2016-07-27
On the day after President Bush was re-elected, he gave much of the credit to his political adviser, Karl Rove, whom he called "the architect" of his campaign. But in evangelical churches, on Christian radio, and in voter precincts dominated by conservative Christians, the credit is going instead to someone a whole lot more powerful: God.

The Almighty intervened in the U.S. election, these evangelicals believe, to allow Bush to remain president. They say God has "blessed" America with Bush--and had Sen. John Kerry been elected, God would have "cursed" the U.S. By allowing Bush to be re-elected, God has given America "more time" to stop its slide into evil.

"This was Providence," evangelical leader and presidential adviser Charles Colson told Beliefnet. "Anybody looking at the 2000 election would have to say it was.a miraculous deliverance, and I think people felt it again this year." By allowing Bush to stay in office, Colson said, God is "giving us a chance to repent and to restore some moral sanity to American life."

Richard Land, a leading Southern Baptist who participates in a weekly strategy call between the White House and evangelical leaders put it this way: "Whoever won, it would have been God's will." But because Bush won, Land told Beliefnet, God has clearly shown America his blessings. If Kerry had won, it would have proved God was cursing the United States. "The Bible says godly leadership is a sign of God's blessings and a lack of godly leadership is a sign of God's judgment. I don't see Kerry as a godly leader."

Meanwhile, Paul Weyrich, founder of the Free Congress Foundation and one of the original engineers of the conservative Christian political revolution, wrote an essay claiming that "God gave this President and this President's Party one more chance.God heard the fervent prayers of millions of values voters to keep His hand on America one more time despite our national sins of denying the right to life, despite ignoring the Biblical injunction against acts which are `an abomination unto the Lord' and despite the blatant attempt to remove God from the public square."

Jim Rogers of the group Mission America sent out an email the day after the election saying, "Yesterday America cried out and He heard from heaven and answered our prayers. PRAISE GOD!!"

On Nov. 3, the president of Bob Jones University wrote an open letter, posted on its website, to the president. It said, in part, "God has graciously granted America-though she doesn't deserve it-a reprieve from the agenda of paganism.

Plenty of ordinary American evangelicals also believe that by allowing Bush to be re-elected, God has given the United States another chance. For months leading up to the election, many Christians nationwide prayed and fasted, in an effort led by Intercessors for America, to assist in Bush's re-election.

Among them was Diana Sheehan, a mother and housewife who led a weekly prayer group at her Pennsylvania church whose sole task was to pray about the election. For 40 days ending on Nov. 2, she also participated in a no-sugar fast. On Election Day, Sheehan paced back and forth reading the Bible in her church, Dove Christian Fellowship in Ephrata, Pa., as part of a round-the-clock 48-hour prayer vigil for the president. His reelection, she said, was God's signal that "he's giving us more time to get our act together. I think this nation is going down the tubes very quickly."

Across town at a local polling place, Republican committeewoman Anna Mae Ressler said Bush's re-election would mean that God has "answered our prayers and given us another chance." Ressler said she had been reading the Book of Jeremiah, which she believes parallels American history. "When that nation got so bad, the Lord sent them into captivity," Ressler explained. "We've done an awful lot of things in this country that are displeasing to God."

Now that God has given America extra time from which to be spared his wrath, evangelicals feel some urgency to buckle down to God's business. That is why, for example, a group called Christian Response has already sent out an email with the subject line "EMERGENCY!" to induce supporters to blast Capitol Hill with faxes condemning Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican Pennsylvania senator who said last week that judicial nominees who oppose abortion would face difficulty getting Senate confirmation. The Family Research Council and Focus on the Family followed within hours with emails entitled "Stop Specter."

Many evangelicals think America is secular and decadent and in cultural decline. Their role, they believe, is to stem that tide and renew the culture. Many of these Christians seem to believe that God will be angry with them-and with the entire nation-if they don't make big legislative changes. And so, they put themselves on a short leash with God, and they hope to convince other Americans to do likewise.

"God is not going to tolerate a nation that thumbs its nose at Him," Colson says. "This whole idea of scrubbing all religious influence out of public life and taking down the Ten Commandments and stopping prayer and not allowing people to talk about their faith for fear of offending someone--I don't think God honors that. God's patience runs out."

Their solution seems to lie in Bush's presidency. "He is one of those men God and fate somehow led to the fore in times of challenge," said New York Gov. George Pataki in the high-profile introduction of Bush at the Republican National Convention, an introduction almost certainly scrubbed if not written by the White House. Pataki and former New York Mayor Rudoph Giuliani both said twice that Americans should "Thank God" that Bush was in office after 9/11.

During the period after 9/11, Bush talked of being chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment, according to Time magazine. World Magazine, a conservative Christian publication, quoted White House official Tim Goeglein as saying, "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour, and I say this with a great sense of humility." Popular Christian broadcaster Janet Parshall told her listeners: "God picked the right man at the right time for the right purpose." And Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, who got in trouble for derogatory comments he made about Islam, argued that it must have been God who selected Bush in 2000, since a plurality of voters hadn't. "He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."

It seems clear that the president himself believes that God is orchestrating American history. At the 2003 National Prayer Breakfast, for instance, Bush said, "we can be confident in the ways of Providence... Behind all of life and all of history, there's a dedication and purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful God."

Barry Hankins, a historian at Baylor University, says these sorts of beliefs arose with the founding of the nation and persist among certain Christians. "There is a strong cultural belief among Protestant Christians that America is a vehicle for God's will," he says. "If you scratch people enough below the surface, there's this belief that Providence has a hand in everything that happens in America. And at times like this it comes out because it's in the back of people's minds or hearts."

The Puritans believed they were establishing the New Israel and that their enterprise was guided by God--that they were God's chosen people headed for the Promised Land. But that metaphorical idea, that America was a beacon, began to mutate by the early 19th Century into the belief that America was the literal instrument to lead a world transformation to Christian democracy.

"That's been a powerful idea in American history, and it usually lays dormant," Hankins says, "but at times, the language is so powerful that when positive things happen in the eyes of evangelicals, there's a tendency to fall back into that language."

The last time this triumphal view was common was during the Reagan Administration. Before then it was the Cold War struggle of the 1950s. "It was very difficult for evangelicals to stop short of saying God was on our side," Hankins says.

Not all evangelicals buy the argument, however. Erwin McManus, a rising evangelical leader who leads a Los Angeles church called Mosaic, believes this interpretation is short-sighted and isolationist. "What we really need to ask is, what choices do we make that serve humanity the best and reflect the value system the Bible teaches? How do I relieve the most suffering? How do I do the most good? How do I give people the best options to live the life they should live? How do I create a culture of life?"

McManus, a registered independent who voted for Bush, says members of his conservative, evangelical, Bible-centered church don't believe God intervened in the election. Their average age is 25 and they represent 57 nations. "They feel embarrassed when they hear language that sounds elitist, because that isn't Christian to them," McManus says.

But that isn't how many evangelicals understand their language. They consider it fair warning. Land looks to the Old Testament for proof. "When God's people were idolatrous and rebellious he sent justice--sometimes evil kings and sometimes foreign conquerors," he says. "I've said on numerous occasions, that if God would allow his chosen people to be taken off into captivity, don't think he won't judge the United States."


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