it. The Babylonians did it. The Phoenicians did it. The Egyptians did it.

The Jews didn't do it. The reason that they didn't do it is because their Old Testament Scriptures made it very clear that God was involved when conception takes place, Psalm 51:5, that God was involved in the creation of the child. Psalm 139, "God knitted me and embroidered me together in my mother's womb. All of my parts are written in God's book before any of them came to be." And his assertion to Jeremiah, "Jeremiah, before you were in your mother's womb, I knew you. While you were in your mother's womb, I sanctified you. I made you a prophet to the nations."

This is why the Christian faith, which came out of Judaism, bore an uncompromising opposition to the abortion and infanticide that was prevalent in the Roman Empire. The very first post-apostolic teaching of the Christian faith ... condemns abortion as murder. That was the uncompromising stand of the Christian faith, right through the Reformation. Luther and Calvin were both strongly pro-life. So was Bonhoeffer.

It's only been in the last half-century when you've had the rise of groups [in] modern Christendom, who believe in what I call "Dalmatian theology." The Bible's inspired in spots, and they're inspired to spot the spots. They think they can reject large chunks of Christian Scripture and biblical revelation that they don't agree with, that you have had any debate within Christian faiths about whether abortion on demand is permissible.

The president comes out of that evangelical faith. It's part of the warp and woof of his being. He is offended at very basic levels that we have a society that kills approximately one out every three babies conceived.

Talk a little bit about what President Bush has done with this belief, and how he sort of made a difference for you.

Well, on the embryonic stem cell research speech that he gave, I believe he did more in one speech to humanize unborn babies to the American people than has been done by any other one speech in the history of the country since Roe v. Wade. I thought it was a magnificent speech. You look at the polls afterwards, two-thirds of the people disagreed with him before the speech. Two-thirds of the people agreed with him after the speech.

I believe it was a fundamental sea change in the way the American people began to look at unborn babies in the womb. He was under tremendous pressure to compromise on the embryonic stem cell research issue from Republicans, who get a lot of money from stem cell research, and who were putting enormous pressure on the president. Instead, he fulfilled his campaign promise, and gave a very principled speech with a very principled approach. …

Tell me about your input [on this issue] and the conversation that was happening at the White House, and who you were talking to.

We were very concerned -- we being Southern Baptists and other evangelicals -- about embryonic stem cell research. We have no problem with stem cell research. In fact, we encourage stem cell research. In fact, the most promising breakthroughs that have been made so far have not been made with embryonic stem cells; they've been made with adult stem cells. We certainly encourage that.

But the president was trying to make a decision. He promised in his campaign that he would make a decision that would not cause federal funding to go forward that would cause the death of babies. I got a fairly detailed list of questions that they wanted answers to at the White House on this issue.

We prepared what we felt was our strongest argument against it. One of the arguments [was] that, even if there were tangible benefits from embryonic stem cell research, whether that's true or not remains to be seen. ...

So when he gave that speech, can you tell me sort of the inside story on that, the conversations you were having.

I was in conversation with Karl and with Tim Goeglein [a special assistant to the president]. My own personal conversations were with those two men, primarily. They would come back to us with things, and we'd try to answer those questions. They'd say, "Well, what about this? And what about that?" ... But my understanding is Laura, the president, Karl and the speechwriter are the only people who knew what he was going to say before he said it.

Were you pleased?

Very pleased.

What were the couple of moments in that speech that you thought were particularly important?

When he said something to the effect of, "These babies are dead. There's nothing we can do to bring them back." First of all, he called them babies, which is important. He said their sacrifice could lead to tremendous possibilities for healing in the future and for helping others. So we will allow federal funding for research on these existing stem cell lines.

The second thing that impressed me was the number of stem cell lines, which I don't think anyone was quite aware of how many there were until they got the sort of worldwide registry.

Then at the end of the speech, it was just an overall impression. I turned to my wife and I said, "You know, I think this is going to go down as a very memorable speech." It sort of got lost to some degree, because so soon after that was Sept. 11. But I said, "Honey, I think that he really helped the American people to understand these are babies." She said, "You're absolutely right."

