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FIRST-PERSON: Stay the course, Mr. President

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It is why airline passengers are relieved to see a pilot at the controls when the cockpit door is opened for a brief moment in flight; it is why you don’t take your hands off your vehicle’s steering wheel when you are on the expressway; and it is why a gardener keeps a firm grip on a rototiller — inevitably something is going to try to push you off course.

We have to be intentional about staying on course.

President George W. Bush is known for sticking with the positions he has developed thoughtfully and prayerfully. As the Bush administration begins its second term, it is my prayer that the president will stay the course he plotted during his first four years in the White House.

Bush’s steadfastness has frustrated many who have contended for public office against him, most recently Sen. John Kerry. While the Kerry campaign sought to cast the president as “stubborn” for sticking to his guns on the war against terror and other policies, a majority of American voters obviously disagreed, instead viewing Bush’s tenacity as steady leadership.

The president understands the importance of staying on message. In his run for the Texas governorship against the incumbent Ann Richards in 1990, political commentators believe Bush prevailed, in part, because he stuck to his message and refused to be pushed off track by personal attacks from his opponent. Stephen Mansfield, in his book “The Faith of George W. Bush,” says Bush kept his message “simple” and “clear.” His campaign theme? “Take a stand for Texas values.”

Why is the president so hard to distract from his message? Because his beliefs are a matter of heartfelt conviction, not political convenience. He sincerely believes he is in the White House for a greater purpose. At the 2002 National Prayer Breakfast, Bush said, “Faith gives the assurance that our lives and our history have a moral design.”

During the 2000 presidential campaign, a debate moderator asked then-Governor Bush which philosopher had most influenced his life.

Bush answered, unflinchingly, “Christ, because He changed my heart.” The answer, which was met with gasps by many Americans and with glee by many others, dogged Bush for months. Most members of the press doubted his sincerity, believing Bush was simply trolling for evangelical votes.

A few months later in an interview published in the July 24, 2000, Washington Post, Bush told a reporter, “I hope this isn’t another story where you doubt my authenticity. I’m getting a little nervous about writers snooping around my heart.”

The president’s positions are principled. His positions are matters of the heart, not driven by the winds of public opinion or media pressure. He appreciates the biblical truth that there should be a direct correlation between one’s faith and daily life.

“Government can do certain things very well, but it cannot put hope in our hearts or a sense of purpose in our lives. That requires churches and synagogues and mosques and charities,” Bush wrote in his foreword to Marvin Olasky’s “Compassionate Conservatism.” While the president values the role of government in American life, he recognizes its power is limited.

In remarks during the 2003 National Prayer Breakfast, Bush expressed his confidence in the “ways of Providence, even when they are far from our understanding” saying, “Events aren’t moved by blind change and chance. Behind all of life and all of history, there’s a dedication and purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful God.”

Writing in his 2000 book “A Charge to Keep,” Bush says: “I could not be governor if I didn’t believe in a divine plan that supersedes all human plans. Politics is a fickle business. Polls change.

“Yet I build my life on a foundation that will not shift. My faith frees me. Frees me to put the problem of the moment in proper perspective. Frees me to make decisions that others might not like. Frees me to try to do the right thing, even though it may not poll well.”

Some have criticized the president for co-mingling his faith in God and his role as the nation’s chief executive.

Expressions of faith by recent presidents and presidential candidates are no more numerous than they have been throughout U.S. history; they are just more controversial because of a growing divide in American society between the religious and nonreligious.

“God talk” has been around for a long time. However, as the American people become more religious, as studies indicate they are, there is a growing, rabidly secular segment of the population who are not only nonreligious but who get irritated with people who are religious.

Many in the legal, social, cultural and religious elite want to marginalize and trivialize religious faith and make it something that’s purely devotional, purely personal and that does not impact public policy.

Just because you have been elected to a public office does not mean you should practice self-censorship. The president, just like any other elected official, retains the constitutional right and scriptural obligation to express his deeply held beliefs. His faith is part and parcel of who he is.

George W. Bush understands we serve One who is greater than ourselves. Time and time again he has said the prayers of American citizens have sustained him. He has said the greatest gift anyone can give another is to pray for him or her. I pray he will remain faithful to the One who holds this nation in His hands — allowing his faith in Christ to direct his steps, and advocating public policy that helps bring hope to the oppressed, protection for the threatened and strength to the weak.

My prayer, Mr. President, is that you will stay the course.

As Psalm 121:1 states, “I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

    About the Author

  • Richard Land

    Richard Land, D. Phil, is the Executive Editor of the Christian Post, having previously served as president of the ERLC (1988-2013) and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary (2013-2021). He also serves as the chairman of the advisory board at the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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