This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 20, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush doesn't hide his faith under a bushel basket. He has even said that his presidency is part of a divine plan.
Guy Larson is a writer at large for GQ magazine. Today's big question, is there evidence that the president's faith is actually affecting national policy?
GUY LARSON, GQ MAGAZINE: There is on the most explicit level, obviously, with his faith-based initiatives and the way that he talks about faith. As you say, he doesn't hide his faith under a bushel ...
GIBSON: But it seems to worry the Arabs and a lot of the Europeans that it is more serious than that. It's more serious than the faith-based initiative, that it underlay his whole determination to go to war [in Iraq].
LAWSON: How I decided to report this story, what drove me to report this story was the simple fact that I didn't know that much about the president's faith. I really didn't understand what his religious history was and what church he went to or what set of beliefs he had and that's what began me on the story.
GIBSON: It is quite extensive. It goes back to almost his youth in Midland, Texas (search).
LAWSON: Yes. I went out to Midland and met I with the fellows that he studied the Bible with in the early-to-mid 1980s. And I met with a preacher who says that he had a very intense religious experience with the then-Texas oilman George W. Bush in 1984 in a hotel room in Midland, Texas, which you can read about in this piece.
GIBSON: Back to that question. Does he discuss God in his faith in a referential frame? “I think about God. I think about Jesus?” Or did you find evidence that he divines policy and decisions out of prayer?
LAWSON: Well, you know, I don't know the answer to that and at some point what I would like to have happen is for the president to discuss that. I think it's a really important and deep, vital question. And not to come forth and say, “I prayed.” One of his old Bible study friends says in this article that the last thing in the world that George Bush should do is say he was on his knees praying for guidance in the build-up with the war with Iraq, because people would think it was holy war. But this friend said he was sure that he was doing that. And it's this divide between public and private religion that I think is something that I try to set out to bridge the gap.
GIBSON: One of the things that I've noticed in reading about the Europeans' reaction and the Arab world's reaction — particularly the Europeans — to the runup to the war is this horror that is expressed in Britain, France and Germany of reference to religion, or reference to God, or reference to Jesus by a leader. And it would just be absolutely rejected in Europe. And they're horrified to see George W. Bush make these references publicly. I would like to know what you think. Does that reflect ignorance on the part of America or on the part of Europeans?
LAWSON: Most profound. What they take to be the president's stupidity is, in fact, his sophistication. He is, by talking about God, one of the most able politicians in perhaps the last 100 years since McKinley to involve white Protestant (search) evangelical voters with the political process. He's a genius at this. This is his way, his use of language, his use of policy. It's a fundamental precept of his.
GIBSON: Are you suggesting he is doing it cynically to gather people in?
LAWSON: No. Again, you would have to look into his heart, but as one of the evangelical historians I spoke to said to me, “Virtue and political opportunity can run in the same direction.”
GIBSON: Guy Lawson. It's GQ magazine. By the way, there is huge controversy about [the issue's cover] picture which sort of portrays George Bush as Jesus, but that's not Guy's fault. He wrote the article. So the screaming about this picture will go on in another venue. Guy, thanks very much.
GIBSON: All right. Thank you.
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