Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that churches, and particularly the evangelical movement that powered his election victories, have become too invested in political battles.
“Churches have become, particularly the White evangelical churches, have become political instruments,” Mr. Bush said in a conversation at the Bush Center about immigration and his new book of portraits.
He was being prodded by Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics & religious liberty commission, who wondered why some religious adherents’ support for immigration in the U.S. has flagged.
Mr. Bush wondered whether religions themselves were losing their vision.
“Are our churches too political? Are they focused on the right mission, which is saving souls?” the former president said.
The comments were striking for a president whose 2004 reelection campaign relied in part on energizing those White evangelicals using the issue of same-sex marriage.
After what they saw as a disappointing turnout in 2000, the Bush campaign harnessed a series of state ballot questions banning same-sex marriage to turn out folks who didn’t often turn out to vote, but wanted to take a stand on that issue.
Particularly in Ohio, deemed the fulcrum state in the election, analysts credited Mr. Bush’s win to infrequent White evangelical voters.
In his conversation Thursday, Mr. Bush said the transformation among White churches mirrors what’s “always been the case” in African American churches.
He recounted showing up at an African American congregation before Election Day one time and encountering a parishioner who wondered why he didn’t show up outside of election season.
“That’s a good point,” Mr. Bush said.
He said “until there is a religious awakening,” immigration may not be as important an issue to religious faiths as it used to be.
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