And I think he did. I think his whole approach in that speech was, we're talking about babies. We're talking about human babies. Under what circumstances it is permissible to kill human babies to harvest their tissue? ...

[Talk about] the issue of gay marriage [for evangelicals].

I don't think that the average liberal has ever understood, or will ever understand the depth of that issue in igniting evangelical Christians to participation in the public policy process. When we went to a baby being killed every 20 seconds, three babies a minute, 180 babies an hour within six months after Roe v. Wade, it ignited the evangelical movement to get involved in the public policy process in a way that nothing else ever has. The only issue that even begins to touch it, in my experience, is the same-sex marriage movement. ...

Tell me why Southern Baptists care so much about this.

We believe that marriage is a divinely ordained institution. It's the foundational building block of human society. That's why all human societies have been built on that foundation or building block of marriage. It's usually been defined the same way, almost overwhelmingly defined the same way.

We believe that society does not have the right to redefine marriage any way it chooses to do so. We believe that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. It is not to be between a man and a man. It is not to be between a woman and a woman.

In a representative democracy like the United States, if we believe that certain lifestyles should be affirmed and other lifestyles should be merely tolerated, we have a right to have that made into law. And that's not called a theocracy; [it's] just called representative government. Seventy percent of Americans don't want same-sex marriage. When it was put to a vote in California -- I think we would all agree a fairly liberal state -- 61 percent of the voters in California said marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

We want a federal marriage amendment to keep the judiciary from forcing a secularist agenda on this country that this country does not want in the area of marriage. The only way to protect ourselves from that, given the current power of the judiciary, is to trump the judiciary by passing an amendment to the Constitution, which is aimed like a rifle -- not a shotgun, but a rifle -- at same-sex unions: A federal marriage amendment which would say that nothing in this Constitution or in any state constitution shall be construed as requiring marriage as anything other than between a man and a woman.

Clearly, as Justice Scalia said in his rather blistering dissent in the Lawrence decision, the majority of this court has now taken sides in the culture war, and they're not on the Judeo-Christian side. They're on the relativist neo-pagan side.

Our forefathers had given us a day to deal with a court that is so out of sync with its people, and that is to amend the Constitution, which is the governing document.

Let's talk about that amendment. Tell me what it would do, in very simple terms, whether you think it's realistic. Because other evangelicals, including Richard Cizik, told me that there's no way this is going to get through. You will need to soften your agenda on this, to go for a compromise on something like this, rather than the whole shebang.

Well, he's wrong. One reason why people listen less and less to him and more and more to some of the rest of [us is] because we have soldiers, and our soldiers go out and get active and they're involved. You know, we will have 43,000 Southern Baptist churches, and [in] probably 40,000 of them, the federal marriage amendment will get mentioned favorably.

It may say some other things, but any form of the marriage amendment that will be proposed will say this: Nothing in this Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, and nothing in any state constitution shall be construed as requiring that marriage be anything other than between a man and a woman.

Now, what that would do, of course, is would lead to each state legislature, how they would apportion any benefits of civil unions. Will such a federal marriage amendment pass? I think it will. We don't have the votes in the Senate right now. But I believe we will have after November 2004, because in light of what the Massachusetts Supreme Court has done -- throwing down the gauntlet now in a 4-3 decision, saying that the Massachusetts constitution requires same-sex marriages.

At that point, we had no choice but to either accept same-sex marriage or stop it through a federal marriage amendment, because immediately, what's going to happen in the 13 states that don't have Defense of Marriage Acts, is that once this once this marriage ruling goes into effect, there will be same-sex marriages in Massachusetts [and] the states that don't have Defense of Marriage Acts will be forced to recognize those marriages. Then, GLAD or somebody, some homosexual advocacy organization, is going to go into federal court and is going to argue that the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution requires every state -- even those who have DOMAs, Defense of Marriage Acts -- to recognize the same-sex marriages that are performed in Massachusetts. ...

