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Bush, other speakers give convention a Methodist presence

8/4/2000 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By United Methodist News Service

From the opening invocation to George W. Bush's acceptance speech as presidential nominee, United Methodists shared center stage during the climactic final night of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Texas Gov. Bush emphasized the importance of his faith several times during his acceptance speech Aug. 3. His candidacy marks the first time since Democrat George McGovern ran in 1972 that a United Methodist has been nominated for the presidency by one of the major political parties. Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, is also a United Methodist.

"I believe in tolerance, not in spite of my faith, but because of it," Bush said during his speech. "I believe in a God who calls us not to judge our neighbors, but to love them. I believe in grace because I have seen it, in peace because I have felt it, in forgiveness because I needed it."

The fourth and final evening of the Republican convention began with an invocation by the Rev. Mark Craig, pastor of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. Bush and his family have their membership at Highland Park, and attend Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin, the state capital.

A few hours later, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell took the podium. Caldwell, a friend of Bush's, is pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, one of the fastest-growing congregations in the denomination. The pastor's remarks preceded a video on Bush, which ended as the nominee himself strode onto the stage.

As Bush laid out his vision, he mentioned the role that religious organizations must play in bettering society. "Synagogues, churches and mosques are responsible not only to worship but to serve," he said at one point.

He described the areas of responsibility that individuals, corporations and leaders have, and said that the "president himself must be responsible. And so, when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land, I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God." The statement was one of many in which Bush underscored the importance of character, which Republicans are emphasizing in their attacks on the Clinton-Gore administration.

At another point, Bush said that Americans must tear down the wall that separates wealth, technology, education and ambition from poverty and prison, addiction and despair. "Big government is not the answer. But the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference."

Conservative values and ideas must be placed "into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity," he said. "This is what I mean by compassionate conservatism. And it is on this ground that we will govern our nation."

He wants to give low-income Americans tax credits so they can buy health insurance, help low-income families acquire homes of their own, and "support the heroic work of homeless shelters and hospices, food pantries and crisis pregnancy centers."

He cited Mary Jo Copeland of Minneapolis, whose Sharing and Caring Hands ministry serves meals to the needy. Copeland provides new socks and shoes to the homeless. Then she tells them to look after their feet, saying, "They must carry you a long way in this world, and then all the way to God."

"Government cannot do this work," Bush told the convention. "It can feed the body, but it cannot reach the soul. Yet government can take the side of these groups, helping the helper, encouraging the inspired."

Bush hit on issues that would have resonated with United Methodists at last May's meeting of General Conference, the church's top legislative body. He voiced support for education and enforcement of gun control laws, and said the nation's racial progress has been steady but too slow. He condemned the practice of late-term abortions - a procedure that General Conference also rejected in one of its resolutions. "When Congress sends me a bill against partial-birth abortions, I will sign it into law," he vowed.

Bush's speech, slowed by countless bursts of applause, lasted more than 50 minutes.

Preparing the crowd for Bush, Caldwell began his remarks by describing himself as an independent. "Frankly, I'm more interested in content than labels." He said he was addressing the convention because "I believe in the effective and visionary leadership of Gov. George W. Bush."

He praised Bush's leadership as governor, noting that government, business and faith-based groups are working together to transform communities in Texas; "schools are safer" and children's reading and math skills have improved; and minority- and women-owned companies are getting more of the state's business. "And over half of Gov. Bush's highly qualified appointees are minorities and women," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, that's not rhetoric, that's results."

Bush's leadership would "help bring an end to the partisan foolishness infecting our nation's capital," he said.

"As president, the governor's plan will help insure that this God-given rising economic tide will lift more boats and repair the leaking boats as well," Caldwell said. "The governor's plan for America will ignite a social and economic revival among the working poor of America. Let the revival begin."

Texas first lady Laura Bush, a teacher and lifelong United Methodist, spoke on the convention's opening night, July 31. If her husband is elected president in November, she would succeed another United Methodist - Hillary Rodham Clinton - as first lady in the White House. President Clinton, who attends a United Methodist Church in Washington, is a Southern Baptist, as is Vice President Al Gore.

While United Methodists clearly had a presence during the convention, other faith traditions were also represented. During the four days, delegates heard speeches and prayers from clergy members representing the Jewish, Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Protestant traditions.

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