Dear President Bush,
As you approach the end of your time in the White House, I want to make sure I say,“Thank you.” Thank you for transforming my faith and my politics.
When you were running for president back in 2000, I was an ardent supporter of yours. I believed you were “God’s man” for the job and that you would restore righteousness to our nation because of your personal relationship with God and your commitment to “pro-life” politics.
I was a high school senior at the time, only seventeen and unable to vote, but I was behind you all the way. My dad, a soldier from Tennessee, loved you and so did the preachers I knew, so I did too. I wrote my high school senior thesis on the evils of abortion and was so compelling in my arguments that a few people told me they became “pro-life” after my presentation. I knew the Republican Party was God’s party and so you were God’s man. You made this clear with your references to gospel songs and saying Jesus was your favorite philosopher. If I could have, I would have voted for you.
I remember one of my all-time favorite high school teachers having a discussion with me questioning my support for you. You’ll be glad to know I defended you passionately. He didn’t understand how I could idolize Tupac and vote for you. (Ahhhh…what goes on in the mind of a biracial kid at a high school where students are called “a bunch of thugs” by the students at more “well to do” schools while also attending a conservative church!) See, I was for affirmative action and helping single mothers, but I knew abortion was the most important issue there was and you were the “pro-life” candidate, not that “Slick Willy” chump Al Gore. So, I had your back.
After graduating I began working at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. That’s right, I was working a government job supporting our military. (I even worked on the USS Lincoln before you landed that plane on it with “Mission Accomplished” emblazoned behind you. You’re welcome.) I remember when 9/11 happened. I was driving to another day at work fixing our ships and submarines when I heard about it on the radio. It was eerie. At first they said a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Sad, but to an eighteen-year-old it was an interruption to my morning music (it was the same day Jay-Z’s The Blueprint came out and I was hyped!). A few minutes later they said another plane crashed into it and they didn’t think the crashes were accidents. I arrived at the shipyard to extra security and we watched news the rest of the day. I won’t forget that experience for a long time. I was scared and I was pissed.
It was shortly after that the transformation began to happen. I was making good money (in my world $35,000 to $40,000 is really good money) but was extremely unhappy. I began to question the righteousness of preparing ships for war, and wondered if I would somehow be responsible for the blood of those killed by the weapons on board if they were used. Then you declared war in Afganhistan and Iraq. And it was then God began calling me out of my unfulfilled life to a life in ministry.
At the first church I worked with I heard a sermon about how John the Baptist was a patriot and so we should be too. The implication was clear: “Support our country and our president.” This seemed odd to me considering John the Baptist’s harsh words for Roman and Jewish authorities and his withdrawal from and harsh critique of Jewish society. How could this preacher have missed such an obvious message of the Baptist’s life? Anyways, it was at this point in my life my world began to change and I began to look at faith and politics differently.
I went to Pepperdine University. You’re familiar with it. It’s the private Christian school where Ken Starr is Dean of the Law School and your wife gave the commencement address at my graduation. In fact, she mentioned me by name in that address. I wasn’t the only one that received a degree that day because she was awarded an honorary doctorate. She seemed like a sweet and loving lady. Anyways, it’s not some bastion of liberal propaganda to say the least. But it was there my faith and the course of my life changed.
My degree was in religion, but it was really a Bible and ministry degree. I learned about the Kingdom of God, the Anabaptists, inner-city ministry, and the Civil Rights movement. I have studied the lives of great Christians: Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Andre Trocme, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, Sojourner Truth, Ronald Sider, Jim Wallis, Clarence Jordan, Fannie Lou Hamer and others. I met devoted Christians, some of the most devoted I’ve known, who were loud and proud political progressives. I did service work in India, Uganda, Kenya, Detroit, and post-Katrina New Orleans. I worked for a nonprofit and a church in inner-city L.A. I was given a worldview that enabled me to make sense of all of the injustice and oppression I saw, and that worldview was Christianity. It was a Christianity different in many ways from the one I grew up with, but it is still recognizably and unabashedly Christianity.
I learned something during my time at Pepperdine: God cares deeply about the poor, hungry, homeless, downtrodden, and oppressed, and about peace, and the Republican Party’s policies don’t seem to. In fact, you haven’t seemed to, in your presidency, either. I thought you were the Christian candidate but I have failed to see Jesus in most of your presidency.
You lied, as far as I can tell (even the youngest Sunday school student knows that’s a no-no) about the reasons for going into Iraq, and are convinced that killing people is the best way to stop other people from killing people. This does not square with Jesus’ message to love one’s enemies, pray for those who persecute you, do good to those who do bad to you and renounce violence. We have lived, during your presidency, by the “smart” bomb and guns, and I am afraid we may die by them as well.
Taking from the poor to give to the rich is an evil thing to do. It is the opposite of Jesus’ declaration that his ministry, and that of Christians, is to declare the year of the Lord’s favor. (This is a reference to a policy in the Hebrew Bible where God commands Israel to redistribute wealth every seventy years so that, in effect, generational poverty is stamped out.) And yet you did just that with your tax cuts to the richest one percent of the nation. You have continually given the rich more and the poor less. In no way does that square with Christian faith.
You talked loud about giving more funding to religious (code-word Christian) organizations performing social services and backed it up with little real money. (David Kuo opened my eyes to this.) This is just one example of the way you wooed Christians with good rhetoric and failed to fulfill your promises. Using religious faith as a political tool is what history’s villians have done, and I am afraid you may be closer to that than you realize.
When Hurricane Katrina happened you stayed on vacation (I just learned today my tax money paid for you to spend one year, 1/8th!, of your presidency at your ranch in Texas) instead of getting to work. And then with black people floating on New Orleans’ streets you said you couldn’t wait to chill on the racist Trent Lott’s new porch. It made me wonder if Kanye West was right. Do you really care about black people (or poor people of any color)? God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of all nations and colors. Hurricane Katrina, and the government’s response to it, demonstrated that the United States clearly is not in many ways.
You approved of the use of torture. How can you, one who claims to call a victim of torture Lord, in good conscience condone treating human beings in the way Jesus died so that humans would never have to die in such a way?
You approved of and condoned as unregulated a free-market as possible and have watched as our nation falls into economic collapse. You encouraged excessive greed and now millions are paying the price when it proved unsustainable. Millionaires and billionaires padded their pockets with money they had no use for while literally millions are on the brink of homelessness or are already homeless. You helped build America’s house on the sand and now that the storm has come it may not stand.
One of the first jobs God gave to humans was to care for the earth God created. You have continually drawn the ire of those seeking to live this call by seeking public policy that threatens some of the little nature we have left. You have perpetuated our dependence on oil which harms the earth when taken from it and when it is used. This does not make America any better stewards of what God has graciously given us.
I have become an adult during your eight years as president, Mr. Bush. I watched your presidency closely and have renounced the politics many of my formative teachers and mentors taught me. I am one member of the generation Jim Wallis talks about that has had a “Great Awakening” and moved beyond the “Religious Right.” Your presidency opened my eyes to how un-Christian Republican public policy can be and led me to reject it as it is today. Thank you for helping me to live more like Jesus in every part of my life.
Yes, even my political life.