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Letter from America: The life and faith of President George H.W. Bush

April 2019 | by Ben Wilkerson

George H.W.Bush President of USA in 1989 SOURCE Wikipedia/US government
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George Herbert Walker (H.W.) Bush, the 41st President of the United States, passed away in his Houston home on November 30, aged 94. During his presidency, Bush Sr. led the United States to prosperity after the fall of the Soviet Union but had been involved in diplomacy and politics long before that.

At his funeral, the watching world mourned this quiet, humble man from Massachusetts who, to his dying day, lived out Proverbs 27:2: ‘Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips’. While many remember his political career, or even the fact that he became a millionaire by the age of 40, few know of the quiet faith of George H.W. Bush and how that impacted his life and work.

Born on June 12, 1924, George Sr. was raised and educated in New England to wealthy Episcopal parents. His father, Prescott Bush, was a Wall Street banker and senator who set quite an example for his son. It was during this time that young George’s faith was kindled. Every morning his parents would read from the Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer and would diligently bring him and his siblings to church.

George H. W. Bush seated in a Grumman TBM Avenger, circa 1944 SOURCE Naval History and Heritage Command/H069-13
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The truths of Scripture and the values he learned from his parents had a profound impact on his life. When George was 18, he enlisted in the US Navy as an aviator and flew over 52 combat missions over the course of World War II. During that time, his plane was shot down and crashed in the Pacific.

While many of his comrades died brutal deaths at the hands of the Japanese, Bush survived and after thanking the Lord asked, ‘Why had I been spared and what did God have for me?’ (quoted in Christian Post, The Faith of George H.W. Bush, 6-26-17).

After World War II, Bush married Barbara Pierce and attended Yale University. He soon moved his growing family to Texas where he entered the oil industry and prospered tremendously. After 1964, Bush entered the world of politics and for the next half century held the position of US Representative, Senator, Ambassador to the United Nations, US ambassador to China, Director of the CIA, Vice President and then finally 41st President of the United States. Bush could have easily basked in the limelight but throughout his political duties, he remained humble, gentle, and unobtrusive.

Not without faults, Bush was often criticised for the fact that he left Saddam Hussein alone after the Gulf War or that he was an aristocrat of sorts, a son of wealth and far from the average American. However, Bush’s quiet humility and gentleness was manifested in the manner in which he served his country.

If his typical demeanor or execution of his duties was quiet and humble, his faith can certainly be considered quiet. He was never one to publicly espouse his faith, especially while in office. And yet, he remained to the end of his days, faithful to his Saviour and equally faithful to his beloved wife of 73 years, Barbara.

Doug Wead described Bush adequately in his book, George Bush, Man of Integrity, ‘He was Episcopalian by tradition. His mother was extremely devout, read all the books. And he loved his mother and so he loved the tradition’, (quoted in Washington Post, George H.W. Bush helped lead GOP toward evangelicalism, 12-1-18).

The truths and values he learned when he was a boy shaped his entire attitude toward life. That being said, Bush seemed awkward when asked publicly about his faith. When a reporter asked Bush if he was ‘born again’, Bush replied, ‘I think I would ask for a definition’. (Religion News, The quiet, steely faith of George H.W. Bush, 12-4-18).

Later he clarified his answer, ‘If by “born again” one is asking, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour?” then I could answer a clear-cut “Yes.” No hesitancy, no awkwardness’. (Ibid.) Like many who grew up in the church, Bush could never really pinpoint a day in his life when his walk with the Lord began. Wead described this perfectly, ‘He definitely felt that his experience in World War II was a spiritual moment for him’.

Bush family in 1960s SOURCE National Archives and Records Administration/HS525
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Wead said, ‘He definitely had something happen there … and [had] several other experiences through his life. When he would be asked about whether he was born again, he’d say, “I didn’t have one specific moment above all others that I can point to where everything turned around, I had several”. And that rescue in World War II was one of them’. (quoted in Washington Post, Ibid. 12-1-18).

However, one of the most trying times in life came when his daughter Robin died of leukemia in 1953 at the age of 3. Bush later stated that his faith sustained him during that difficult time. George W. Bush recounted his father’s faith and love for his daughter in his touching eulogy, ‘We only learned later that Dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily. He was sustained by the love of the Almighty and the real and enduring love of our mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again’.

Throughout his political career, Bush Sr. had a tremendous impact on the Republican party and led the party towards identifying with evangelicalism, for better or for worse. He prayed often, in public and in private, and worked ceaselessly to promote good values. While George H.W. Bush may not have been particularly fluent in discussing doctrine or theology, his quiet faith brought glory to God through his loving actions and constant prayer.

Ben Wilkerson served with Sheffield Presbyterian Church, UK, and is a Christian writer residing in the USA.