The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried by a military honor guard past former President George W. Bush, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter, and Rosalynn Carter at the end of a state funeral at Washington National Cathedral on Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

George H.W. Bush’s ‘quiet faith’ remembered at cathedral funeral

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Former President George H.W. Bush was recalled as a man of “quiet faith” during a state funeral at Washington National Cathedral, a fitting site to memorialize the longtime Episcopalian.

“With faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the body of our brother George for burial,” intoned Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the start of the Wednesday (Dec. 5) ceremony as the 41st president’s casket was carried by military members into the cathedral.

All of the living former and current presidents — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — joined the 3,000 dignitaries, family and friends at the invitation-only ceremony.

The senior Bush’s eldest child, former President George W. Bush, gave an emotional tribute to his father, highlighting his service to country and his focus on giving back to others. 

Former President George W. Bush, right, speaks during the state funeral for his father, former President George H.W. Bush, at Washington National Cathedral on Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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“Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary, that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values like faith and family,” the 43rd president said. “To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.”

Other family members took turns reading Scripture, including Jenna Bush Hager — daughter of the 43rd president — who touched her grandfather’s flag-draped casket before she read from Revelation 21, whose first verse begins: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.”

The Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, said the elder Bush made Levenson's job as his pastor for almost a dozen years an easy one because of the late president’s concern more for others than for himself.

“Jesus Christ, for George Bush, was at the heart of his faith, but his was a deep faith, a generous faith, a simple faith in the best sense of the word,” said Levenson in his homily. “He knew and lived Jesus’ two greatest commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor.”

The pastor recalled moments of friendship and faith as the former president’s life ended on Friday, from longtime aide James Baker massaging Bush's feet to family and friends kneeling around his bed.

“We all placed our hands on the president; we said our prayers together and then we were silent for a full long measure as this man who changed all of our lives, who changed our nation, who changed our world, left this life for the next,” Levenson recounted. “It was a beautiful end. It was a beautiful beginning.”

RELATED: When George H.W. Bush played the religion card

In another tribute, presidential historian Jon Meacham noted that Bush frequently wondered why God had spared him when his other Navy comrades were lost after their plane was attacked during World War II.

“The workings of Providence are mysterious but this much is clear: The George Herbert Walker Bush who survived that fiery fall into the Pacific three-quarters of a century ago made our lives and the lives of nations freer, better, warmer and nobler,” said Meacham, a biographer of George H.W. Bush.

George W. Bush recalled how his father dealt with another tragedy, the loss of daughter Robin at age 3 to leukemia, which occurred early enough in George W.'s and brother Jeb’s lives that they did not understand the extent of their parents’ agony.

“We only learned later that Dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily,” said his son. “He was sustained by the love of the Almighty and the real and enduring love of her mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.”

The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried out by a military honor guard during a state funeral at Washington National Cathedral on Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Beyond his many roles as a public servant — from congressman to CIA director to vice president — the elder Bush’s personal history was steeped in religion. The great-grandson of an Episcopal rector had been led as a child in morning family worship that included the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. That same book’s funeral rite was followed for his service Wednesday.

During his time in the White House, he attended St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square, as well as the cathedral and a chapel at the presidential retreat Camp David whose dedication he attended in 1991.

His funeral, held on a National Day of Mourning designated by Trump, honored a man known to be generally reticent — and often uncomfortable — about discussing the details of his personal beliefs.

He nonetheless had much God-talk in his presidential remarks.

Historian Gary Scott Smith, author of “Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents,” noted that Bush stated that the U.S. was “one nation under God” 53 times in his one four-year term in public statements and addresses, far more than Clinton, Reagan and his son, each of whom had eight years in the White House. The 41st president made references to prayer in 220 speeches, remarks and proclamations, Smith added.

George H.W. Bush’s first act as president was to utter a prayer during his inaugural address. It began: “Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love.” His Cabinet meetings started with prayer, either silent or led by key staffers, Smith wrote.

