Vol. 3, No. 1
to other articles
in this issue:
From the Editor: Wars of Religion
Charitable Choice and the New Religious
Religious Ironies in East Timor
Faithless in Seattle? The WTO Protests
What's in a Name? The EgyptAir 990 Crash
Waiting for the Shoe to Drop
The NCC's Near-Death Experience
On the Beat: Condoms and Constitutions in Kenya
Letters to the Editor
When George W. Bush named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher at the December
13 Republican debate in Des Moinesand several other GOP candidates followed
suitthe first journalistic reaction was to note that once again religion had reared
its head in presidential politics. But before long, liberal commentators across the land
were asking, "What would Jesus think?" about the Bush policy record.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Molly Ivins, the scourge of Texas
politicians, asked if Bush were indeed influenced by Jesus, why did he "fight to keep
200,000 Texas children from getting medical insurance?" Why, she went on, did the
governor oppose hate crimes legislation introduced after James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to
his death by three white racists? And why "does the state of Texas discourage people
from applying for Medicaid?"
Bush caught the most heat for his record of support for Texas death penalty,
which, during his first five years as governor, resulted in the execution of 112 inmates. Arizona
Republic cartoonist Steve Benson pictured Bush naming "Christ" as his
favorite political philosopher with Jesus standing at the adjacent lectern.
"Youd never know it," says Jesus, "from all the people youve
Responding to the cartoon in a letter to the editor, Edward Ryle of the Arizona
Catholic Conference claimed Jesus would not have supported the Bush position because he
"was an innocent victim of the death penalty" himself. Rocky Mountain News
columnist Gene Amelia used the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery to make the
same point. "Jesus," Amelia wrote, "saved her life by shaming the
crowd" with the words, "Let him who is without sin be the first to cast a stone
In a January 7 New York Times article on Bushs death-penalty record, Jim
Yardley used Bushs Iowa comment to introduce the story of Karla Faye Tucker, the
convicted Texas murderer who became a born-again Christian and a model inmate, and even
married the prison chaplain. But, noted Sandy Grady of the Philadelphia Daily News,
"Bushs self-proclaimed Christianity didnt stop him from executing Karla
Faye Tucker, whose heart also was changed by Jesus."
If Bush had really wanted to imitate Jesus teachings, wrote David Corn,
Washington editor for The Nation in a January 15 Philadelphia Inquirer
op-ed, he would have pardoned Tucker according to the injunction in the Sermon on the
Mount, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Instead,
"he mocked her eleventh-hour plea, imitating her by whimpering Please,
dont kill me with pursed lips," sneered the Boston Globes John
Aloysius Farrell. "As a matter of political philosophy, Bush says, he does not
believe he has the right to replace the verdict of a jury with my own in order
to show mercy."
For his part, Bush declined to speculate on what Jesus would have thought of the death
penalty. "Im a lowly sinner," he told a questioner at a January 10
presidential debate in Michigan. "Im not going to put words in Jesus
The most detailed effort to design a quiz for Bush on Jesus public philosophy
came in a January 21 Hartford Courant op-ed by Trinity College religion professor
- Jesus counseled nonviolence
and refused to counter-attack with violence when
nailed to the cross. In light of the words and example of Jesus, what role do you see for
the military in
the United States?
said that a person should abandon his mother and his father, son and
daughter in order to follow him: How would you apply this teaching to family values?
- Jesus said "Give all that you own to the poor"
. How does this inform
your understanding of tax policy and the redistribution of wealth?
- Jesus included foreigners, strangers, and aliens in his compassion. How would this
practice inform your understanding of Americas immigration policy and its
responsibilities to people in other nations?
- Jesus said to his disciples that the best way for them to serve him was by feeding the
hungry, clothing the naked and housing the homeless. How would this teaching inform your
understanding of domestic policy and the revenues necessary to put it into effect?
In a December 22 op-ed piece in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Loras College
politics professor David Cochran extended this critique to the Republican Party as a
whole, attacking the party of the Christian right for pursuing policies that hurt the poor
and the mentally ill, opposing aid to developing countries, and supporting larger military
budgets. "I do not want to imply that there are not sound arguments for some of these
policy positions," Cochran wrote. "What I do want to point out, however, is the
obvious and inconvenient fact that they are all very much at odds with the teachings of
Although conservative commentators did not hesitate to discuss Bushs religious
commitment and his sponsorship of "faith-based" social service programs in
Texas, not one could be found who defended the "political philosopher" remark by
claiming that the Bush record reflected the views of
Jesus. Asked at the Des Moines debate to explain his choice of political philosophers,
Bush said, "Well, if they dont know, its going to be hard to
explain." His apologists evidently found this to be the case as well.