LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Republican George W. Bush said people who run for public office should be willing to admit their need for spiritual redemption, while acknowledging that his personal faith in Jesus Christ will help him handle the responsibilities of the presidency.
Bush made his remarks during an Aug. 31 interview with Baptist Press, the national, daily news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. Bush was interviewed by Will Hall, the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for convention news, following a rally at Butler Traditional High School in Louisville, Ky.
Bush reflected on issues involving faith and family and openly discussed both his salvation experience and his daily walk with Christ.
Bush’s spiritual openness is welcome news to the country’s born-again electorate. A George Barna poll, released Sept. 11, shows that among likely born-again voters, Bush leads Vice President Al Gore by a 2-to-1 margin. Among born-again Christians who are likely to vote in November, Bush leads Gore, 71 percent to 28 percent, a 5-to-2 margin.
Evangelical Christians are even more likely to vote for Bush, according to the poll, with a 6-to-1 margin.
Following, is a transcript of Bush’s comments:
BP: What is your sense about the attitudes of Americans towards matters of faith and public policy?
BUSH: I think Americans are skeptical of government . . . because they have become disillusioned. They have seen a man say one thing and do another. There’s a certain skepticism about government. However, there’s a certain faith in our government as well.
One of the great things about Americans is their optimism. They believe strongly that our government can be renewed. Americans understand that government is limited in its capacity to affect culture, but that government can accelerate cultural change–with leadership that sets the right tone and the right goals. That’s why I welcome the discussion about religion and politics. I welcome Senator Lieberman to share his faith. I think his testimony of faith is good and important.
I try to make my case based upon the arena in which I find myself; and in politics, I talk about the issues. But I also talk about lifting this country’s spirits. I talk about character. I talk about faith-based programs to try to set the stage so that ordinary Americans understand when I talk about faith-based programs, I’m not saying the government is going to take over the church, or the church is going to take over government.
What I am saying is that we’re going to welcome people of faith to help change people’s lives in America. Inherit in that statement is an optimistic view of the future. I am very optimistic, because as I said in that high school crowd [at Butler Traditional High School, Louisville, KY], “The true strength of America lies in the fact that we are a faithful America by and large.”
BP: What about your personal faith? Would you describe yourself as a born again Christian? How would you describe your faith?
BUSH: I would describe myself as a man who was raised a Christian, who sought redemption and found it in Jesus Christ. And that’s important [to admit the need for redemption] by the way, for someone running for public office. It’s a humbling experience to make that admission. I admit I’m a lowly sinner. It’s that admission that led me to redemption and led me to Christ. Without making that admission, I don’t think there’s such a thing as redemption.
Also, I’m mindful of the Biblical admonition, ‘don’t take a speck out of someone else’s eye when I’ve got a log in my own.’ And I think that’s an important tone that America needs at this point in time. I don’t think you can lead to an appreciation of life, for example, by pitting people against each other. And the appreciation of life is a part of the cultural change about which I speak. It’s going to require a thoughtful tone. A tone that says people can disagree. However, we must understand the larger issue.
The larger issue is the preciousness of life . . . life of the elderly, life of the people who may be living in ghettos, life of the kids who walk into Columbine . . . it’s a life issue . . . and life of the unborn. But I believe it’s going to take a unifying tone, a thoughtful tone, to set a new direction for American thought on a key issue such as abortion.
BP: In that regard, how would you propose to lead our nation to value the life of the unborn?
BUSH: Well, first it’s how I talk . . . the emphasis I can place on the values of life and to remind people that when crises of life arise, what the core question is. After Columbine, there was a lot of focus on the issue of law . . . pertaining to guns. But there was a bigger law violated, and that was the law of the preciousness of human life. These were men [the Columbine killers] whose hearts were taken by evil. And to me, it was a struggle of good and evil. Now, sure we need laws that will work and be effective, but the president can and should set a tone.
