American Prospect:
Bush is Not a Christian

19 October 2004

W. just says no — to Jesus?

“Like no president in recent memory,” writes Ayelish McGarvey, “George W. Bush wields his Christian righteousness like a flaming sword.” And like no other journalist, McGarvey, one of The Revealer‘s favorite religion writers, does the same. In “As God Is His Witness,” a feature for the normally religion-blind American Prospect, McGarvey summons the Christian fury of an abolitionist preacher and the vision of a clear-eyed reporter to reveal what she suggests ought to be the biggest religion story of the campaign: Bush is not a Christian.

“Judging him on his record, George W. Bush’s spiritual transformation seems to have consisted of little more than staying on the wagon, with Jesus as a sort of talismanic Alcoholics Anonymous counselor,” writes McGarvey, a professing evangelical Christian herself. The evidence of Bush’s therapeutic approach to Jesus lies in his apparent disinterest in sin. Bush’s “steadfast unwillingness to fess up to a single error betrays a strikingly un-Christian lack of attention to the importance of self-criticism, the pervasiveness of sin, and the centrality of humility, repentance, and redemption.”

This is first-rate religion journalism, and I’d say that even if I planned on voting for Bush (disclosure: I’m not voting.) McGarvey explains why better than I can: “Save for a few standout reporters, the press has done a dismal job of covering the president’s very public religiosity. Overwhelmingly lacking personal familiarity with conservative Christianity, political reporters have either avoided the topic or resorted to shopworn clichés and lazy stereotypes. Over and over, news stories align Bush with evangelical theology while loosely dropping terms like fundamentalist to describe his beliefs.

“Once and for all: George W. Bush is neither born again nor evangelical… Unlike millions of evangelicals, Bush did not have a single born-again experience; instead, he slowly came to Christianity over the course of several years….And there is virtually no evidence that Bush places any emphasis on evangelizing — or spreading the gospel — in either his personal or professional life.”

McGarvey does more than excoriate the press for missing Bush’s religion; she takes her fellow evangelicals to task for running interference, and worse. Much worse: If there’s honesty in the evangelical press, McGarvey’s interview with Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a strong Bush backer, should be big news indeed. McGarvey presses him on why Bush is excused from living up to the Christian values she and Haggard share. At first, Haggard chuckles at the naive cub reporter, suggesting that once he’s out of office, Bush will admit his sins. But then Haggard gets — what else to call this — distinctly un-Christian:

Ted Haggard has a secret…

“‘But right now if he said something like that, well, the world would spin out of control!… Listen,’ he said testily, ‘I think [we Christian believers] are responsible not to lie [sic], but I don’t think we’re responsible to say everything we know.'”

As a journalist and as a Christian, McGarvey doesn’t agree. Her article is not so much traditional journalism as sermon, complete with thundering scripture, and for that reason the rest of the secular press will likely respond much like Ted Haggard, with a chuckle and a pat on the head for the feisty cub. So here’s an opportunity for the sectarian press and the blogosphere to help McGarvey do the job no other reporter has been up to, journalistically or theologically. Go to The American Prospect. Blog this story. And write Ted Haggard. Ask him what else it’s ok for Christians to lie to — excuse me, “not tell” — the press about.

–Jeff Sharlet