MAXWELL: No faith-based attacks on Bush allowed 

3/31/2004 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

As I studied and learned, Scripture took on greater meaning, and I gained confidence and understanding in my faith.

_ George W. Bush

The Bush administration is feeling threatened.

You can tell because, one, it stonewalled far too long in permitting national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify under oath before the independent 9/11 commission. This act alone shows an already secretive, stubborn Bush White House verging on utter intransigence.

You can tell the White House feels threatened also because it responded in a childish manner to a matter of religion _ the purported essence of this president’s character and leadership. Last Sunday, John Kerry, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, worshiped at a black church in St. Louis and used a Bible verse to describe President Bush’s leadership as one that has “faith but has no deeds.”

Specifically, Kerry summed up Bush by citing James 2:14: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”

Permit me to digress. Obviously, given the pedestrian tone of the verse, Kerry did not quote from the King James Version, my favorite. Being a Bible buff, I went to the King James and found that, sure enough, Kerry had missed the poetic beauty and, therefore, the verse’s damning judgment: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?”

Now, back to the main point. Bush’s attack dog Steve Schmidt pounced on Kerry, intoning that the Massachusetts senator’s indictment “was beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse and a sad exploitation of Scripture for a political attack.” Did Schmidt forget that he speaks for one of the most “faith-based” administrations ever? If Bush can be legitimately attacked on any front, it is that of “faith.” In other words, the president’s own public declarations of faith as the source of his leadership and designs on the world are fair game for political scrutiny and attack.

Did Schmidt also forget that Bush’s frequent claims of being a “religious” person were a major part of his appeal to conservative voters last time around? I, like millions of other voters, was listening to that debate with Al Gore when Bush was asked, “Which philosopher do you admire most?” to which he responded, “Jesus Christ.”

Religion and faith have been staples of what New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller describes as the “Bush dyslexicon” since Bush, then a mere Texas oilman, gave up carousing and became a born-again Christian during the early 1980s.

In A Charge to Keep, the 1999 book that Bush wrote with the help of Karen Hughes, faith pops up everywhere. Three excerpts:

+ “My faith gives me focus and perspective. It teaches humility. But I also recognize that faith can be misinterpreted in the political process. Faith is an important part of my life. I believe it is important so I live my faith, not flaunt it.”

+ “Faith changes lives. I know, because faith has changed mine. I could not be governor if I did not believe in a divine plan that supersedes all human plans.”

+ “My faith frees me. Frees me to put the problem of the moment in proper perspective. Frees me to make decisions that others might not like. Frees me to try to do the right thing, even though it may not poll well.”

In light of the president’s acknowledgements of faith, Kerry’s challenge was simple and fair: Is the president’s so-called faith backed up by concrete and specific deeds? Kerry obviously thinks not.

The Bush team was hypocritically mum in February when 700 Club broadcaster Pat Roberston _ clearly relying on faith _ said of the 2004 presidential race: “I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I’m hearing from the Lord it’s going to be like a blowout election in 2004. It’s shaping up that way. The Lord has just blessed him. I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn’t make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he’s a man of prayer and God’s blessing him.”

The Rev. Barry Lynn, a Robertson nemesis and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, dismissed the good reverend’s prediction as so much religious hooey: “Pat Robertson in 2004 will continue to use his multimillion broadcasting empire to promote George Bush and other Republican candidates. . . . Maybe Pat got a message from Karl Rove and thought it was from God.”

Kerry could have hit the president’s faith further by concluding his talk with James 2:17: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”