The Grace and Compassion of George W. Bush
Has it been good for the church that social conservatives have congealed or aligned themselves with economic and foreign policy conservatives?
Most of the conservative Christian leaders who I worked very closely with, and write about in the book, were very comfortable differentiating the role of the church and the role of the state. They by and large adopted the view that Chuck Colson set out in his book Kingdoms in Conflict, that a Christian living in America was a citizen of the United States but also a citizen ultimately of the Kingdom of God.
Do I consider it possible, or probable, that some Christians came to believe that if we could just get the political process right, we could somehow save the country? I do. That's why I write in the book that, as important as politics is, culture is preeminent. Not politics. The government is not the church—and the church is not the government. Conflate or confuse them at your own peril.
You had your own experience of sin and grace when a reporter discovered that some words in unpaid pieces you wrote for a newspaper had been taken from other sources. You describe this in your book without flinching. What happened? How does someone in the White House, especially someone as savvy as yourself, start down that road? And how did the President respond when this came to his attention?
I'm pleased to be asked about this. Proverbs is correct: Pride goes before the fall. But in the words of T. S. Eliot, "humility is endless."
In my time in the White House, I was becoming a very prideful person. This pride and vanity extended to plagiarizing columns for my hometown newspaper. I was not writing about politics, but about many other things that interested me. Pride takes many forms, and one of them is always wanting to be the brightest guy, the one with something interesting to say. I began plagiarizing these columns. I knew what I was doing, and I knew it was wrong.
One morning I came to work at the White House and when I opened my email I found a reporter asking whether this was true that I had plagiarized these columns. I literally fell to the side of my desk. I prayed, "Oh God, oh God." I knew right away that the world as I had known it was over on that day. I felt, as I say in The Man in the Middle, that my world was collapsing. By return email, I told the reporter that it was entirely true, and I was guilty as charged. I had no one to blame but myself.
There are, in this world, two kinds of crises. One is where it's beyond your control, and another is where you're directly responsible. I was directly responsible, without excuse. I inflicted, as a result of my own sin, shame and embarrassment on the President, and on my colleagues and mentors. I had violated everything I believed in, and was a hypocrite to my wife and children and family. Categorically. So I resigned from the White House that day. That was on a Friday.
On a Monday, I came back to the White House to begin clearing out my desk and taking the pictures off the walls. I received a call from Josh Bolton, who had become a friend from the first Bush campaign when we met in Austin, Texas. Josh was now the Chief of Staff, and he said he wanted to see me. I presumed that would be the proverbial "woodshed" moment, which I thoroughly deserved.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.