What is it about gay marriage that the evangelicals -- and you're speaking for Southern Baptists here -- find so offensive? Why?

Well, it's not just gay marriage. It would be polygamy. If it were polygamy, we'd be just as opposed to it. If it were incestuous marriage between biological brothers and sisters in a consensual relationship, we would be just as opposed to it.

We believe that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. We believe that that is a divinely ordained institution, and that the American court system does not have the right to redefine it to suit itself. ...

This summer President Bush talked about gay marriage. He spoke about it in the Rose Garden. Tell me what your input was in that.

I had no input in that. I'm happy he said what he said, but I had no input into it.

... I think most of the Baptists were not surprised, but were very gratified by the president's speech in the Rose Garden, in which he said, "Look, I think that marriage ought to be between a man and a woman." Now of course, in saying that, he's saying what 70 percent of Americans believe. He's saying what most of Western civilization has believed for most of its existence, going all the way back to Greece and Rome. Even the Romans thought the Corinthians were morally corrupt -- which is a rather mind-boggling thought if you know much about the Roman Empire -- and one of the reasons was because of the rampant nature of homosexuality in Corinth.

People say, "The president is lining up with evangelicals. " Well, he's also lining up with the Vatican. The Vatican's made a very strong statement. If there are homosexuals who say, "The president should be neutral," well, the Supreme Court's not neutral. If the Supreme Court's going to be arguing the homosexual agenda -- which Scalia says, emphatically, they are, that they've taken sides in the culture war -- then we don't see where it's not fair for the president to take sides too. We're glad he's on our side of the culture war.

The culture war is an interesting thing. We read a statement and an article the other day and the divide that used to be about race [now] is about region and religion.

I think there's a tremendous division in this country. It is a division that doesn't run between states; it runs through states. It doesn't run between institutions; it runs through institutions. It doesn't run between families; it runs through families.

Basically, it breaks down to this enormous fault line. On one side of this fault line, you have people who have a traditional view of morality. Some would call it Judeo-Christian values. Others would just call it traditional American values. Those were pretty synonymous for most of our history. Some things are always right; some things are always wrong; and if you accept a society in which that's not true, then anything becomes possible.

On the other side of this fault line, you have what I would call a post-modern worldview. That is a worldview [in which] ultimately everything is relative. It depends on the situation. That there are very few, if anything, very few things that's always right or always wrong. It depends on the circumstance, and we get to decide for ourselves what's right and what's wrong, what's true and what's not true, to the extent that there is truth. ...

When you look at the election patterns of the 2000 election, you see that a very convincing case could be made that, in the United States, we live in a country that has two societies that happen to inhabit the same country and live on the same continent. But they don't often live in the same places.

The state maps were dramatic. But the county maps were even more dramatic. If you look at the county maps -- the best one I've seen was done, I think, by the Washington Post. It was three-dimensional. It not only had all the counties that voted for Bush in red and all the counties that voted for Gore in blue, but it had a tower of blue in Los Angeles, and a smaller tower of red in Dallas. So you got the idea of just how many people [voted]. A tower of blue in Detroit and a smaller tower of red in Nashville.

You had this blue strip along the upper East Coast. Then you had a blue strip in South Florida. Then you had a blue strip along the Mississippi Delta, which is overwhelmingly African-American. Then you had a blue strip along South Texas, along the Mexican border into Southern California. Then you had a blue strip in urban areas.

... When demographers began to break down the nature of those counties, what they found was that the traditional views and the traditional values predominated in the counties that voted for George W. Bush. These other values tended to predominate in the counties that voted for Al Gore, aside from the African-American anomaly, of 91 percent of African-Americans voting for Al Gore.

In the general population, 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 W. Bush. That was the single most reliable predictor of how a person voted, once you take out the anomaly of the African-American population. ...

Tell me why the Sudan matters to evangelicals, what the White House did and why that was important to you guys.

