The Dubious Conversion of George W. Bush
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 05:54:38 PM EST
I have pair of articles over at Religion Dispatches today that report some of the revelations from a new book by investigative journalist Russ Baker,  Family of Secrets:  The Bush Dynasty, The Powerful Forces that Put it in Power, and What Their Influence Means for America.

Among many other things, the book details how the patrician Bush family dynasty overcame the problems of "Poppy" Bush's preppy Episcopalianism -- to navigate the evangelicalism of the rising Religious Right, and how a conversion to evangelical Christianity was choreographed and sold to "wipe the slate clean" of young W's reckless and non-religious youth -- apparently including an illegal abortion W obtained for a girlfriend in Texas before Roe v. Wade.

Here are a few excerpts from New Book Reveals How Faith is Like a Covert Operation for the Bush Family.

Faith has always been a special commodity for politicians. It is not only essential to have or appear to have it, but that it be of the right variety--especially if you're thinking of running for president. For nearly two centuries, you could be pretty much any religion you wanted, as long as it was mainline Protestant. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who identified respectively as Roman Catholic and Quaker, stretched the definition of acceptable presidential faith, followed soon after by Jimmy Carter, the first evangelical Christian president, whose political rise prefigured and catalyzed the wider engagement of conservative evangelicals in politics and, as it happened, the rise of the religious right.

These social and political changes have posed distinct challenges for pols seeking to navigate the changes in American religious life and the successes of a culture of religious pluralism. This was particularly so for the patrician Bush family, whose challenges in this arena are a familiar part of their political tale. In addition, however, there remain astounding hidden dimensions involving the skills of "spy craft" acquired in a lifetime of covert intelligence activities by George H.W. ("Poppy") Bush and many of his closest associates.

... what was a starchy, Episcopalian heir to a blue-blooded Yankee political pedigree to do? And what of his reckless, apparently non-religious, playboy son? These were the intertwined questions faced by Vice President Bush and George W. in the 1980s as they planned Poppy Bush's run for president in 1988--and W.'s political future.

Baker's chapter titled "The Conversion" features startling revelations that challenge the well-known narratives of the Bush family's religious history-- including the way they crafted a strategy for winning over the religious right, and the creation of a conversion legend for George W. Bush. The purpose of the latter was not only to position him as a religious and political man of his time, but to neutralize the many issues from his past that threatened to undermine his future in politics (and possibly that of his father as well). The plan probably worked far better than anyone could have hoped. "I'm still amazed," Doug Wead, a key architect of the Bush family's evangelical outreach strategy told Baker, "how naïve so many journalists are who have covered politics all of their life."

Under [Doug] Wead's tutelage, Poppy would learn the ins and outs of the evangelical world. But Poppy and W. had a problem in common. Baker writes that they knew that W.'s "behavior before becoming governor [of Texas in 1994] his partying, his womanizing, and in particular his military service problems--posed a serious threat to his presidential ambitions. Their solution was to wipe the slate clean--through religious transformation."

A Tale of Two Conversions

For this to work they needed "a credible conversion experience and a presentable spiritual guide." And so the legend goes that none other than Billy Graham paid a visit to his longtime friends at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine. This led to the famous walk on the beach that George W. Bush says "planted a mustard seed in my soul," and to his supposed rebirth as an evangelical Christian. That was the accepted narrative in the media and throughout the evangelical world for years. But Graham later told a journalist that he does not remember the encounter; and to another said he does remember a walk on the beach--but not, apparently, any kind of spiritually meaningful conversation. Whatever the facts of the Graham episode, there are actually two conversion stories. The second was deep-sixed in favor of the Graham story, and only emerged after George W. was elected president.

The itinerant evangelist Arthur Blessitt, famous for dragging (mostly on wheels) a 12-foot cross around the world, posted the story on his Web site in October 2001, noting that he met with George W. Bush a full year earlier than Graham. "Mr. George W. Bush," wrote Blessitt, "a Midland oilman, listened to the radio broadcast and asked one of his friends `Can you arrange for me to meet Arthur Blessitt and talk to him about Jesus?' And so it came to pass."

Wead, Baker reports, "had warned the Bushes that they had to be careful how they couched their conversion story. It couldn't be seen as something too radical or too tacky. Preachers who performed stunts with giant crosses would not do. Billy Graham, `spiritual counselor to presidents,' would do perfectly." And that was the story that speechwriter Karen Hughes wove into Bush's 1999 campaign book, A Charge to Keep. There was no mention of Blessitt.