RELATED: Religious leaders recall George H.W. Bush’s priorities: friendship, faith, family

In a speech to the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters in 1990, Bush said: “For although I’ve been President for barely a year, I believe with all my heart that one cannot be America’s President without a belief in God, without the strength that your faith gives to you.”

Former President George W. Bush walks past President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton to give a eulogy for his father, former President George H.W. Bush during the state funeral at Washington National Cathedral on Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Though he had friends among evangelicals — most notably evangelist Billy Graham — Bush also angered some of them for not hiring more conservative Christian staffers.

At the funeral, Michael W. Smith, a contemporary Christian singer famous in evangelical circles, sang his song “Friends.” The ceremony also featured Irish tenor Ronan Tynan singing “The Lord’s Prayer” and military and cathedral choirs singing traditional and patriotic hymns.

As the commendation prayer concluded the service, those gathered under the cathedral arches said: “Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.”


  1. I was never a huge fan of Poppy Bush, but one of the things I did like about him was the fact that he didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve for all to see, as though it were a merit badge. He was from the old school which believed that faith was a private affair and that if it was really sincere there was no need to flaunt it. Of course, that didn’t stop him from courting the very same people Reagan before him did who did wear their faith like a fashion accessory, but at least he never did that himself. There’s humility in that which bespeaks a certain graciousness on his part.

  2. As opposed to you, who wears his faith on his sleeve when conveniently lecturing those orthodox that are “insensitive” to progressive causes.
    As a Christian, you should wear your faith on your sleeve. That is what should define you to others.

  3. I’m not a politician representing people of all faiths or none in a pluralistic society. I’m a private citizen exercising my First Amendment Rights. Vive le différence.

  4. QUESTION: “Beyond his many roles as a public servant — from congressman to CIA director to vice president — [what, precisely, was] the elder Bush’s personal history … steeped in”?

    ANSWER: Not “religion”, that’s for sure. Must be what these Researchers of “the [Dead] Elder Bush” are all reporting, then:

    (1) Parry, Robert, “George H.W. Bush, the CIA and a Case of State-Sponsored Terrorism”, Consortium News, September 23, 2000.

    (7) Johnstone, Caitlin, “If You Murdered A Bunch Of People, Mass Murder Is Your Single Defining Legacy”, Medium, December 1, 2018.

    (8) Hasan, Mehdi, “The Ignored Legacy of George H.W. Bush: War Crimes, Racism, and Obstruction of Justice”, The Intercept, December 1, 2018.

    (9) Chin, Larry, “Political Succession and ‘The Bush-Clinton Nexus’: Permanent Criminal State: The Legacy of George Herbert Walker Bush: Permanent Revolving Door”, Global Research, September 26, 2016, updated December 2, 2018.

    (11) Chediac, Joyce, “George H.W. Bush’s Complicity in the 1991 ‘Highway of Death’ Massacre: A ‘statesman’ and ‘American hero’? What a lie!”, Global Research, December 4, 2018.

    (12) McMaken, Ryan, “George Bush’s Wars Set the Stage for 25 Years of Endless War”, Mises Wire: Mises Institute, December 5, 2018.

  5. You’re often a hypocrite; using faith when it suits your need. Either defend it; or abandon it. There is no middle ground.

  6. Speaking of faith – lots of images showing the Trump’s not reciting the apostles creed or singing the hymns.

  7. Yes, I quite agree. With you there is absolutely no middle ground on anything.

  8. The best response I’ve heard about this was a tweet where Donald says to Melania “Wasn’t Apostles Creed killed by Ivan Drago?”

  9. While I did not vote for Bush, he was certainly a better president that the current occupant of what has become the Offal Office. Trump’s odd behavior at Bush’s funeral simply confirms his aberrant narcissism.

  10. Those who do not recite the Apostle’s Creed or sing the hymns lack faith?

  11. This article is refreshing to read. Though I know some consider faith a “private matter” it sounds like POTUS 41 saw it as a public one, just not in the “hear ye, hear ye” sense. His motivations, actions and reflections on the meaning of life… all suggest that his was an authentic faith in Jesus Christ. Author/Professor Gary Scott Smith’s revelation is especially interesting… though G.H.W.B. was only in office 4 years, he mentioned this nation as being “under God” many times.