Secondly, there are some practical things that the president can do. Sign a ban on partial birth abortions. Encourage parental notification laws. These are laws that will help reduce abortion in America. Encourage adoption. Adoption is such a beautiful alternative to abortion. Visit crisis pregnancy centers. These are places of love. I remember going to one in Iowa during the course of the primary caucuses. It was such a beautiful experience to see the love and tender affection there. There were not scolding people or angry people that were running this center. These were loving people. They were willing to be involved with a person who had a tough situation on her hands. They were following the guidance of the Christian principal ‘love your neighbor.
BP: What type of relationship would a Bush-Cheney administration seek with people of faith?
BUSH: Oh, I think it’s easy for somebody to have a good relationship with somebody of serious faith if you’re a true believer, because there’s a common interest, a common understanding. There’s not a language barrier. People can talk . . . and people also can feel a bond. Here’s what I am mindful of. I’m mindful of telling people that when asked about my religion that I’m mindful of walking that walk. That’s the best thing I can do as president. And when you walk the walk, people of faith will walk right with you. And that’s the truth. And when you walk the walk, people are going to be able to look and say, I may not agree with the man, but I agree with the example he sets. I believe there’s a connection between your private life and your public life. And I understand that.
BP: There have been some public figures, people of faith, who have experienced disappointing failures of character who, in the end, compromised their Christian witness. How do you safeguard yourself against such failures? What role does your faith play in safeguarding your character?
BUSH: I am mindful of that Biblical admonition that if you accept Christ and then stray, the consequences are more severe than ever. Once you’ve received the Word, the Bible is pretty clear about somebody who strays. Listen, I’m a sinner . . . I’m a sinner. But that confession, that understanding, not only makes redemption possible, but it makes it easier to walk the walk. And my heart was won by Christ. Billy Graham re-introduced me to Jesus Christ is the way I like to put it. I believe in prayer. I’m surrounded by prayer. I’m surrounded by a prayerful nation. One of the most wholesome things that happens to me as a candidate is that people walk up to me . . . I mean all the time. In the hot of that gym [following the rally at Butler Traditional High School, Louisville, KY], two people walked up to me and said ‘Governor, I am praying for you.’ And they don’t say ‘praying for you maybe,’ they say ‘I am praying for you!’ It’s a powerful part of America. And if you believe in prayer . . . and I believe in prayer . . . it’s a humbling and uplifting experience. This is an awesome job [the presidency]. With it comes big responsibilities, and my faith is going to help me handle the job. My faith will help me handle the responsibilities inherit in the job . . . and the pressures.
BP: Many Christians hold the family as the foundational institution of human society and marriage as the union of a man and a woman in lifetime covenant to each other and to God. Do you support these traditional beliefs concerning the family and marriage?
BUSH: Of course I do. I believe the family is the backbone of a hopeful, more prosperous America. I will just give you the practical aspects of the breakup of the family. If you’re a single girl, young girl with a child, it’s much more likely that you’ll be impoverished . . . and your child will be impoverished. There’s an economic impact besides the social impact, besides a real psychological impact. If you’re alone in life, and you’re a young woman with a child, it’s more likely that you’re going to end up in poverty. Family is the backbone.
There’s nothing better that having a man and a wife pulling for each other and raising children in a loving and peaceful home. I’m worried about out-of-wedlock births. I believe we ought to encourage abstinence education in America. I believe the president must set the example. The most important job a parent will have is to love their children with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind. That’s how you lead. That’s the tone you set. And I try to set it in every speech I give.
BP: Governor, how can Southern Baptists pray for you and your family?
BUSH: You can pray for my girls, for starters. I would like for people to pray for their safety, for their comfort. My concerns about this race are my family. I’m worried about my girls. I’m worried about the fact that their daddy is running for president, and people will be saying ugly things about me. And they’re going to hear it. My prayer is that they be shielded to the best . . . that they be steeled . . . that they know I love them. It’s important to pray for my wife, too. My wife is a very strong person. She can handle herself. But, there’s nothing like prayer to uplift her. And for me, it’s a prayer of wisdom, and patience, and discipline.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: BUSH SHARES PERSONAL TESTIMONY.