Oh yeah. And there is one more thing. The story of how W. procured an illegal abortion for his girlfriend in Texas before Roe v. Wade. (see page 145-147 of Family of Secrets)

This is substantiated in part by four reporters whose stories were not published, but who shared their "experiences and detailed source notes" and even tapes with him. Two Bush pals took charge of arranging the abortion go to the hospital and who went to the hospital to inform her that he would not see her again. All of the names are named. Certainly as a candidate who was seeking to appeal to conservative evangelical, anti-abortion constituencies, this would have been a high hurdle to overcome.

"As president," Baker concludes, "Bush promulgated tough new policies that withheld U.S. funds not only to programs and countries that permitted abortions, but even to those that advocated contraception as opposed to abstinence. Moreover, his appointments to the Supreme Court put the panel on the verge of reversing Roe v. Wade. Like his insistence on long prison sentences for first time drug offenders and his support for military action, his own behavior in regard to sexual responsibility and abortion could be considered relevant and revealing."

"...his own behavior in regard to sexual responsibility and abortion could be considered relevant and revealing." Yeah, I'd have gone with a different description, but this one will suffice. hehe.

by trog69 on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 07:30:07 PM EST

I have found that some GOP folks who oppose abortion do so for others and often practice it themselves.  The election loss our President had as a first time attempt at Congress was fueled by his connection to Yale secret societies.  The family knew all along what they were dealing with in the religious right.  It appears the Bush family played them like a fiddle after all.

by wilkyjr on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 09:19:25 AM EST

It has always been strange to me, from the earliest days of my beginnings in TX until today, that WHO converted WHOM and how many of such events anyone claimed for himself [the number 100 always seemed a benchmark but certainly NOT followed through as in a church membership] was anything that might be disputable, one to another, or if there were a god worthy of being called so, that He/She would actually care about the soul-winner & his scoresheet! A "Blessit" claim was always scurrilous buffonery to me & a Billy Graham not a damn sight better, even less so for his besotten son Franklin, dignified unduly by George W. Bush for an Inauguration prayer! A recent breakfast at a Days' Inn in Franklin, VA confirmed my worst suspicions with a couple of fly-by-nighters of that ilk, one with a dubious T-shirt that seemed bawdy to me but boasting a one-thousand longterm goal.

Well, any Dubya conversion would be bawdy, given his utter disregard for compassion for the Least of These & his record of service, with the days, thankfully, counting down to a precious few [yes, borrowed lyrics!]. But the conversion of Dubya must be understood not of WHO but WHAT, which brings us to a Jesus for Jack Daniels bit. That meant more for Laura & girls, understandably, than Jesus, but don't bet any bucks on its permanence. Take that pretzel-choking bit, for instance. It seemed phony at the time, for any Texan could tell you that no self-respecting Texan would even know what a pretzel was, much less try to eat one! Why did he fall off a White House couch that Sunday evening? Not that he didn't, of course, but the real "fall" was, proverbially, 'off the wagon.' The pretzel story was one of convenience for his backsliding, but as any rightwinger can tell you, backsliding is forgiveable & one starts over with a clean slate! Those people also have incredibly short memories which serves well their revisionist intentions.If only we could revise Dubya's doings as simply as he & hisArden C. Hander

by achbird65 on Mon Jan 12, 2009 at 11:37:02 AM EST

I'd written before on how it seemed that George W. Bush was making a lot of overtures towards the Joel's Army crowd in particular (let's just say there's been enough evidence showing up that I've suspected Dubya may be part of a "cell church"), but knowing his conversion may have been at the hands of an honest-to-god flagellant...well, THAT explains a great deal.

The fact that Doug Wead explicitly may have instructed Dubya to "stealth" this (under the "Billy Graham had a come-to-Jesus meeting with Dubya, literally" story) ALSO is not surprising...and is reminiscent, IMHO, of the attempts to stealth Sarah Palin's extensive grooming by and connections to NAR groups in Alaska and elsewhere.

Blessitt himself seems to be quite the piece of work--and interestingly, he's considerably less shy about promoting his linkage with Dubya.  It would also appear that Blessitt is not only a flagellant but quite possibly a neopente dominionist to boot--certainly he seems to have been big among the "Jesus People" movement in the 60s, at any rate.  According to his own website, he's into the same sorts of "marathon fasting" as are a veritable hallmark of NAR circles (40-day water-only fasting); he also runs a mail-order ordination mill including web-based "ordination".  (One of the more hilarious sections in this online "course" involves--I am not making this up--attempting "bait and switch" evangelism targeted at telemarketers.)

