For George H.W. Bush, religion was low-key but deep


FOR ANYONE who knows the American religious scene, the Episcopal church conjures up several very different things. First, it is the aristocrat among churches, and a church for aristocrats. Its roots lie in the pre-Revolutionary era, when the Bishop of London dispatched clergy to the New World. It takes cultural tradition seriously and relishes its connections with the England of the Tudor and Stuart kings. At least until recently, it was the natural home of America’s old-fashioned, semi-hereditary elite, a church that upwardly mobile sorts would join to signal their arrival in the social stratosphere, just as they might enter a fashionable country club. But it has also been associated, especially over the past couple of decades, with very liberal positions on ethical, theological and geopolitical issues.

That church, with all its grandeur, nostalgia and contradiction, was a natural spiritual dwelling-place for George H.W. Bush. At certain points in his career, whether serving Ronald Reagan as a loyal vice-president or running for the presidency himself in 1988, he actively courted the approval of more passionate religious types, the right-wing evangelical Christians who were becoming a force in American politics. But nobody was really fooled. Faith was of abiding importance to the senior George Bush, but in the low-key, private and understated way that is characteristic of posh Anglo-Saxons on either side of the Atlantic, whether they are speaking to God or anybody else.

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