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Bush describes presidency as cultural ‘change agent’

 


 

June 2, 2004              

 

By Adelle M. Banks

Religion News Service

 

WASHINGTON — President Bush described himself as a cultural change agent in a group interview with editors and writers of conservative Christian publications.

“... The job of a president is to help cultures change,” Bush told the nine writers and executives, according to an edited transcript posted May 28 on ChristianityToday.com. “Governments cannot change culture alone. I want you to know I understand that. But I can be a voice of cultural change.”

The discussion, held May 28 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, was wide-ranging, with Bush addressing domestic and foreign policy, his personal prayer life and his defense of a “culture of life” and traditional marriage.

   

Bush said he doesn’t want to be confused with a preacher, so he instead works to “let the light shine” as a secular politician.

   

“... One of the prayers I ask is that God’s light shines through me as best as possible, no matter how opaque the window,” said Bush, a United Methodist.

The president said more than once that Americans have the right to worship how they wish or not at all.

“My job is to make sure that, as president, people understand that in this country you can worship any way you choose,” he said. “You can be a patriot if you don’t believe in the Almighty.”

   

He said he views Israel “a little differently” than conservative Christian leaders such as religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.  “I view Israel as a friend and ally in democracy who is in a rough neighborhood and ... we will stand side by side with Israel if anybody tries to annihilate her,” he said.

  

“I see ... development of a Palestinian state as a major change agent — along with a free Iraq — in the part of the world that desperately needs free societies, out of which will come the ability for people to worship as they see fit, ... the ability for people to realize their hopes.”

One questioner asked the president to respond to a concern that his interview on Arab television following the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal might have been “a mistake for appearing to be apologizing in a way that reinforces pan-Arabism.”

   

Bush said he expressed his regret for the humiliation of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers. He also said, “I never apologized to the Arab world.”

Asked if he saw evil in the way some people practice Islam, the president responded: “I think what we’re dealing with are people — extreme, radical people — who’ve got a deep desire to spread an ideology that is anti-women, anti-free thought, anti-art and science, you know, that couch their language in religious terms. But that doesn’t make them religious people.”

   

On the domestic scene, he considers his work on faith-based initiatives to be one of his most important efforts and thinks a change in the definition of marriage “will weaken civilization.”

Among the interviewers were Christianity Today senior news writer Sheryl Henderson Blunt; Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine; and Stephen Strang, founder of Strang Communications. Two of the people in the session have acted as Bush advisers, and he took time to credit them.

   

“Father Richard helped me craft what is still the integral part of my position on abortion, which is: Every child welcomed to life and protected by law,” Bush said of the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things. “That is the goal of this administration.”

   

Also present was Connecting World magazine editor in chief Marvin Olasky, with the faith-based initiative the president first promoted in Texas. Bush called him “the intellectual inspiration for that, unless you want to call me that, which would be somewhat of a stretch.”

  

Prayer, Bush told his interviewers, is a constant in his life.

  

“I pray all the time. All the time,” he said. “You don’t need a chapel to pray, I don’t think. Whether it be in the Oval Office, I mean, you just do it. That’s just me.”

 

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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