A bit more digging on Blessitt's website finds his closest association may well be to a Heritage Christian Center of Denver, Colorado; this pretty much firms up what I suspected, as Heritage turns out to be part of a "Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship" of churches and almost all meaningful information of the church's actual theology is unavailable on its website.

FGBCF, of note, is not in fact not what most Baptists would define as "Baptist" but is a neopentecostal dominionist denomination formed from apparently a plethora of congregations from multiple denominations that were steeplejacked by "cuckoo churches"; people are not considered truly "baptised" unless they are actively "manifesting" such as speaking in tongues.  The denomination seems to target historically African-American churches in particular, and a list of their audio and video tapes as well as the denominational website turns up a number of known NAR buzzwords.  The "Good Customer Service Report" contains even more NAR buzzwords, including reference to "CHANGE Agents" (which is a buzzword used in NAR circles within the "Assemblies family" of denominations in particular) and specific reference to "intercessory prayer" networks (or, put more bluntly, NAR prayer gangs--which do on occasion indulge in imprecatory prayers).  On another page, yet more NAR buzzwords turn up including reference to the "Corporate Church".

Remarkably, there is an unusual amount of honesty in regards to the denomination also being a bit of a money racket, with different tiers of churches depending on how much cash they pull in.  

The constellation of FGBCF's fronts include at least one dedicated healthcare front org largely focusing on hospices for persons with AIDS;  there are a number of other fronts promoted as "affinity partners".  

At least one known front is known to be financially related, specifically a group called "Direction" focusing on investment schemes and collectible coin hawking (gold-investment Ponzi schemes and coin-investment schemes have historically been a very popular form of affinity fraud targeting both neopente dominionist churches and historically African-American churches; disturbingly, "Direction" seems to be going for a two-for-one shot re the affinity fraud aspect).

Another front, interestingly, turns out to be a direct-mail service and religious flyer printing house.

by dogemperor on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 12:04:08 AM EST

Going back to Blessitt, it turns out that apparently he was a major focus in chapter 9 of the book "American Fascists" in describing the typical manner of fundraising on TBN (Blessitt has been quite the regular on that network).

At least one source claims he is SBC, but I personally suspect that if he is, he's part of the FGBMFI-linked "charismatics" in the SBC (in truth, NAR neopentecostals--yes, the SBC hasn't been completely taken over, but you bet your bippy there's still active work to steeplejack it fully).  At any rate, most of the SBC folks I know are NOT exactly the type to welcome active flagellants in their midst :D

Another source (talking about his "Jesus Movement" stuffle in LA) notes he did start out in Louisiana in a "Baptist" church, and it is known that FGBCF started out as a breakaway (and de facto neopentecostal) Baptist church in the early 90s in Louisiana--so it's possible he's been associated with these circles for some time.  

And as it turns out, Blessitt himself has some rather close linkage with the Joel's Army folks.  A bit of Googling turned up a promotion of Blessitt's appearance at the "2020 Conference", a conference held by a group called Next Wave International--a group connected to (among other notable Joel's Army leaders) Reinhard Bonnke.

Next Wave International is, de facto, a subsidiary of what was formerly known as the Assemblies of God of Australia (which has recently changed its name due to some very well deserved bad publicity about political misadventures and highly coercive tactics; the denomination in Australia in particular is totally controlled by Joel's Army promoters), and in particular would appear to be a frontgroup of Youth Alive (itself an Assemblies front); it can literally be said to be an association of NAR churches in Europe linked ultimately to Hillsong A/G in Sydney, Australia and its "conferences" are dedicated on how to spread NAR theology and steeplejack existing mainstream churches in Europe.  Even more evidence that Next Wave is just another Hillsong front is here.  (Of note, the Australian and NZ Assemblies--both of which are completely hardcore Joel's Army churches--are included, as well as the Dream Center "faith-based rehab" chain in the US which has been particularly linked to Joel's Army promotion.  Its listing of South Africa's Assemblies churches is also notable; the Assemblies is almost completely controlled by Joel's Army-associated interests in that country as well, and the infamous Rodney Howard-Browne--a major promoter of NAR theology throughout the "Assemblies family" of denominations and a major force in the spread of NAR outside of the "Assemblies family"--originally came from Assemblies circles in South Africa.)

In addition to this, a website at Change 2020 also exists (promoting a tour and city planning-meetings for NAR churches).

by dogemperor on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 12:32:19 AM EST

Thanks, dogemperor, for excellent analysis and prompting my memory for what I try to forget about all this stuff, but somebody's got to do it!

by achbird65 on Mon Jan 12, 2009 at 11:42:38 AM EST

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