It’s time to play “spot the evangelical code words,” the game in which the Washington press tries to figure out when President George W. Bush is sending mysterious secret messages to those religious “values voters” who want to turn American into a theocracy.
For those who are behind on this game, please do your homework in the text of the recent talk by White House scribe Michael Gerson at an Ethics and Public Policy Center seminar in lovely Key West, Fla. This has been posted all over the place, but the original is here. Gerson is a Wheaton College graduate who turned to journalism and then speechwriting and, as an evangelical, he knows all kinds of magic words that can woo people in pews.
Here are some “code word” nominations from President Bush’s second inaugural address. Feel free to nominate your own. Let’s begin with:
America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth. Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.
In this case, “maker” is not “Maker” — at least not in the Washington Post — but I think we all know what is going on there, especially with the heaven and earth language. Perhaps there is a nod to the black-church conservatives in this, too.
We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.
I think that is a statement of a moral absolute. We will have to wait for the New York Times op-eds to be sure, however.
The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.”
Whoa, we have a “just God” and “Lincoln.” Duck and cover. OK, a big finish now. Let’s combine the big two, as Gerson deals once again with the specter of “American exceptionalism.”
Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran and the varied faiths of our people. Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever. . . .
We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.
OK, what did I miss? Anything really sneaky between the lines? This seems toned down to me. No angels or whirlwinds. Please send us the URLs of your favorite God-talk reviews tomorrow. I mean, other than the ones that are totally, totally predictable.