Former Pres. George H.W. Bush passed last Friday leaving behind a legacy of accomplishment and outstanding civic duty that was founded on his “great faith” in God and everyday people.
Before earning the White House, the revered 41st president had served with distinction as Pres. Gerald Ford’s CIA director, represented the United States at the U.N. during the Nixon Administration and enjoyed two terms as vice president with Ronald Reagan. Together, the pair turned a spiraling national economy around and defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
He had already gone to war as a naval aviator, enlisting after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
“We had been to chapel, the mandatory chapel service. Came out of the chapel and was walking across the campus there when somebody said Pearl Harbor has been bombed,” Bush reportedly said. He was attending a Calvinistic boarding school in Andover, Mass., at the time.
His squadron fought and prevailed in one of the fiercest naval encounters of World War II, the Battle of the Philippine Sea. All told, he flew 58 combat missions and was shot down over the Pacific once after a bombing mission. He spent hours drifting in the ocean before being rescued by a U.S. submarine. It was a moment that reportedly had a profound impact on the future U.S. president.
“Why had I been spared and what did God have for me,” he reportedly said after parachuting into the ocean.
Before winning the presidency, George H.W. Bush had accomplished more and served with a level of honor that rivaled presidents. At the core of his strong but mild-mannered leadership was a lifelong devotion to God as an Episcopalian.
His father, Prescott Bush, was a Republican senator from Connecticut and the family attended Christ Episcopal Church in Greenwich. His mother, Dorothy Walker, read to the family from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
“He was Episcopalian by tradition. His mother was extremely devout, read all the books. And he loved his mother and so he loved the tradition,” Doug Wead reportedly said, who wrote “George Bush, Man of Integrity” with the former president.
Many credit former President Bush with helping to usher in the robust evangelicalism that has swept the nation. He met and prayed with prominent Evangelical leaders such as the late Rev. Billy Graham. Although widely recognized in Christian circles as a lifelong man of faith, he was once asked if he was “born again.”
“If by ‘born again’ one is asking, ‘Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?’ then I could answer a clean-cut ‘Yes.’ No hesitancy, no awkwardness,’” he reportedly said.
During his presidency, cabinet meetings began with prayer and his 1989 inaugural address opened with him reading this prayer.
“I ask you to bow your heads. Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: ‘Use power to help people.’ For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us remember, Lord. Amen.”
His administration was something of a ministry itself. It’s as if the question he asked treading water for his life while being hunted by the enemy on the high seas was answered. An American ship had rescued him and now he occupied one of the largest platforms for human connection in the world. He was quietly but assuredly a touchstone for Christian faith and the Oval Office was the pulpit of the ministry.
“It is very important to follow the teachings of our Heavenly Father in carrying out the responsibilities of government,” Pres. Bush reportedly said. “Without God’s help, we can do nothing. With it, we can do great things.”
While he steadied the nation on many fronts, perhaps his greatest achievement was the social activism he inspired based on “the selfless spirit of giving that Jesus embodied” through his Thousand Points of Light Initiative. Delivering upwards of 500 speeches, he urged everyday Americans to turn their awareness to less fortunate community members, increase volunteerism and charitable donations.
It was a Christian-based approach that improved the national mindset to serve the needs of the community, to extend a helping hand to friends and neighbors. Volunteerism skyrocketed across the country as Americans put in millions of volunteer hours. It was a Christian revolution that crossed over and inspired Americans of all faiths and denominations. It wasn’t just a presidency, it was a ministry.