And now for the final post of this week's lesson:
3. The Bible in Recent American Politics
In the last posting I mentioned the relationship between Ronald Reagan, the Religious Right, and the rise of biblical language in American politics. This mixture, as we will examine, continues with conservative President George W. Bush, but did not skip the
1. DNC Acceptance Speech, 1992: Clinton
2. First Inauguration Speech, 1993: At the end of this speech, Clinton
3. Second Inauguration Speech, 1997: Clinton
1. First Inaugural Speech, 2001: Bush declares that
2. June 24, 2002 The President ends a call for new Palestinian leadership with a quote from Deuteronomy 30:19 ("I have set before you life and death; therefore, choose life."). The quote is meant to urge all parties involved towards peace, but quoting from the Jewish Scriptures alone proves divisive.
3. September 11, 2002: On the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Bush pulls from John 1:1-5:
Be confident. Our country is strong. And our cause is even larger than our country. Ours is the cause of human dignity; freedom guided by conscience and guarded by peace. This ideal of
John 1, of course, calls Jesus—not the American ideal of freedom—the light that is not overcome by darkness.
Up until a few week’s ago, Bush’s chief speech-writer was evangelical Christian Michael Gerson. Though Gerson repudiates explicitly Christian language for political speeches, he argues that ‘there is a responsibility for public officials to maintain a principled pluralism that respects the important role of faith, but does not favor any sectarian creed.’ That being said, Gerson names the Sermon on the Mount as a central influence on his and Bush’s thinking, especially in its portrayal of a just God, and in its populous-oriented rhetorical style. But Gerson is cautious to state that policy cannot be gleaned directly from the Bible, but rather that ‘the Gospel stands in judgment of all human institutions and ideologies. It’s not identical with any one of them.’
Since the rhetorical humiliations of the 2000 elections, Democratic politicians have been eager to utilize the religious language that has won conservatives so much support. Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, and other religious figures have been called in as advisors to help the Democrats learn religious speech that is true to their beliefs (disclosure: I work for Sojourners). Clinton
For Bush’s speeches.
The Believer: George W. Bush’s Loyal Speechwriter
By Jeffrey Goldberg
The New Yorker, 2/13 and 20/2006
Barack Obama’s recent speech.
Stephen B. Chapman, ‘Imperial Exegesis: When Caesar Interprets Scripture’ in Anxious About Empire, edited by Wes Avram (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004).
Analysis of Bush and Gerson’s use of Scripture.