Friday, January 21, 2005

President Bush mixed images of the Almighty as a just ruler, as a judge, and as a freedom-loving deity in a speech that surpassed his 2001 inaugural address in references to God.

Barely one minute into the 21-minute discourse, he said, “every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of heaven and earth.”

A few minutes later, he addressed dictators with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.”

Four years ago, Mr. Bush, a born-again Methodist, had referred to God in vaguer terms as a “higher power” and “author”; used such words as “democratic faith”; and referred to a saying by Mother Teresa and the parable of the good Samaritan to bolster his doctrine of “compassionate conservatism.”

This time, he called Americans to the kind of character necessary in wartime and according to high standards of greatness and morality set by God.

Last week, in an Oval Office interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, he made it clear that his would continue to be a faith-based presidency. He said he couldn’t see “how you can be president, at least from my perspective … without a relationship with the Lord.”

That quote has become popular among Mr. Bush’s evangelical base. For example, it was displayed on two large screens Wednesday night at a Christian Inaugural Eve Gala at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, according to Newhouse News Service.

Although he steered clear of sectarianism yesterday, the president gave the nod to monotheistic religions in a reference to American character, which, he said, is based “on integrity, and tolerance toward others.”

Not only is such character sustained by families and “communities with standards,” he added, but also “by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people.”

Mr. Bush included a reference to Islam four years ago when he mentioned “church [and] synagogue and mosque” in his first inaugural speech. Yesterday’s ceremonies coincided with Eid al Adha, an important Islamic holiday commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, who Muslims believe was Ishmael.

In the speech, said to have been drafted chiefly by evangelical Episcopalian Michael Gerson, the president’s retiring speech writer, Mr. Bush used biblical themes to plead for common, everyday service on the part of Americans.

“Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love,” he said. “Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another, and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth.”

Americans have known “unity and fellowship” with each other during time of attack, he said, referring to September 11, 2001. “And we can feel that same unity and pride whenever America acts for good, and the victims of disaster are given hope, and the unjust encounter justice, and the captives are set free.”

The latter is a near-direct quote from Isaiah 61:1, in which the Old Testament prophet said the Spirit of God was upon him “to proclaim liberty to the captives.” Jesus later applied those words to himself in Luke 4:18.

However, the president rejected the idea of the United States as a “chosen nation,” a biblical concept that the young country applied to itself more than 200 years ago as it struggled against British tyranny. Like ancient Israel, those early Americans saw themselves as having escaped an oppressor, crossed a large body of water, and established their own Promised Land.

“It is human choices that move events,” the president said. “Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills.”

This was a switch from President Roosevelt’s 1941 inaugural speech on the eve of the United States’ involvement in World War II, in which he said the nation was guided “by the will of God.”

Mr. Bush finished his speech with “May God bless you, and may He watch over the United States of America.”

The Rev. Luis Leon, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, gave the invocation, a change from 2001, when the Rev. Franklin Graham filled in for his famous father, the Rev. Billy Graham, in giving the opening prayer.

Mr. Bush’s spiritual adviser, the Rev. Kirbyjon H. Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, gave the benediction.

“Respecting persons of all faiths,” the clergyman said, “I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Caldwell prayed in the name of Jesus Christ four years ago during the benediction.

The U.S. Marine Band followed up with “God of Our Fathers,” a 19th-century hymn composed by Daniel Roberts.

Mr. Bush swore his oath of office on the family Bible, which his father used during his 1989 inauguration ceremony, ending with “So help me God,” a phrase added by former President George Washington.

Holding the Bible was Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who on Wednesday denied without comment California atheist Michael Newdow’s lawsuit to prevent clergy-led inaugural prayers.

Nearly every other president has included religious flourishes in his inauguration speech. Only Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 speech and Calvin Coolidge’s address in 1925 made no mention of God. All others, including Washington’s 1789 address, at least invoked God in reverent but general terms.

This morning, Mr. Bush and his family will attend an inaugural prayer service at Washington National Cathedral.

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