Not only have presidents regularly addressed the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, those speeches are sometimes important to presidential agendas. It was at the 1983 convention, for example, that President Reagan gave his famous "Evil Empire" speech. (One major exception was the NRB's refusal to invite President Clinton to address the convention.)
Most of these speeches are political in nature, as one would expect from the President of the United States, but President Bush's address yesterday was deeply religious in tone. Much of his speech touched on ecclesiological matters that have little to do with public policy. "Christian media outlets like yours reach 141 million people every year. That's a huge audience, and it's a responsibility that I know you take seriously," he said (audio | video | photos).
This nation has got a lot of wealthy and caring congregations, and we've got a lot of churches in low-income areas that need help, too. Your voices reach them all; you can communicate with them, rich and poor, alike; suburban church and urban church, alike. And you can help bring them together to serve those who hurt, so we can achieve a more just and generous society.
It's been said that 11:00 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America. We all have a responsibility to break down the barriers that divide us. In Scripture, God commands us to reach out to those who are different, to reconcile with each other, to lay down our lives in service to others. And he promises that the fruits of faith and fellowship, service and reconciliation will far surpass the struggles we go through to achieve them.
Suburban churches are often just a short drive away from brothers and sisters who are facing great need, and doing God's work. There's an opportunity here to end artificial divisions and join together in fellowship and service. There's also an obligation. The poor and suffering are the responsibility of the whole church, even when they're not members of any church.
Of course, President Bush also had much to say on the standoff with Iraq and his faith-based initiative. Before the speech, he met with local faith-based organization leaders to promote the initiative and his opening up of federal grants to more religious groups.
"We don't want to lose our tax-exempt status because we preach Christ, but we don't want to stop what we're doing that works," one of the attendees told The Tennessean.
The NRB welcomed Bush as "our friend and brother in Christ" and someone who "unapologetically proclaims his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," The Washington Post reports. In his introduction, NRB chairman and CEO Glenn Plummer quoted Proverbs 29:2: "When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan." "Mr. President," he said, "As you can see, we are rejoicing."
Bush's speech "again displayed the prominent role that his faith plays in his thinking," said The New York Times, which added that his speech "allowed him to court voters in Tennessee … to display an interest in dealing with poverty, addiction and other social issues as Democrats step up their criticism of him as primarily concerned with cutting taxes for the wealthy … [and] showed him to be advocating racial healing at a time when Republicans remain concerned about a backlash from Senator Trent Lott's comments."
Other reports don't put the speech in quite so many political (or cynical) terms. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, for example, sees the speech as an example of how Bush sees his politics as religious, not how he's using his religion for political means.
"Bush, in a strikingly religious address even for a president long comfortable with such speech, cast the full range of his agenda—foreign, domestic and economic—in spiritual terms," Milbank writes. "Today's speech brought the most thorough linkage yet between Bush's worldly policies and Christian faith—including a pronouncement that an American attack on Iraq would be 'in the highest moral traditions of our country.'"
The linkage was shared by many listeners, Milbank found. "As Christians, we're commanded to be of strong courage," said Pennsylvania broadcaster J. Mark Horst. "He's taking what he reads in the Word and saying, 'This is what I believe, and I'm going to go for it.'"
"Mr. Bush has publicly made no distinction between his secular and religious sides. If anything, he presents them as one and the same." The Washington Times's Bill Sammon writes. "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." Sammon sees Bush's increasingly religious speech as "aimed in part at countering anti-war messages from groups affiliated with organized religions."
More on National Religious Broadcasters:
- President Bush addressing religious broadcasters | NRB chief calls Islam a 'pagan religion' (Associated Press)
- A chat with the NRB head | Last month, Glenn Plummer visited Jamaica (Jamaica Gleaner)
War in Iraq:
- Archbishop says war in Iraq unjustifiable | Archbishop Jukka Paarma of the Finnish Evangelical Church says a "pre-emptive" strike on Iraq can in no way be considered as a justified war (YLE, Finland)
- War, peace collide in sermons | Many churches oppose Iraq action, and ministers say so (The Christian Science Monitor)
- Iraq's Aziz to pray for peace at St Francis tomb | Aziz is due to meet Pope John Paul at the Vatican on Friday (Reuters)
- Morality of Iraq war debated | Issue still divides Christian leaders (The Times-Picayune, New Orleans)
- Religious groups in area mixed on Iraq war | War debate in Gainesville hints at the theological struggle some are going through (Gainesville Sun)
- Church of the Peaceniks | Religious leaders who oppose the Iraq war (Rod Dreher, National Review Online)
Politics and law:
- A president puts his faith in providence | Over the last two weeks, President George W. Bush has delivered several speeches laced with references to his religious beliefs (The New York Times)
- Also: Bush turns increasingly to language of religion | While pleasant to right, expression of faith could alienate many, critics say (The Baltimore Sun)
- In Europe, one continent under God. or not | After a week of deliberations, the jury is still out on whether the European Union will include a reference to God in its constitution (The New York Times)
- Also: Onward, Christian citizens | Europe's constitution should recognize and embrace the values that underpin a fair society (Will Hutton, The Observer, London)
- A false choice | With his latest faith-based initiative, President Bush has shrewdly fine-tuned his tactics (Editorial, The Washington Post)
- Faith-based charity plan has doubters | President Bush's announcement of two new initiatives to promote faith-based charities, which he reiterated during his State of the Union address, has some people wondering whether his plan will lead to more government aid for people who need it or will simply bring more groups to an already picked-over table (The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)
- Area sees hope in Bush's faith plan | The plan could provide Kansas with money to treat nonviolent drug offenders (The Wichita Eagle)
Monk dies during monastery stand off:
- Monk in rebelling Greek order dies in accident | A monk who was a member of a conservative order that had been told to leave Mount Athos died late Saturday after he drove a tractor off a cliff (The New York Times)
- Greek hermit rebel monk killed | Accidentally drove his tractor off a cliff in an attempt to dodge police who have barricaded the rebel monastery (Associated Press)
- Greek monks guard faith and sacred ground | The ultra-conservative Esfigmenou monastery has become the unlikely setting of a holy war, or at least an extremely nasty spiritual spat over who says prayers, and which ones (The New York Times)
Space shuttle tragedy:
- Church establishes link between faith and space | Congregation that lost two members aboard Columbia reflects close ties between scientific exploration and religious devotion (Los Angeles Times)
- Columbia crew united in faith | Astronauts described their experience in space in spiritual terms (The Washington Post)
Missions and ministry:
- New purchase has ministry flying high | Arctic Barnabas Ministries ministers to ministers prone to burnout in the Alaska Bush (Peninsula Clarion, Kenai, Alaska)
- Inmates seem to respond to faith-based program | Those who took part less likely to commit new crimes, report says (Associated Press)
- Fellowship finds peace on the waves | Church ministry members gather to count their blessings on beach (The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.)
- Most new Lutheran clergy are women | Women also increase share among other traditional male professions (Helsingin Sanomat, Helsinki, Finland)
- Pulpit & Pew Report: Clergy pay causing problems for churches | Low and unequal wages paid to clergy threaten to turn their "calling" into a job—and to turn away seminary students (Duke University press release)
- The faithless faith worker | Must I disclose my doubts to my congregation, knowing it would cost me my job? (The New York Times Magazine)
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