The always reliable New York Times in full election mode raises questions about President Bush's choice of church on the one hand and public policies on the other:
n Sundays when President Bush goes to church in Washington, he chooses the 8 a.m. service at St. John's Episcopal Church Lafayette Square. A short stroll from the White House, St. John's has been the parish for many presidents, but it is still a surprising choice for Mr. Bush.
A president who has been typecast as the champion of Christian conservatives, who has proposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, finds fellowship in a church where the priest and many congregants openly support the blessing of same-sex unions.
When it comes to understanding the president's religious convictions and the role they have played in his presidency, there appears to be a disconnect between Mr. Bush's personal beliefs and his public policy.
The article does raise legitimate questions on the issue. Where does he stand?
Besides worshiping in an Episcopal church that welcomes gay couples (and in Texas, in a Methodist church where many congregants support abortion rights), Mr. Bush has prayed with Jews and Sikhs and volunteered that Muslims worship the same God as Christians - a comment that stunned evangelicals. Mr. Bush uses evangelical terms to convey his devotion to God and to prayer, but he is not the Bible-thumping fundamentalist that some of his opponents have made him out to be.
When it comes to policy, however, his opponents and supporters agree that he has done more than any president in recent history to advance the agenda of Christian social conservatives. On domestic issues, he has opposed same-sex marriage, favored restrictions on abortion and imposed limits on embryonic stem cell research. He has promoted vouchers for religious schools and shifted money for sex education and reproductive health programs to those that instead promote abstinence.
Without a doubt there is political posturing involved. (Does anyone think John Kerry worships at black churches regularly?) I also suspect that there is probably something of a disconnect between the people Bush feels comfortable with socially (high born Episcopalians) and agrees with socially and politically (middle class evangelicals). Keep in mind the Bushes are old line New England Episcopalians. That's where Bush would feel at home. This tells us a lot about where he's coming from:
Mr. Bush was born an Episcopalian, attended a Presbyterian church as a youngster and joined a Methodist church when he married - a denomination-hopping that is common among many Americans.
Evangelicals claim Mr. Bush is one of their own, but he has intentionally been vague about whether he actually shares their beliefs. In his last presidential run, Mr. Bush granted a brief telephone interview with this reporter on his faith. Asked whether he regarded the Bible as the literal and inerrant word of God, Mr. Bush said: "From Scripture you can gain a lot of strength and solace and learn life's lessons. That's what I believe, and I don't necessarily believe every single word is literally true."
Of course, John Kerry openly contradicts the Roman Catholic Church and its stands on such issues as abortion. Of the two, I actually do think that Bush's faith does inform his actions, whether I might agree with all of those actions or not