The Sudan should be important to all Americans, because you've had over 2 million people killed, primarily for their religious faith and because they refused to convert to a rather radical form of Islam.

What you've had happening in the Sudan over the last 15 years is nothing less than a genocidal war against the black African Christians and animists in the south by the Arabist north, who happen to have the guns, who happen to have the helicopter gunships.

Unfortunately, I've come to the conclusion that the reason this was not on the radar screen of the American people the way that it should have been is race. If these had been Caucasians who were being slaughtered, I suspect that there would have been much more notoriety given to this issue. I can find no other explanation for it. I mean, what's been going on there is horrific, and it's been very, very difficult to get the attention of the American people and the American government focused on what's going on in the Sudan. Finally, we were able to do so.

How did you do that?

Chuck Colson was one person who was very important in this, and another man who doesn't get the credit he deserves -- a man named Michael Horowitz who was a person who worked in the Reagan administration. He is a Jew. Michael Horowitz was very much involved in helping to mobilize Christians in solidarity with the refuseniks and those Jews who wanted to emigrate from the Soviet Union. ... He came to the conclusion that it was time to do this for Christians. If we could do it for Jewish refugees, we ought to do it for Christian refugees.

How was it that this little coalition of people could actually convince the president and get this on his radar, right now, during this war on terror, and get him to go public with it?

I think we have to go back to the foundation of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We literally had over 100,000 churches of various denominations who observed International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Sudan was sort of the poster child for this movement, how Christians were being persecuted in the Sudan. When you get 100,000 churches focused on this, they begin to talk to their congressmen. You have people going over and purchasing slaves in the slave market, and redeeming them out of slavery. We have 15 Sudanese boys in Nashville who go around giving their testimony about how their parents were killed, and they had to escape from slavery, and have now been resettled in Nashville, and hope to go back to the Sudan.

So we didn't do it. We helped lead the movement that brought it about. But the president didn't need to be convinced. Now, some in his administration needed to be convinced. The State Department -- which is usually a part of the problem -- if it worships anything, worships the status quo, and looks upon anything that makes waves as problematic. ...

The whole topic of human trafficking -- many of us in the media were really sort of taken aback that the president was even talking about this. It just seemed like it came out from left field. Tell me about getting something that important to Southern Baptists into a U.N. speech.

We had made it clear this is a very important issue to us, and to our constituencies. The president understood that. He was as horrified as any person would be.

Once you become aware of this, how can you not be horrified by it? It is as cruel and as inhumane an activity as goes on anywhere in the world. I mean, I can't even begin to imagine the horror of being a child that is sold into sexual slavery. ...

As I understand it, it was part of the president saying, "Look, you either live up to your responsibilities -- only together can we deal with this." We made him aware of how important it was to us, but this was an easy sell. I mean, he was as horrified by it as we were.

This kind of issue also appeals to a wider base of people who aren't necessarily evangelical. Do you think the evangelical movement, including the Southern Baptists have, in the recent years, come across some issues that cross this divide, that we all care about, that are sort of things like the Sudan, things like human trafficking? You've had success in getting these issues to the forefront, into the mainstream …

Well, it hasn't been a strategy, if that's what you're asking. It's just [that] we are concerned about these issues. We have had the opportunity to express that concern. This is another one of those divides within that earlier Republicanism. You know, most evangelicals came late to their Republicanism. Most of them were not raised Republicans. Most of them were either independents or Democrats who have been disattached.

First of all, they were disattached from the Democrats because of social issues and foreign policy. They have been now increasingly attached to the Republicans. I think it was the social conservatives in the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration who were so pressuring the president to make social issues part of the foreign policy of this country, to make human rights issues part of the foreign policy of this country.

It was the Kissingerites, the Darmanites, the people who were the Bakerites who were arguing no, that this should not be a part of our foreign policy. It was one of the reasons that there was disaffection from the first President Bush. ...

When the president talks to evangelicals or when he talks to the nation, he uses certain words or phrases like "wonder-working power." What goes into the thought behind this? ... How does he signal to the evangelical community, without alienating someone like myself who wouldn't know that that's necessarily evangelical?

