American Heritage

GeorgeHWBushGeorge H. W. Bush

When George Bush was inaugurated, he declared that his first act in office would be to ‘offer a prayer,’ and he did, repeating the action of Eisenhower. He asked the nation to bow their heads and he uttered a prayer of thanks for peace and “shared faith” asking God to “make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear your will” and to “use power to help people…not to advance our own purposes…[1] At the National Prayer Breakfast he openly declared that he needed “to hear and to heed the voice of Almighty God.”[2]

On his watch, the Berlin Wall fell, but the prospect of peace that the momentous act of that falling wall and the collapse of communism offered was short-lived. Within a matter a months, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and a whole new chapter of American conflict opened unlike any seen before. On the eve of the Gulf War he wrote in his diary a prayer, “God give me strength to do what is right.” That night, Billy Graham spent the night in the White House.[3] The next day, Graham spent time with Bush in prayer, and the President issued a proclamation for a national day of prayer. Six thousand people attended a prayer service at the National Cathedral.[4]

Barbara Bush would confess, “George and I pray every night together, by phone if we are in different cities…we have been doing this ever since we’ve been married.”[5]

Bill_ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson Clinton

Bill Clinton never knew his father – William Blythe, who died in an automobile accident. He would bear the name of his step-father, Roger Clinton, into the Arkansas Governor’s mansion, and the White House. Born in Hope, Arkansas and raised in Hot Springs, he joined the Baptist Church when he was only nine and often walked to church alone with a Bible in hand. Bright and driven, he attended Oxford and Yale, where he met Hillary Rodham. Back home, he was elected as the attorney general of the state, then in two years, to the office of governor – the youngest in the nation.

Clinton is said to love gospel music and the raw, unbridled honesty of Pentecostal worship. He called Pentecostal worship “breathtaking.” As governor, he often visited black churches. As Governor, it is said that he would sit at the end of the piano bench and request hymns to be played and sung, and he sang along. On the day he announced himself as a contender for the office of President, he gathered with friends and they sat around the piano singing the likes of “Amazing Grace.” He once encountered a friend in public and dragged them into a car to listen to the gospel song, “In the Presence of Jehovah.”

Hillary was a Methodist. At Georgetown University, a Catholic University in Washington, D.C., a Jesuit school, Otto Hentz, a philosophy professor took a liking to Clinton. Hentz took Bill Clinton to a local pub for a beer and a burger and suggested that he considered becoming a Jesuit priest. Clinton chuckled. “He was a bright guy, interested in people, and I thought he was a natural,” Hentz recalled. His Christian faith exposure was diverse. As President, he attended church services surprisingly regularly – in Washington or Camp David.

A friend recalled an evening at the Governor’s mansion in Arkansas. Hillary was out of town, and the young Chelsea, got down on her knees by her bed for prayers and asked her father to pray with her. He did. The observer recalled, “I heard the prayer of his heart.” Along his journey, Clinton would read the C. S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity and remember it as one of the most meaningful books he had ever read. A member of Time’s editorial board happened to be in a cab with Bill and Hillary, when they broke into a spontaneous discussion about their faith.[6]

The authenticity and depth of his faith was questioned due to numerous reports about his infidelity. His admission to the relationship with Monica Lewinsky was noted, even by reporters, as arrogant, lacking a tone of contrition. He tried to create a different impression by speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast. “I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned…to be forgiven, more than sorrow is required.” He noted that “genuine repentance, a determination to change and to repair breaches” was necessary, along with, he cited, “what my Bible calls a broken spirit.” He concluded by saying, “I must have God’s help to be the person that I want to be…I ask for your prayers…”[7]

[1] James M. McPherson, Ed. To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents (New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2000), 448.

[2] Jim McGrath, Ed. Heartbeat: George Bush in His Own Words (New York: Scribner, 2001), 20.

[3] Ibid 134.

[4] Nancy Gibbs, “A First Think Shock of War,” Time, (January 28, 1991), 34-37.

[5] King and Katsof, Powerful Prayers, 73.

[6] David Shribman, “Presidents and Prayer,” (The Boston Globe; Globe Staff, December 11, 1994).

[7] Moore, 422-423.

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