ALLENDALE, Mich. - President Bush would not have been re-elected without the support of the Christian right, but for many conservative Christians it was a defensive vote to prevent same-sex marriage, appointment of pro-choice judges, and increased funding for stem-cell research, according to Professor Mark Rozell.
Ballot issues on same-sex marriage in 11 states, including pivotal Ohio, generated locally directed grass-roots efforts among religious conservatives and a significant number of moderates to turn out the vote and keep the Democratic Party away from the White House, Mr. Rozell, a professor at George Mason University, said yesterday.
Although Mr. Bush won all 15 states with the highest percentage of evangelical Christians, the narrow victory also hinged on the support of religious moderates, Mr. Rozell said. Mr. Bush received a significant 45 percent of that demographic and 52 percent of Catholic votes nationwide.
In Ohio, he said, Mr. Bush received 172,000 more Catholic votes this year than he did in 2000. That proved to be crucial, as President Bush won the state this time by a margin of 130,000 votes.
President Bush's faith and how it affected the election and his presidency were among the topics discussed at a two-day Religion and the Presidency conference at Grand Valley State University here and in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Twenty-five scholars from across the country gathered for what organizers said was the first conference of its kind.
Clyde Wilcox, a professor of government at Georgetown University, said Christian conservatives in Washington "are wildly enthusiastic" about President Bush's second term in office.
They believe that since neither Mr. Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney will be running for president in 2008, the administration will be able to pursue its agenda without concern over political fallout.
Mr. Wilcox's research colleague at Georgetown, graduate student Carin Larson, cautioned, "The Christian right believes George W. Bush is their guy, but clearly he is not a rubber stamp for the Christian right."
Kedron Bardwell, an assistant professor at Grand Valley State, quoted President Bush as saying that his faith gives him "the freedom to do the right thing even if it doesn't poll well."
Mr. Wilcox said he believes some of the elation among evangelical Christians may turn to frustration over the next four years.
"He compromised on stem-cell research support," Mr. Wilcox said, and "he never said he would reverse Roe v. Wade."
Ms. Larson said the President is often wrongly portrayed as a fundamentalist Christian, which doesn't fit Mr. Bush's statement in 2000 that while he believes the Bible is the inspired word of God, he doesn't necessarily believe in a literal interpretation of Scripture.
Further illustrating how President Bush does not fit the fundamentalist Christian label, Ms. Larson said the President has participated in interfaith prayers, attends an Episcopal church in Washington - a denomination that ordained a homosexual bishop - and is a member of the United Methodist Church, which supports many pro-choice policies.
She said that while President Bush does not use the term "born again" about his spirituality, preferring to use phrases such as "renewal of personal faith," he clearly went through a spiritual transformation after spending time with evangelist Billy Graham. The President has said that God gave him the strength to quit drinking alcohol.
Mr. Bush began participating in Bible studies, reads the Bible and prays daily, and goes to church regularly.
The President makes very quick and visceral decisions, and he is very confident after making them, which detractors see it as religious arrogance, as if he has a pipeline to God, Mr. Wilcox said.
Yet Mr. Bush made decisions the same way prior to his spiritual conversion, Mr. Wilcox said.
The Religion and the Presidency conference was sponsored by Grand Valley State's Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, George Mason University's Masters of Public Policy Program, the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, and the Gerald R. Ford Museum. The panel discussions are scheduled to be broadcast at 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day on C-SPAN.
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