Charisma: How would you describe the change that occurred in your life as a result of your conversion experience?
Bush: A Bible verse that is important to me is the one that says I shouldn't try to take a speck out of someone else's eye if I have a log in my own. I like that verse because it reminds me that we're all sinners. When you admit you're a sinner, it is recognition that there is a need. And that need, for me, was met through Christ.
You can be a sinner and live under a bridge. Or you can be a sinner and be the governor of Texas. To me it is an understanding that the human condition requires a power greater than self. In 1986 I came to that realization. I had been raised a Christian, but my faith was reconfirmed in a much more powerful, personal way--because I sought, and I found.
Regarding my encounter with Billy Graham: He was a messenger. I can't really think of the words he said, but I know he lit a spark inside me that kindled into a flame over time. Billy Graham planted a seed, and then I went back to Midland [Texas] and got involved in Community Bible Study--which is a very active national program. That's when I began to read the Bible every day. Now I seek God's guidance. But of course, as a politician, I am mindful of the fact that my faith doesn't make me better than anyone else.
How has my faith manifested itself? I am more mindful of the needs of others. I also have a certain confidence about my life. It is not dependent upon material success, or electoral success for that matter. I am going to fight like heck and give this campaign my best shot, and I hope I will be the president. But should it not work out, I understand that there is a force greater than myself--and it gives me great comfort.
Charisma: When your father was in office he didn't seem to understand evangelical Christians. Yet you seem comfortable talking openly about your faith.
Bush: My dad is a deeply religious man--a man of enormous integrity. But he came of age in a very different period of time than I did. I will promise you that a lot of his religion came out of not only how he was raised, but by the fact that he got shot down at age 19 or 20 [during World War II] and wondered whether or not he was going to live. It is the kind of religion people often find during times of battle.
So he was not quite as forthright in being able to describe his faith in personal terms. Some would interpret that to mean that he might not have been as comfortable with different facets of Christianity. I don't believe that is the case at all. Also, he was raised in New England, and I was raised in Texas. Texans are less reserved.
But these days we need to be mindful of that old Southern phrase, "You can talk the talk, but you need to walk the walk." The folks who read your magazine know it is a lot easier to talk the talk. We need people who live what they say.
Charisma: Has your wife, Laura, had a rededication experience like yours?
Bush: Laura's spirituality is a very quiet confidence in the Lord. She came to Christ in a different way than I did. Mine has been much more public in nature because I've talked about it a lot.
It's kind of like Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth. They came to the same conclusion but through different routes. Laura's is a spirituality that has been very firm since childhood. Laura is a very quiet person. She doesn't talk a lot about her faith, but she lives a faithful life.
Charisma: Who is advising you in your efforts to court the Christian vote?
Bush: Well, I do have a person on staff who is in charge of the evangelical vote. But to really answer your question, my feeling is that if you need somebody to coach you, then that's a problem. If I need somebody to say, "Act this way," in order to court a vote, then to me there may be a flaw in the candidate's approach.
I understand the evangelical community. I understand that it's important for me to be in communication with evangelical leaders. For example, James Robison is a friend of mine. I don't view him as a political consultant; I view him as a friend. Tony Evans [pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas] is a friend. These are spiritual leaders with whom I have met on occasion who pray for me. I'm grateful for their prayers, and I accept their friendship.
I will tell you one of the great things about America is the number of people who walk up to me and look me in the eye and say, "Governor, I pray for you every day." The fact that people would pray for me on a daily basis is an unbelievably comforting and humbling feeling.
Charisma: President Clinton says he has sought forgiveness from God for his mistakes.
What effect do you feel the Lewinsky scandal had on our nation spiritually?
Bush: You never know, ultimately. In the short run, it had a very negative effect because mothers and dads were so disillusioned trying to explain to their children what [the Lewinsky scandal] was all about. I know we did in our household. It was hard.
But hopefully this is an awakening for all of us to be able to understand how important it is to keep a check on carnal desires and to be responsible for the decisions we make in life.
We need to change the culture of America, but cultures don't change instantaneously. But we've got a culture that has sent a signal that says: "If it feels good, just go ahead and do it. And if you have a problem in society, then blame somebody else."
This attitude existed before this recent scandal. I think what this country needs to do is to usher in what I call "the responsibility era"--where you are responsible for the decisions you make. But we can't usher in the responsibility era when a figure that is on your TV screen on a daily basis has behaved irresponsibly. It sends a mixed message. What's needed in a president is a consistent message.