I think this idea that the president is signaling things to evangelicals is way too complex. I just don't think that that's the way that this administration works. Gerson is one of his chief speechwriters; he is an evangelical.

I thought, at the time of its delivery, that his inaugural address was one of the best inaugural addresses that has ever been delivered by an American president -- one of the most eloquent, one of the most religious that's been in a long time.

It was interesting to me to note that neutral observers have said that they think it's the best since Kennedy's. I think it will hold up very well to the judgment of history. But it is a speech which uses language that would be very familiar to Americans of an earlier time, and evangelicals are more in touch with that earlier time.

John Kennedy, in 1961, said in his inaugural address that the rights of man don't come from man, they're the gift of God. It's not Bush's rhetoric that's changed. It's many people in the country, particularly in the chattering classes, that have changed.

That kind of religious language, or that kind of God language, jars their ears. But that's because they've changed. He hasn't changed. Just go read Lincoln's second inaugural, which sounds like a sermon, [or] Roosevelt reading a prayer when he announces the D-Day invasion, a prayer which he and his daughter wrote, as they announced over the radio the D-Day invasion of 1944. ...

Bush's language, yes, it is more overtly religious and is much more comfortable talking about God and talking about divine power than would be the case with his immediate predecessors. But he's standing in a long American tradition here. I don't think that there's any conscious effort to signal things to evangelicals. His chief speechwriter is an evangelical. One of the reasons that this president is so effective as a speaker is that he says what he thinks, and he thinks what he says. ...

A lot of people on the left have charged that it is a bad thing. Thinking that you're doing God's will is a very big thought, and means that America is God's country, that we're on a mission, that we're on some sort of jihad ourselves. Can you respond to that?

I can understand that there are a lot of people on the left 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.

There's a big difference between thinking, "God's on our side, and God is in favor of what we're doing," than the position that the president actually takes, which I think is very much analogous to Lincoln's position, articulated in the second inaugural. We now know that Lincoln, at the very crisis stage of the Civil War in 1862, sat down and had a discourse with himself -- which wasn't discovered until much later, until the late 1870s -- in which he tried to figure out, "Why is this happening?" Because no one had ever seen a war like this.

You understand, this was the first modern war. No human beings had ever been exposed to the level of slaughter that was going on in the American Civil War. Lincoln was clearly wracked by this. "If we're doing what God's will is, why is this happening to us? Why is this going on and on? Why is all this terrible bloodletting taking place?"

He answered in a ways that find their way into the second inaugural. He basically says, "Both sides believe that God is on their side. Both sides can't be right. Neither side may be completely right. It may be that God is going to, as an act of judgment, cause all of the wealth that was produced by involuntary servitude, North and South, to be used up, before this war will ever be over. But we're going to go forward, doing the right, as God gives us the light to see the light, with malice toward none, with charity for all."

That's a very different posture, and a very different attitude than say, just assuming, "God's on our side." It goes back to the story that one of Lincoln's Cabinet members said to him during the midst of the war, "Well, God's on our side." And Lincoln said, "I'm more concerned that we be on God's side, sir."

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. We don't see the word starkly in terms of black and white. But we do see that there is a good and there is an evil, and that there is no moral equivalence between Saddam Hussein and the United States of America.

There is no moral equivalence between the radical Islamic jihadists and the United States of America. As Tony Blair said, this is a struggle for civilization. It's a struggle between the force of civilization and the force of barbarism. I understand that the left is often uncomfortable with that kind of language and that kind of posture. Once again, 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, and believing in American exceptionalism. Does that mean that America is 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? Yes. Yes.

I believe that. I believe that the United States of America has a divinely given responsibility to hold up the flame of freedom, and whenever possible, to advance it. I don't make any apology for that. That's part of who I am as an American. Just exactly what does the left think that John F. Kennedy was talking about, when he said, "We're going to let tyrants of the world beware. We're willing to go anywhere, bear any price, assume any burden, defend [against] any foe, support any friend, in defense of liberty?"...

