The jig is up. University of Chicago's Bruce Lincoln, a professor of the history of religion, has cracked the code by which George Bush has been secretly speaking to evangelicals, and reveals all in a Boston Globe op-ed column. Few people know that this is why Bush's sentences are frequently fracturedthis code is awfully nuanced, and frequently gets in the way of his speaking to others. But Lincoln has uncovered the truth, breaking down the president's acceptance speech:
As president, Bush has always been outspoken about his faith, letting evangelicals know he shares their values and vision for America. But he has also been careful. Aware that he must appeal to the center to secure reelection, he employs double-coded signals that veil much of his religious message from outsiders. Biblical references, allusions to hymns, and specialized vocabulary are keys to this communication.
Biblical references were firmly planted at the beginning and end of the speech. Early on, Bush spoke of "hills to climb" and seeing "the valley below," an allusion to Israel's escape from slavery and Moses' vision of the Promised Land, as described in Deuteronomy 34. Given the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous use of the same passage ("I've been to the mountaintop"), Bush thus associated himself with both King and Moses, characterizing his presidency not just as a struggle for freedom, but a religious mission with risks of martyrdom.
In his closing paragraph, Bush quoted Ecclesiastes 3, "To everything there is a season." . Twelve times Bush used the phrase "I believe." Repetition hammered home the crucial point: Bush is a man who believes.
Sadly, we'll no longer be able to secretly nod and wink to each other as Bush talks of "hills to climb" and declares his beliefs using the phrase "I believe." But don't worry, fellow conspirators, Lincoln has missed most of the code words in Bush's acceptance speech. Here's a handy guide in case you lost your secret decoder ring:
"I am honored by your support and I accept your nomination" The phrase "I am" is the name of God. By phrasing his acceptance this way, he's saying that he's part of Godor part of the Body of Christ.
"In the heart of this great city " City imagery is often used for Heaven. Here Bush is equating New York Cityand the convention headquarters in specific, as the Heavenly Kingdom.
"We have seen Americans in uniform liberating millions." Of course, he's supporting liberation theology, which we all hold so near and dear.
"I have counted on Dick Cheney's calm and steady judgment in difficult days, and I am honored to have him at my side." Here Bush is comparing himself to Jesus and saying that Cheney will sit at his right hand. Again, it's all part of that "part of the body of Christ" thing.
"A presidential election is a contest for the future." Use of the word future is meant to remind us of Bush's steadfast belief in premillennial dispensationalism as specifically fleshed out in the Left Behind series.
"Tonight I will tell you where I stand, what I believe, and where I will lead this country in the next four years." This is almost verbatim from the mouth of Martin Luther.
From there, you'll remember, Bush laid out his agenda. But none of us evangelicals cared. We just sat back and smiled, winking and nodding to each other. Message received.
Ted Olsen is online managing editor of Christianity Today, and writes the magazine's daily Weblog.
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