President Bush spoke Tuesday about a "Third Awakening," a term tied to Christian revivalism in the United States.
Meeting with conservative journalists for an hour and a half in the Oval Office, the president portrayed the current war as one between good and evil. He compared it with the Civil War which supporters of President Abraham Lincoln saw as a war between good and evil.
"Cultures do change," Bush said. "Ideological struggles are won, but it takes time. It just takes time. You look back at the '50s, I don't know how evident it was that—I guess there was—when you think about it, there was a pretty stark change in the culture of the '50s and the '60s. I mean, boom. But I think something is happening here."
He said, "I'm not giving you a definitive statement—it seems like to me there's a Third Awakening with a cultural change."
The president illustrated the change he saw: "I don't have people coming in the rope line saying, 'I'd like a new bridge, or how about some more highway money.' They're coming to say, 'I'm coming to tell you, Mr. President, I'm praying for you.' It's pretty remarkable."
A White House aide said Bush was "drawing a parallel in terms of a resurgence, in dangerous times, of people going back to their religion," according to the Washington Post. Aides said Bush did not see the war as a religious war.
Nevertheless, his core supporters within American fundamentalism do see the war as a Christian one against an evil religion. The president surely knows that, as he certainly knows how to use religion to rally political support. He confidently knows that when news about his seeing a new great awakening seeps into the fundamentalist media world that conservative Christians will be abuzz with wonderment about his faith and be energized to support his party.
What would be fascinating to know is where he got the language about a Third Great Awakening and what he really knows about the First Great Awakening (1730-1760) and the Second Great Awakening (1800-1830).
What he needs to know, as he uses this code language, is that awakening talk gives him no credibility among evangelicals with memory and integrity.
Discerning Christian leaders know that fundamentalists and others have been prophesying a great awakening for years with failure accompanying each prediction.
Preachers saw 9/11 as sparking a great spiritual awakening in a time of crisis. Church attendance increased briefly before returning to pre-9/11 levels. Trusted evangelical pollster George Barna found that 9/11 had no lasting impact on American faith.
Baptists and others touted Mel Gibson's movie, "The "Passion of the Christ," as "perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years." Churches rented movie theaters for congregation and community-wide viewing. A Southern Baptist Convention leader saw the movie as a "mighty witnessing tool" to reach America.
Yet a Barna Research survey found that only 6 percent of American adults said the movie had led them to change what they believed about Christian faith, only one-half of 1 percent of viewers accepted Christ as a result of seeing the movie and only 3 percent became more involved in church-related activities.
The Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose Driven Life and the Left Behind book series and movies have been forecasted as generators of revival—with no apparent success.
Bush's claim of seeing a great awakening underway puts him in a camp of discredited prophets. His use of religious code words is cynical. Both diminish his moral credibility.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.