  12. not properly brain washed by your parents growing up?

  13. except he believed, and said so, that all presidents should be christian (article six of the constitution says no), and atheists are not patriots and shouldn’t be able to live here.

  14. “In a speech to the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters in 1990, Bush said: “For although I’ve been President for barely a year, I believe with all my heart that one cannot be America’s President without a belief in God, without the strength that your faith gives to you.” Of course this violates article six of the constitution he swore to uphold. And he believe if you weren’t christian you weren’t a patriot and if you were an atheist you weren’t an american (shouldn’t live here). That means he didn’t believe in religious freedom. He should have been even quieter about his beliefs.

    I’m guessing the quieter faith of Bush was more like Roy Moore. Presidents have always pandered to christians if they weren’t religious enough. Bush didn’t have to. He was more religious than most. Presidents usually put their hand on the bible (although they don’t have to) and swear to uphold the constitution, Bush did just the opposite.

  15. and not being indoctrinated by your parents makes you a bad person?

  16. You’re missing the point here. Trump’s evangelicals insiders declared Trump a baby born-again Christian and he helps further their agenda. His past, however, indicates that he was not an active churchgoer. His flub on “one” Corinthians indicated he is not familiar with the Bible. It was strange that he didn’t voice the Apostle’s Creed or sing the hymns. If Obama failed to do likewise the Right would have jumped on him as a closet Muslim. I am an atheist, by the way.

  17. I sent trump a tweet before he ran saying something positive about atheists and he retweeted it. only an atheist would do that. Trump promised his cult basically biblical law if he got elected and he did. the judges he is appointing will use the bible to decide cases where they can get away with it like scalia did.

    people make excuses for people all the time. like just because uncle bill is drunk everyday by lunch doesn’t mean he’s an alcoholic, he just like the flavor of whiskey. Trump has an obsessive compulsive personality, he admitted being ocd years ago. it controls everything he does and says.

  18. WOW, what flavor was the Kool Aide that you drank?

  19. Personal belief does not violate the Constitution. Had President Bush tried to force his belief into law or coerce others into agreeing with him, that would be a different matter, but he didn’t. He just expressed a belief, which was his right and is yours and mine as well.

  20. I think Trump was thoroughly indoctrinated by his parents, his father in particular. It was just into a different religion, personal greed.

  21. Every politician has both a public and a private attitude about religion. Being a closet agnostic doesn’t stop some from pandering to religious voters, nor does being devoutly religious stop some from refusing to exploit their faith for political gain.

    I’m sure that in some there is a healthy synchronicity between personal faith and public persona. Unless one gives me reason to think otherwise, I’m happy to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  22. very true. but what if he chose his cabinet and judges for their personal beliefs, biblical literalists? what if he did have a religious test for office violating article 6? his test was (and trump’s is) that they be literalists and have a biblical world view, so that view will permeate into policy and law. what if by choosing those judges he was forcing that religion and belief onto people through the law?

  23. how about if in the course of doing business he made a lot of other people rich, put a lot of people to work and fed their families, created wealth in the community, while he made money? does that make him a bad person? can we be good people without religion?

  24. Anything’s possible but I doubt it. Trump isn’t that complicated. He cozies up to evangelicals because its politically expedient. I doubt he’s thought through or is even aware of the far-reaching consequences of that.

  25. I didn’t say he was a bad person, though I do believe him to be irresponsible, self-serving and reckless. And, yes, one can be a good person without religion. When did I state otherwise?

  26. There’s a difference between intention and consequence. It’s easier to judge the latter, less so the former.

  27. you didn’t. just wanted clarity.

    I’m a little confused about trumps upbringing. I need to look into it. I know he got his OCD from his father.

  28. he was a Nazis they changed their names they were criminals period.

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