And there he was: larger than life, smiling in video monitor triplicate high above the stage of New Life Church. A man as loved as he is loathed, President George W. Bush.
Of course it was nothing but love from the hundreds assembled at New Life last Thursday for the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Founded in 1942, the NAE comprises the leaders of some 51 denominations and 250 para-church ministries. Since 1980, the organization has invited the president, regardless of party affiliation, to address its national convention.
Ronald Reagan became the first president to accept, using the convention for his famous "evil empire" speech in 1983. Since then, Republican presidents often accept the invitation -- especially during election years.
Last week President Bush succeeded his father, who spoke to the NAE in 1992, addressing the convention via satellite from the East Coast.
In his introduction, New Life founding frontman (and current NAE president) Ted Haggard lauded Bush's accomplishments.
"We have a president who has a core set of principles that dictate the difference between right and wrong," Haggard said, before mentioning that his only dispute with the commander in chief was that the president drives a Ford and he drives a Chevy .
"But I think that's forgivable, don't you?" Haggard asked.
In a short address that was interrupted with frequent applause, the president offered a laundry list of his administration's accomplishments that appealed to this socially conservative constituency. Topping the list was the ban on partial birth abortion, increased funding for abstinence education, and the recently proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution.
"All of you know the power of faith can transform lives; you're answering the call to love and serve your neighbor," Bush said. "Our laws should welcome and encourage your good works. We should never discriminate against faith-based charities."
-- John Dicker
photo by Sean Cayton