On Ellis Island, Sept. 11, 2002, a year after Sept. 11, Bush said, "I believe there is a reason that history has matched this nation with this time." Then he also said, "We do know that God has placed us together in this moment." What do you make of this, and what does it mean, when he says something like that?

First of all, it's hardly a novel concept for anyone who has a traditional Christian faith, be it Catholic or be it traditional Protestant, that there is a divine providence, and that we have a place and a purpose that is beyond our understanding.

He talked about this in his [recent] Yale commencement address. ... He said, "Many of us had many plans and purposes when we left here. I didn't, but many of us did. Since then, we've had many disappointments, and we've had changes. And we've come to understand that we are not the final arbiters."

Just a belief in divine providence -- hardly a novel thing in U.S. history. If there are those who find it disquieting, they need to understand, they are the ones who have moved. ... George Bush is not the one that's moved.

I've read George Bush's autobiography, A Charge to Keep. He talks about a very important moment in his life, when in Texas, Mark Craig was giving a sermon about Moses. It was at that moment where George Bush decided that it was time for him to run for president; that actually, this was his calling. Can you talk about that at all?

Well, I wasn't there for at that worship service. But I will tell you this: The day he was inaugurated for his second term as governor in 1999, there were several of us who met with him at the governor's mansion. Among the things he said to us was -- and this goes back to my Lincoln analogy -- he said, "I believe that God wants me to be president. But if that doesn't happen, that's OK. I'm loved at home, and that's more important." Then he said, "I have seen the presidency up close and personal. I know it's a sacrifice, and I don't need it for personal validation."...

You've said that if Bush wants to talk about his faith, he should be able to do so. You said, "Let people decide if that's the kind of president that they want, instead of the media." There is a criticism that Bush does use too much religious language, that his religion affects his presidency too much. Can you talk about that?

Well, there are some who would like to make that line between church and state a lot stricter than it has been historically. I believe in separation of church and state. As a Baptist, how could I not? I think that if you don't have it, that it ends up being very detrimental to the church, and to the Christian faith, or any faith.

However, I was 14 years old in 1960, when John Kennedy came to my town, Houston, Texas, to meet with the Baptist ministers of Houston, and to assure them that his Catholicism would not interfere in any way with how he served as president. My pastor came back to our church and said, "My concerns are alleviated. This man will not let his Catholicism interfere with his oath of office." I think that was a terrible price to ask John Kennedy to pay to be president. I think what we should have done instead was say, "Now, you're a Catholic. How will that impact how you serve as president?"

I think it's much healthier, what happened in 2000, where Joseph Lieberman -- I was in Nashville when he went down to Nashville and accepted Gore's invitation to join the ticket. He mentioned God 12 times in two minutes. The New York Times counted, and thought this was just horrible. Well, what Lieberman was saying was, "Look. I'm an observant Jew. You can't understand who Joe Lieberman is, and you can't understand how I would be vice president, without understanding the fact that I'm an observant Jew."

It seems to me that that's what we ought to allow candidates to do. Tell us who they are. If being religious is part of who they are, then we take that into account, and we decide whether that's the kind of president we want.

I was in a debate just recently, where someone was making fun of the president, and accusing him of political calculation when he said in one of the debates [when asked], "Which political philosopher has influenced you the most?" And he said, "Jesus. Because he changed my life."

This person didn't know the president. But this person assumed that that was a political ploy, because for this person, that kind of faith is incomprehensible. Well, it's not incomprehensible to millions of Americans. George Bush was being quite transparent, and quite honest. ...

The American people decide what kind of president they want. I don't think anyone can complain that people didn't know what they were getting in George W. Bush. They were getting a man of deep personal faith, whose personal faith is going to impact his perspective on public policy. I say it was truth in advertising.

