Land: Bush not 'theologian-in-chief'

WASHINGTON (BP)--Evangelicals formed part of President Bush's base during his two campaigns and have been some of his staunchest supporters, but they likely could do without comments he made to ABC's "Nightline" in which he said, among other things, that there are multiple ways to God.

It's not the first time Bush has said something publicly that falls outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. In 2003 he told a news conference he believes Christians and Muslims worship the same God -- a belief he has repeated at least twice, including during the Nightline interview.

During the Dec. 8 ABC program, co-anchor Cynthia McFadden asked the president if he believes that his prayers are directed to the same God "that a Muslim prays to."

"I do," Bush said.

"That's gotten you in some trouble with your base," McFadden responded.

"Maybe it does," Bush said. "I do believe there is an Almighty that is broad and big enough, loving enough, that can encompass a lot of people. I don't think God is a narrow concept. I think it's a broad concept. I just happen to believe the way to God is through Christ, and others have different avenues toward God, and I believe we pray to the same Almighty -- I do."

The rest of the interview was a mixed bag as far as evangelicals are concerned, but his comments on the exclusivity of the Gospel have caused the most consternation among evangelicals, particularly since his views stand in conflict to biblical passages such as John 14:6 and Acts 4:12.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said that upon hearing Bush's latest comments, he had the same reaction as to when Bush "has said similar things."

"I am very grateful that we have a president who is a person of personal and deeply committed faith in Jesus Christ, but statements like these remind us that he is indeed commander-in-chief, not theologian-in-chief," Land told Baptist Press. "I know the president, and he is a person of strong faith and has sort of a C.S. Lewis Basic Christianity kind of faith that is very deep and profound in his personal life, but he is not a theologian. In this particular instance, he is wrong. The Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is not Allah, and there are not many paths to God."

Land previously told BP regarding similar comments by Bush, "Jesus our Savior has made it clear that we must know His Father through faith in Him and Him alone."

During the Nightline interview Bush also was asked how, in discerning God's will, he determines whether it's actually God's will or it's Bush's own ego.

"I think one way you make sure it's not your ego is you stay in the Bible. At least that's what I have found. And I am still learning. The Bible is an amazing book."

Asked if the Bible is "literally true," Bush said, "Probably not. No, I'm not a literalist. But I think you can learn a lot from it."

McFadden then asked if it was possible to "love the Bible" and also believe in evolution.

"I think you can have both. Look, you're getting me way out of my lane here. I'm just a simple president. But I think that God created the earth, created the world. I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it created something as large as an Almighty. And I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution."

Bush also said that his faith, along with prayer, "has made a huge difference in my life."

"People say, 'Oh, it's just a crutch.' Well, for me, it's not a crutch. For me, it is the realization of a power, of a universal God, and recognition that God came manifested in human [form] and then died for sins."


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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