President George Herbert Walker Bush died on Friday, Nov. 30, at the age of 94. In his eulogy for his father at the state funeral in Washington D.C., President George W. Bush described him as “a man of quiet faith” and “the brightest of a thousand points of light.”
Many qualities distinguished the 41st president, who was known for his service to his country in World War II, his 73-year marriage to First Lady Barbara Bush, and his extensive political career that emphasized bipartisanship.
The President’s Religious Background
Bush was an Episcopalian whose faith was both steady and understated. He grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and attended an Episcopal church in that community. His mother used to read to him from a Book of Common Prayer. The Economist notes that, while the family’s faith was consistent, it was also private. It was “not the kind of religion that prompts people to preach in the street or warn strangers that they are doomed.”
Controversy surrounded the Episcopal church in the president’s adult years, such as when the church ordained a lesbian bishop in 1991. Even though leadership had ordained homosexual bishops in the past, the New York Times reported that “her ordination was noteworthy for the candor of both the candidate and church officials about her sexual relationship.”
The president expressed disapproval about the ordination but did not leave the church over the issue. The Reverend Dr. Russell Levenson, Jr., Rector, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston, said these words about the late president at his state funeral: “The president so loved the church.” Reverend Levenson described the president as “a good man, full of love and equality…grounded in a desire to serve God and all God sent his way.”
Even though George H.W. Bush largely stayed away from religious and cultural controversies, faith was one of the qualities he cherished most. There were two times in particular when faith was very much in the foreground of his life.
One was in 1944 when, as a naval airman, he fell into the Pacific Ocean after his aircraft was damaged. The AP reports, “Eight others who were shot down in that mission were captured and executed, and several were eaten by their captors.”
This event led Bush to do some soul-searching and question why he had survived when others had not.
Another milestone in the former president’s life was the death of his daughter, Robin, who passed away from leukemia at age three. In his eulogy, President George W. Bush said that his father was “sustained by the love of the Almighty and the real and enduring love of our mom” and that he “always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.”
Yet even in the midst of tragedy, George H.W. Bush demonstrated reserve when it came to his faith. Said his son, it was only later that he learned that his father prayed daily for Robin in the days leading up to her death.