I've talked to a couple of theologians, who say to me that the idea of sort of evil versus good, in the context of looking at America versus Iraq, or America looking at terrorism as a whole, is that it inhibits self-examination and repentant action, which is, of course, one of the cornerstones of a lot of what you believe. Talk about how this works for you, and explain it to me.

I think that's just nonsense. … It's not an either-or thing. One can say that the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire. I mean, my heavenly days, if there was ever evil, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were it. Those states were the personification of evil. They brutalized their own people more than they brutalized anyone else.

Does that mean the United States of America is perfect, or that we are the replacement of Israel as God's chosen people? Of course not. Of course not. I think one can talk in terms of good and evil, and at the same time engage in moral self-examination, and always be seeking to make certain that one's moral compass has not been demagnetized.

[Can you talk about how the president comforted the nation after Sept. 11?

... I think that we saw the real George Bush. Clearly the president understood immediately what was at stake. He understood that we had been attacked. He understood -- and Woodward, I think puts it in his book -- that courage in the president puts calcium in the backbone of the nation.

He understood that. He understood the role that presidential leadership plays. I think those of us who knew George W. Bush before 9/11 would say to you that there are a few people we've known that would be better to be in charge in a crisis, because he's a man who really tries to get to the crux of things anyway. ...

Is there something specific about having a president, who is very forward and honest about his religion, as president during a time of crisis?

Oh, I don't know. As an evangelical Christian, I certainly was completely in sync with the way the president tried to put this in context for the nation, because he is an evangelical Christian. He used language and he used a whole approach that I would find very comfortable.

But I can't imagine that there would be a president of the United States in my lifetime -- and I was born during the Truman administration -- that would not have given some religious context to the events of 9/11. We have to understand that America is a very religious nation. I know this disturbs and perplexes the New York Times, but it is a fact. When the Pew Trust does a study, for instance, they find that [for] somewhere between 65 percent and 70 percent of Americans, religion is very important in their lives. You compare that with Canada where it's 28 percent, and Great Britain, where it's 17 percent.

Now what that means is that America has remained a very religious country, while Canada and the United Kingdom have become increasingly more secular in practice in terms of how important religion is in the lives of the people. I can't imagine that President Clinton would have responded all that differently. ...

Soon after 9/11, did you feel that Bush's mission essentially had changed, that it was, in a sense, his destiny? Was it kind of his divine mission? I ask you that, because I want you to answer the question and address it as a religious man, what this means through the Christian ideal of providence and through divine providence, and how the president fit into that at the time.

My first reaction to 9/11, after the initial shock, was that I was grateful that George W. Bush was president, and grateful that his opponent in the 2000 election was not. I felt that this president was equipped to grasp the essentials, the bare, stark essentials of the situation, and what needed to be done far better than his predecessor or his opponent in the 2000 election. I would probably say [he was] better suited to grasp it, and explain it to the American people than even his father. [He was] certainly on a par with how Ronald Reagan would have done it.

I thought America needed that. It needed someone who wasn't going to sit around and think about, "Now what have we done to make these people mad at us?" but "We've been attacked, and when we've been attacked, we're at war. Our war is against terrorism, worldwide, and it's a war that we're going to win. We understand the war. We understand the nature of the opponent. We're going to mobilize our resources, and we're going to win this war. We're going to win it for ourselves, and we're going to win it for the cause of freedom and liberty for the whole world."

But address, if you will, the idea of divine providence -- what that means and if there was an element of that.

Well, my understanding of divine providence is that God either wills or allows everything that happens, that God is in control. My understanding of divine providence is that God sometimes has to let us live with some of the consequences of our bad choices. In other words, God doesn't want war to happen. But he knows that because of the bad choices that human beings make, sometimes wars happen.

You know, God instituted civil government. Romans 13 says God instituted civil government to punish those who do evil and to reward those who do that which is right, and that one of the options available to the civil magistrate is the use of lethal force. Romans 13:4, that the civil magistrate bears not the sword in vain. Now domestically, what that means is that if someone kills my wife, I don't have the right to go take personal vengeance on them. But I do have the right to expect the civil magistrate to punish that person for taking an innocent human life, and understand certain circumstances -- that they may have to pay with the forfeiture of their life for having taken another person's life. ...

