- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

President Bush yesterday told a national gathering of religious broadcasters in Nashville, Tenn., that white suburban churches have an "obligation" to help their black urban counterparts.
"It has been said that 11 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America," Mr. Bush said. "Suburban churches are often just a short drive away from brothers and sisters who are facing great need and doing God's work.
"There is an opportunity here to end artificial divisions and join together in fellowship and service," he added. "There's also an obligation."
The remarks were the latest in a series of increasingly religious speeches by the president as he moves closer to war with Iraq, which could begin as soon as this month.
The growing emphasis on religious discourse has gone largely unchallenged by Democrats and the press. That is a major change from a few years ago, when Mr. Bush was widely criticized for mentioning Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher in a debate during the presidential campaign.
Although Mr. Bush is a born-again Christian who has been deeply religious for years, the president has been framing the conflict in increasingly religious terms as war with Iraq has looked increasingly imminent in recent days.
"In this hour of our country's history, we stand in the need of prayer," he said Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast. "We pray for wisdom to know and do what is right."
Mr. Bush worked National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice into the prayer program, noting that her father was a minister. He even made a religious reference to CIA Director George J. Tenet and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman both of whom also participated in the breakfast.
"It is fitting that in the midst of tough times that these two leaders are sharing with Scripture and prayer with the country," the president remarked.
The religious references are aimed in part at countering anti-war messages from groups affiliated with organized religions. A coalition of such groups, known as Win Without War, recently produced a TV ad saying war against Iraq "violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ."
The coalition's director, former Democratic Rep. Tom Andrews, had those words uttered by a bishop from the Methodist Church to which Mr. Bush belongs. Win Without War has also produced an ad, echoing the famous 1964 "Daisy" commercial, suggesting that the president's policy in Iraq would lead to nuclear war.
"There are many people in a variety of religions who are going to have different thoughts about how to keep the peace and whether or not to go to war with Saddam Hussein," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said. "The president will respect their thoughts, and he will act as he sees fit as commander in chief to protect the country."
A reporter asked Mr. Fleischer how the president reconciles "his militarism with Jesus' pacifism."
"The decisions that the president makes about war and peace and about whether or not force needs to be used in Iraq are based on the president's judgments as a secular leader about what is necessary to protect this country," Mr. Fleischer said.
"The president is a deeply religious man," he added. "But these are decisions that the president will make based on intelligence reports, based on information that he is aware of on how to protect our country from potential attack."
Yet Mr. Bush has publicly made no distinction between his secular and religious sides. If anything, he presents them as one and the same.
"The comment I hear the most from our fellow citizens, regardless of their political party or philosophy, is: Mr. President, I pray for you and your family," he said at the prayer breakfast. "I turn to them without hesitation and say: It is the greatest gift you can give anybody, is to pray on their behalf.
"I especially feel that because I believe in prayer," he added. "I pray. I pray for strength. I pray for guidance. I pray for forgiveness. And I pray to offer my thanks for a kind and generous almighty God."

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