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PBS program on Bush’s faith ‘respectful,’ interviewee says

WASHINGTON (BP)–For at least one evangelical Christian, the portrayal of President Bush’s Christian faith on the April 29 telecast of “Frontline” is about as good as it gets in the news media.

“I thought it was a very respectful treatment of the president’s faith,” said Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals who was among the interviewees.

“Without trying to sound too laudatory, it’s hard to imagine anyone else putting that much commitment into a program about the president’s religious beliefs,” Cizik said. “Let’s face it, most secular media aren’t interested in religion.”

Frontline analyzed Bush’s beliefs in an hour-long program on the Public Broadcasting System titled, “The Jesus Factor.” Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land also was interviewed, as were two Bush critics from the mainline religious community, Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, and C. Welton Gaddy of The Interfaith Alliance.

The depiction of the president’s evangelical faith was beneficial, the SBC’s Robert E. Reccord said.

“Those of us who have had the privilege of sitting with our president and hearing him speak openly of his faith were greatly encouraged to have that story shared so effectively with a wider audience,” said Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board. “George Bush’s life has been genuinely transformed by Jesus Christ, and he is not ashamed to say it. At this point in history, Christians cannot afford to take for granted that we have a president who so vividly lives out his deepest faith convictions.”

The discussion of Bush’s public comments about God and religion also was important, Cizik said.

The president “is not theologian-in-chief,” Cizik said. “What he has been described as [by Roman Catholic scholar Michael Novak] is the ‘high priest of the symbols and liturgies of our nation’s self-understanding.’ I agree with Novak.

“The president, by virtue of being the president, through his utterances helps to define our nation’s self-understanding. The president is [on target] in his public statements with respect to God and religious belief.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, in a statement on The Jesus Factor described it as “an interesting revelation concerning the worldview held by so many in the media as much as the subject matter, which was American evangelicalism and George Bush’s faith.”

“I thought that it was basically fair on journalistic standards, basically objective,” Mohler said. “I think the big issue here is the fact that so many Americans on the cultural left find George Bush’s faith to be something they just cannot understand when, in reality, American evangelicals talk this language, understand what President Bush is talking about, and see this as the very essence of Christianity. The idea that Christianity is to make an impact in every dimension of our lives is central to what it means to be an evangelical Christian. The very thought that Christianity could mean something less is foreign to our mentality, and yet it is evidently as foreign to many in the media elite as if we were speaking a foreign language.”

Lawrence Smith, vice president for communications at the seminary and a former TV newsman, said, “Journalistically, the Frontline documentary was a good piece of work. It was balanced and did not have the skeptical tone that such reports often adopt. It was a fascinating examination of how President Bush’s faith has shaped his worldview and his politics. My only criticism is that the program may have left the impression that evangelicals are little more than an odd special interest group out there on the margins of society.”
Marty King & Art Toalston contributed to this article.