Skip to comments.Avid faith may hamper presidential decisionmaking
Posted on 02/16/2003 5:28:44 PM PST by Utah Girl
"There is only one reason I am in the Oval Office and not in a bar," President Bush once reportedly said. "I found faith. I found God. I'm here because of the power of prayer." Prior to his conversion, Bush enjoyed beer and parties, had brushes with the law, and was a chronic underachiever. As president, he cites Jesus as the "political philosopher" who most influences him. He says he consults the Bible for political advice.
We now learn from "The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush," a new book by ex-speechwriter and conservative thinker David Frum, that White House advisers attend Bible study groups not because they are required to but because they are expected to. According to Frum, Evangelicalism has made some policymakers "the gentlest souls, the most patient, the least argumentative."
Following Bill Clinton's failure in character, some Americans may find assurance in a president who turns to the Bible to become a better person. Indeed, Bush laces his most newsworthy speeches with biblical references. He identifies America with the forces of good as he battles "the axis of Evil." Most recently, the loss of the Columbia shuttle inspired a quote from the prophet Isaiah.
Whatever faith's actual influence on policymaking may be, however, it offers no guarantee for effective decisions. Indeed, history suggests that strict religious doctrine can lead to black-and-white reasoning, especially during war.
A devout Presbyterian, Woodrow Wilson believed God ordained him to be president. "God save us from compromise," he once noted. "He who is not with me is against me." He defined America's entrance into the Great War as a moral crusade from which good must arise.
During the Senate debate over America's joining the League of Nations, Wilson emerged a tragic figure, preferring defeat over modestly accommodating his political opponents. One does not compromise with God. Likewise, Herbert Hoover's Quaker faith in community volunteerism proved wholly inadequate in treating the catastrophic problems of the Great Depression.
The faith upon which our most admired presidents drew strength was usually more ambiguous than Bush's and balanced with a rich humanity. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt both knew the Scriptures and saw history as the working out of God's will. Neither were avid church goers.
For both men, faith was a private, personal matter that rejected dogma. Eleanor Roosevelt once asked her husband if he was convinced of the truth of Christian doctrine. "I never really thought much about it," he said. "I think it is just as well not to think about things like that too much."
For Lincoln, humor, usually at his own expense, comforted him most. One of his favorite stories involved a conversation between two women. "I think that Jefferson Davis will succeed," one said. "Why does thee think so?" asked the second. "Because Jefferson is a praying man," replied the first. "And so is Abraham a praying man," the second responded. "Yes," lamented the first, "but the Lord will think Abraham is joking."
God, even one as ironic as Lincoln's, has long occupied the White House. But presidential Bible study is new and potentially risky. Less "spiritual" advisers could become marginalized, their input lost in a moralistic haze. Frum writes that he felt alienated upon hearing a colleague being gently reproached for missing Bible study.
Issues run the risk of becoming simplified as good or evil. A missionary zeal can create a belief system resistant to outside facts and information. However noble the gentle, non-combative temperament of Evangelicals may be, decisionmaking sometimes requires passionate disagreement.
Lyndon Johnson's un-Christian-like deviousness helped persuade legislators to pass the most important civil rights bills since Reconstruction. This was the same president who drove reporters around his Texas ranch, holding a beer in one hand while using his Stetson to cover the speedometer.
Everyone wants to feel uncomplicated resolve. But sociological studies on the nature of professional conduct in organizational settings suggest that leaders who rely on religious templates when making decisions are less likely to make good decisions than those who consult experienced authority.
As many presidents can attest, even experts can be wrong. But the Bible would have offered President John F. Kennedy little practical guidance in removing Soviet missiles from Cuba. Instead, he turned to Barbara Tuchman's book "The Guns of August," mindful of avoiding the blundering misjudgments that sparked World War I.
In weighing the momentous options over Iraq, the best question asked might not be what would Jesus do, but what might our best presidents have advised? God will hopefully serve Bush well. But he might leave room for humility, the lessons of history and his often heralded instincts, street-smarts and common sense.
I'd rather that Bush serve God well. Leave it to the media dunces to characterize God as a cosmic bellhop to the President.
I highlighted the same sentence. I believe he does serve the Lord well, and am comforted knowing that he does look to Him for guidance and wisdom. The thought of my president on his knees every morning before the God of the Universe is awesome.
Our job is to continue praying for him daily. I'm SO thankful he is our President at this time in history.
The writer seems to suggest that evangelicals are the namby-pamby sort, who could react to a changing world if only they weren't paralyzed by their rigid, dogmatic, belief system.
The Bible is a profound source of wisdom that is timeless and adaptable to any circumstance---including the current crisis.
It is the secular left that is paralyzed to the point of inaction.
What a line of crap....remember...it was the REPUBLICAN'S who got the CIVIL RIGHTS BILL passed.....not a "devious" President lacking Christian morals...the Republicans had the MORALS to do what was right....the rest of them were morally bankrupt. (And many still are.)
Please pardon my French.........gag.........cough.........sputter.........
I suppose this means that the writer does not consider God an experienced authority?!?
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