President Bush admits that he begins each morning by reading a book of evangelical sermons. Faith has long been an integral part of his life. A strong belief in God helped Bush let go of a drinking problem in his youth and move toward an absolute moral reference point. "Christ changed my heart," Bush said during a 1999 presidential debate.
Bush also makes no bones about his belief that religion and spirituality are integral parts of America's public life. His speeches are often studded with the terms "good," "evil" and "God's will." This is especially true of his foreign policy rhetoric. Moving beyond the language of containment, Bush seems intent on using foreign policy as an engine of social and religious liberty throughout the world. Increasingly, this mission takes on tones of a spiritual mandate: "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity," he proclaimed in his 2003 State of the Union Address.
Of course, the president's self-conscious mingling of church and state causes the relativists to quiver. As a person, they denounce Bush as something akin to a Southern tent revivalist. As a commander in chief, they worry that he has resolved to punish the sins of the rest of the world. At bottom, the relativists maintain that politics and religion should be kept at arm's length. Or, as Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League put it: "When (Bush prays) as a private person practicing his own faith, God bless, but when it becomes part of the official function of the president, then that's something that is inappropriate."
But is it really so preposterous for a political leader - a person who serves as a public faceplate - to discuss his personal convictions? Is there really harm in addressing the moral philosophies that animate the president's policies with meaning? On a more basic level, is it such a terrible indiscretion to admit that religion remains a force in American society? The relativists certainly seem to think so. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State warns that "(Bush is) treading dangerously close to breaching the idea that this is a secular country."
Personally, I'm quite pleased that Bush continues to push faith into the political mainstream. We need to create more forums where candidates are more comfortable discussing their faith in God. After all, surveys consistently show that six out of 10 Americans say that faith is very important in their lives. How can a responsible leader ignore this fact? Our politicians must discuss faith in order to understand and adequately represent their public.
As for the relativist's unkind snorts and snickers, I seriously doubt that America's 200-year-old history of pragmatic and fair governance is going to be threatened by the fact that our president is comfortable discussing his belief in God. But just in case someone wants proof, nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush declared to Congress, "freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them."
For a moment, a hush fell over the audience as they waited in quiet anticipation. Contrary to assertions by the relativists, our governance did not collapse in a downward spiral. Our elected representatives simply digested the remarks for a moment, and then applauded furiously.
And rightly so.