"I feel like God wants me to run for president. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen and, at that time, my country is going to need me. I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it."
So said then-Governor George W. Bush to a few trusted friends about the 2000 presidential race. As president, Bush has continued to bring his deep religious belief to his job-a fact that has delighted the nation's conservative Christians and distressed many others.
That Bush has appointed likeminded Christians to high posts-including Secretary of State John Ashcroft, who was once quoted as saying that America had "no king but Jesus"-has only fueled the controversy. So have Bush's support and funding of faith-based initiatives. And with his administration swearing to keep the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, a matter which the Supreme Court will take under consideration this fall, many are left wondering: Whatever happened to the separation between church and state?
But Bush's faith is an asset to his presidency and not a weakness, argues Stephen Mansfield in his provocative new book, The Faith of George Bush. In this spiritual biography of the president, Mansfield shows that Bush uses his faith to help him be a better leader (and man and husband and parent) without allowing it to dictate policy decisions. Said his close friend, Commerce Secretary Don Evans: "It gives him a desire to serve others and a very clear sense of what is good and what is evil."
With anecdotes that are both inspiring and eye opening, Mansfield traces the arc of Bush's spiritual (and not-so-spiritual) life from his childhood to the present:
*The religious influences of his parents, George, Sr. and Barbara.
*His academic difficulties at Andover and Yale, which may have been exacerbated by a possible learning disorder such as dyslexia.
*His aimless, decadent lifestyle after Yale, which consisted of driving around Houston in his Triumph, dating beautiful women, drinking, and partying.
*His future wife Laura, who introduced Bush to the Methodist church.
*A little-known meeting between Bush and evangelist Arthur Blessitt in 1984, which Bush has never spoken about publicly, which helped to define his commitment to Jesus and give shape to his previously shapeless, aimless life.
*Bush's famous walk with the Reverend Billy Graham in 1985, which led Barbara Bush to say, "George has been born again."
*How Bush's faith helped him to give up drinking.
*His first forays into politics: running for a Congressional District seat at age 31; working on his father's presidential campaign (where his faith helped him to resist the advances of an attractive young campaign worker and keep his family first and foremost); and winning the Texas gubernatorial race against Ann Richards, a victory which he owed to his beliefs and his outspoken views about religion.
*His appointments of cabinet members, top advisors, judges, and others, many of whom share his commitment to Jesus-and how that circle of faith helps him to help the nation.
The Faith of George Bush is a fascinating look at a man whose spirituality brought moral renovation to his life, set him free from his lesser self, and made him an extraordinary, complicated, and for some, controversial leader.