Q&A: Goeglein says 'SBC was instrumental'

WASHINGTON (BP) -- For nearly eight years, Timothy Goeglein enjoyed an inside look at the role of faith -- including the influence of Southern Baptists -- in the presidency of George W. Bush.

'The SBC was instrumental in a host of ways and always found time to be in touch on important issues of the day.'

-- Timothy Goeglein, former White House official

In his memoir "The Man in the Middle," Goeglein recounted those years, and recently he answered questions from Baptist Press via email based on his experience as deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Goeglein now serves in Washington as vice president of external relations for Focus on the Family.

BAPTIST PRESS: In your book you mention twice that Southern Baptists were among the evangelicals who were instrumental in a decision President Bush was making. Could you share a specific example of when a Southern Baptist helped in such a way?

TIMOTHY GOEGLEIN: The Bush administration had a superb relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention, and in fact, it was important to President Bush that we were a regular presence at all the summer conventions while he was in the White House. I represented the president there each year, and so came to know very well so many of the remarkable people in the SBC, including all the presidents who were in office while President Bush was in the White House.

We had a great working relationship, and those relationships became friendships. The SBC was instrumental in a host of ways and always found time to be in touch on important issues of the day, but none more so than the banning of partial-birth abortion; the crucial stem cell decision (which I devote an entire chapter to in my book); and on questions of war and peace that were so central in the Bush years.

BP: President Bush regularly addressed messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention via satellite, and you introduced him at those meetings in person. Are you able to convey an idea of what Southern Baptists meant to the president and why he wanted to address them specifically?

GOEGLEIN: There is no church body in America that more regularly or routinely let President and Mrs. Bush know how much they were prayed for. I cannot overstate how much this meant to the president; in fact, he told members of the convention routinely that there was nothing more important or meaningful to him and the First Lady than to know those prayers were being offered routinely and out of love and respect.

In those satellite addresses, the president always talked about the most important domestic, foreign policy and security matters of the day -- he wanted folks to know both his mind and his heart -- but he never missed an opportunity to convey the centrality and lasting measure of prayer, and I am happy to say those millions of prayers for the president and the White House team were felt, appreciated and [had a] real impact in our daily lives.

BP: What did your overall White House experience, including the forgiveness you received from President Bush, teach you about God?

GOEGLEIN: The nadir of my life was a crisis which I brought on myself through my own sinfulness. I learned that when you are at the end of your rope, it is not that nothing is there but that Jesus Christ is there, and He wonderfully brings people into your life -- His grace personified -- who are there to pray with you, support you and bring you along.

I learned that confession of sin is central in the Christian life; that redemption is real; that forgiveness is real; that grace and mercy are real; and above all, I learned that Jesus Christ's promises of full redemption are possible; and I learned that second chances are what a life in Christ is all about.

I wish I could publicly thank all the friends and associates and acquaintances who are Southern Baptist who came around me and my family to help me, to pray for us and to offer their love and friendship. I learned that Southern Baptists are among the most loving, mercy-filled people on earth. Ours is a God of love and mercy and grace; His love is depthless, endless, boundless.

BP: Given your experience in the White House, how important do you believe it is for a president to be a man of faith? What sorts of things are at stake?

GOEGLEIN: I believe that being a man of faith makes the journey of the White House years palpable and, without that faith, I am uncertain how any president could make it through even a single day. I learned firsthand that all the major problems in our troubled world come across the desk of the president.

He can have all the best counselors and aides in the world; he can draw upon the best advice and the best opinions; he can call the best experts into his inner circle any time of the night or day; but at the end of the day, there is only one president, and he must make daily decisions that impact millions of lives.

Without a relationship with God, I think that would be a life unbearable; a life of constant burden; a life unmoored to the central reality of life itself -- the life each of us has in relationship to our Creator, our Sanctifier, and our Redeemer. George W. Bush's faith was real, and it gave him a joy and a way of leading that was remarkable to watch. He is a great-souled man with an inner moral compass that is rooted in his love for God.

BP: During your time in Washington, have you seen the role of faith in politics diminish or grow stronger overall? What would be your assessment of the direction our leaders are going in that regard?

GOEGLEIN: I believe the relationship between faith and politics is the central reality of the political life of our beloved, exemplary country. We are, as Michael Novak once said, a "religious republic."

We were founded by dissenting Protestants; we were a welcoming country for people of all faiths, and the power of the Judeo-Christian tradition has allowed America not only to prevail but to thrive. This relationship between God and government, faith and politics, religion and the public square is the defining narrative of the American experience.

We would not have had the American Revolution, the coeducation of women, the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights movement or the pro-life movement without the advent of faith animating our most important debates. That relationship between the City of God and the city of man continues; I think it remains a powerful reality, and despite what some may think, I believe it will power us forward.

That is, I believe America's best days are ahead, and I say in my memoir that I believe we will have an American Renaissance which will be powered by faith and public life.


Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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