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Playing Politics:  GOP Strategists Portray a President Bush who's a Little Less Christian

Following are excerpts from this article:

Bush considers himself in 'mainstream' of American religion

The Baptist Standard
The Newsmagazine of Texas Baptists

Posted: 9/24/04

By Robert Marus
ABP Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- While many of President Bush's opponents and critics alike have pointed to his evangelical Christian faith as his defining characteristic, several intimately acquainted with Bush recently told a gathering of journalists the president considers himself in the mainstream of American religious life.

Speaking to the Religion Newswriters Association annual conference in Washington, experts familiar with Bush's much-talked-about faith said the president does not use it improperly in his work in the White House.

"He's all business in the Oval Office," said Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. "He does not talk about his personal faith with staff -- at least, not with me."

Towey and Houston minister Kirbyjon Caldwell, one of Bush's spiritual confidants, both described Bush's view of his own faith as being squarely in the mainstream of American religious life.

"He does not believe God told him to run (for president) and he certainly does not believe that God told him to drop bombs anywhere -- that's not his theology and not his ethos," said Caldwell, pastor of the nation's largest United Methodist congregation.

"It's not easy, although the temptation is there, to pigeon-hole this guy," said David Aikman, a former Time magazine reporter and now head of an international fellowship of Christian journalists. "He does not like to be called an evangelical. He does not like to use the language 'born again.' This is no-no language in the White House."

Speaking to journalists on a panel discussion about faith in the White House, Aikman said Bush is "very ecumenical" compared to most conservative Protestants, and that he is comfortable with people of all faiths.

Aikman also noted Bush's openness to people of minority faiths, such as Islam and Sikhism.

"He has had prayer sessions with followers of the Sikh religion in the Oval Office," he said. "What's a born-again Christian doing praying with Sikh religionists? I don't know, but the Sikhs were very honored and very happy with that."

"So, although the cliché is this is the president of the Christian Right ... in fact, he's a far more complex and subtle individual in his faith orientation than many people have been led to believe," Aikman concluded.

Shaun Casey, president of Washington's Wesley Theological Seminary, told the journalists that such actions are part of the way Bush was "exploiting religion brilliantly in this campaign."

Towey joked that Bush was not consumed at work by esoteric religious talk or practices. "I haven't walked in the Oval Office and seen him lost in prayer or levitating," he said, to laughter.

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