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Faith and the PresidencyFrom George Washington to George W. Bush$
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Gary Scott Smith

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195300604

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300604.001.0001

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(p.415) Conclusion
Faith and the Presidency

Gary Scott Smith (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This examination of the lives of eleven presidents demonstrates that their faith has been vitally important to a substantial number of the occupants of the Oval Office. Their faith helped shape their character, political philosophy, and style of governing. It also affected their relationships with religious groups and many of their policies. The policies they pursued to achieve these ends differed substantially, however, because of the religious traditions to which they belonged; their personalities and interests; their political parties, platforms, and perspectives; and the way they interpreted the Bible and conceived their political duties. Despite their differences, all eleven presidents emphasized the nation’s religious heritage, trumpeted the value of religion, called for spiritual renewal, and underscored the relationship between religious faith and morality. From George Washington to George W. Bush, they argued that God rules the universe, that the dictates of reason and revelation reinforce one another and supply a basis for both individual morality and public policy, and that religious faith best sustains the nation’s constitutional democracy and provides the strongest safeguard and support for republican virtue and liberty. These presidents have been both lauded and lambasted for their faith. Many have praised their personal piety and the influence of their religious convictions on various actions and policies, but others have complained that some chief executives have mistakenly (and dangerously) claimed to know God’s will on vital issues or that their faith influenced them to adopt policies that have harmed the nation. This final chapter evaluates how their religious convictions, their views of the separation of church and state, civil religion, and America as a chosen nation, and their character affected the work of these eleven presidents. The tremendous responsibilities and pressures and the trials and tribulations of the presidency inspired many of these eleven chief executives to develop a stronger faith. Faith — although not always orthodox, Christian faith — had a powerful influence on the thoughts and actions of many presidents, contributing significantly to their efforts to advance justice, peace, equality, compassion, and virtue.

Keywords:   character, chosen nation, civil religion, convictions, faith, justice, liberty, morality, political philosophy, separation of church and state

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