In a second inaugural speech emphasizing liberty around the world, President George W. Bush included several references to religious faith.
Throughout his first term, Bush drew both criticism and praise for his frequent use of religious language. In a debate prior to his first election he named Jesus Christ as his favorite political philosopher. As recently as last week he told the Washington Times, “I don’t see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord.”
Scholars say Bush has successfully used faith language to advance his political goals, including his faith-based initiative and rallying evangelical Christians to support his re-election. Critics say the president should be more mindful of the separation of church and state.
“From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth,” he said in his Thursday address.
Bush later quoted Abraham Lincoln in a message directed to “the rulers of outlaw regimes.”
“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it,” he said.
Bush said self-government relies on “the governing of self,” which in turn relies on character built and sustained by “the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran and the varied faiths of our people.”
He referred to ideals of justice and conduct “that are the same yesterday, today and forever,” an unstated allusion to Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
In another veiled reference likely to resonate with Christians but be missed by those unfamiliar with the Bible, Bush referenced American pride when “the victims of disaster are given hope, and the unjust encounter justice, and the captives are set free.”
The phrase echoes Jesus’ words in the Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed.”
It’s a method Bush has used before. In his 2003 State of the Union address, he remarked, “There’s power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.”
Evangelical insiders recognized the language from a hymn named “Power in the Blood.”
On Thursday Bush said America can move forward with confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom, “not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills.”
“History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty,” he continued.
“May God bless you, and may He watch over the United States of America,” the president concluded his speech.
Two pastors prayed at the ceremonies, after California atheist Michael Newdow, whose challenge to the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was dismissed on a technicality last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, failed in his attempt to stop the inaugural prayers.
One of the pastors, Kirbyjon Caldwell of Houston, drew fire at Bush’s first inauguration for praying “in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ.” Chastened by critics who said his first prayer excluded non-Christians, he moderated his prayer this time, closing with “respecting persons of all faith … in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.