[What that means is] this was an evil act, perpetrated by people who have evil beliefs -- the idea that they have the right to wantonly and premeditatingly take the lives of other people just because they don't agree with them, or just because they stand in the way of their goals, and that we have the right to defend ourselves against that. In God's providence, we will.

Many people have said that, before 9/11, the president would use religion to talk about how it helped him, about how it could help others; for example, when he was discussing faith initiatives. But after 9/11, it's been a much more Calvinistic approach to his use of religious language, and that there is much more of a sense of our duty. Religion has been used in a very different way than it was before 9/11. [What do you think?]

I don't think it's true. I think they weren't listening very closely before 9/11, and they haven't been listening closely enough, or they've been listening through a filter since 9/11.

I think President Bush is a sort of a classic Methodist. Now I know that sounds jarring to the ears of some modern Methodists. I've had some modern Methodists, for instance, tell me, "The president's not really a Methodist." My reply to that is, "Well, that depends on how you're defining Methodist." If you're defining Methodist the way John Wesley defined it, John Wesley would be very comfortable with this president's faith. If you're defining it the way some post-modernist Methodists define it, some National Council or church-type Methodists, you're right. He's not that kind of a Methodist.

But he is a classic Methodist, and a classic Methodist isn't a Calvinist. Those are two separate theological streams. ...

Faith-based initiatives. When the president announced this initiative in January 2001, what was your reaction?

My reaction was mixed. I understand why he did it. Faith-based alternatives work. In Texas, he found that faith-based rehab alternatives worked. People who went into faith-based rehab in prison didn't come back. People who were in secular rehab programs had a 50 percent recidivism rate. So he wanted to find ways to empower those programs that worked.

My concerns can be boiled down to the old saying, "Whenever you take the government shekels, sooner or later comes the government's shackles."...

You cannot have any discrimination by the government. If the government is going to offer aid to faith-based groups, then there can't be any groups excluded. If the black Muslims have a faith-based drug rehab program that meets the standards of the government has for all drug rehab programs, then they have to get the same opportunity to be assisted by the government that Catholics or Baptists or Jews would get. The one thing we must never allow the government to do is to decide which faith-based groups are kosher and which ones aren't. That would be absolutely a catastrophe.

And that's happening now?

I don't think it is. But I think we have to [have] safeguards in place that it won't happen, and then there must always be a secular alternative, so that no one is ever forced to take the faith-based aid or not have the aid. ...

I've read that white evangelicals supported the war in Iraq and various elements of the war on terror, while other Christian denominations and some other religion leaders did not necessarily support it. Have you heard this as well, and can you address it?

I think Southern Baptists overwhelmingly supported the president's action in Afghanistan and in Iraq, as they did the first President Bush's action in overturning the invasion of Kuwait. I think that if you look at polls that were done, it was clear that white evangelicals, by significant numbers, significant percentages, supported the war.

Mainline Protestants actually were more supportive of the war than their leadership was, but not as supportive as evangelical rank and file. The same thing was true with Catholic leaders. Rank-and-file Catholics tended to be more supportive of the war than the U.S. Catholic Conference, but not as supportive as rank-and-file evangelicals. It was much higher among rank-and-file white evangelicals.

One answer to that is that we do believe in just war. I think many of them believe that this was in reality a continuation of the first Gulf War. Because Saddam Hussein had not complied with any of the resolutions that he agreed to comply with at the end of the first Gulf War and that the U.N. credibility was at stake, our credibility was at stake. In the wake of 9/11, we couldn't afford for our credibility to be at stake.

We needed to re-democratize the Middle East, and that was going to be very difficult to do with Saddam Hussein in power. I think that there's also a very high trust level among white evangelicals and President George W. Bush. If he said that this is what we needed to do, then they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in doing it. ...

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posted april 29, 2004

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