President Bush Runs the Gauntlet to Visit Christian University

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing a speech by President George W. Bush.  The school where I teach, Arizona Christian University, had invited him to share his thoughts on faith-based education and political leadership.

Upon arriving at the Phoenix Convention Center, guests were heckled by protesters. There were the usual signs concerning Bush's war decisions, but those accusing Christians of being war criminals and saying our university supports torture surprised me in their malice.  I wondered if this was the tone of civility President Obama had in mind when he spoke just 90 miles south of here in Tucson a couple of months ago.  While I was briefly amused by the screamers on the sidewalk, two things struck me: President Bush hears this vitriol everywhere he goes, and these people have nothing better to do on a random weeknight than scream at their fellow Phoenicians.

Inside the hall, however, the tone was uplifting and cheerful as we welcomed someone who bravely led us through the horrors of 9/11 and has promoted liberty in every corner of the world.  He spoke about the importance of his faith and the guiding principles it provides when faced with difficult decisions.  He spoke of the God-given yearning for freedom that is written in the hearts of every human being, reminding us that despite the sorrow inflicted by terrorism, the suffering endured from dictatorial oppression, and the pain inflicted by injustice, good will prevail, and God is good -- always.

Much to the left's confusion, I'm sure, President Bush reminded us of his compassion for the people of Africa when he funded medicines, supplies, and educational programs that will help save the lives of millions stricken with AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.  He spoke of his desire to see women of the Middle East protected from oppressive cultures and free to enjoy voting rights, education, and sexual safety.  And he will not tolerate bad-mouthing of the current administration. 

While the President did recycle several jokes and anecdotes from his numerous book tour interviews, he was engaging, funny, thoughtful, and determined.  He was daringly candid, as when he described Kim Jong-il as an egotistical "chest-thumper."  And he was profoundly personal in detailing the evolution of freedom, recounting his father's fighting the Japanese in World War II and his own friendship with the current prime minister of Japan. All this without a teleprompter.

His presence at a function promoting a tiny evangelical college surrounded by a large city and overshadowed by the hypersecular Arizona State University a few miles away was inspirational, and his words will not soon be forgotten.  Hopefully his participation will allow us to grow and stand as a beacon for Christian education to influence the leaders of tomorrow.

Of course, no one endorses every choice President Bush made while in office.  We may debate the wisdom of his public education policies, or his decision to bail out banks and insurance companies, or his lack of initiative on immigration enforcement, or his effectiveness on a host of other issues repeatedly analyzed by those on both sides of the aisle.  But a few things remain constant: he loudly proclaims that America is the greatest country in the world, he has fought vigorously for the protection of innocent life, and he has enthusiastically promoted freedom for people everywhere.  I only wish I could similarly describe the leaders in our current administration.

I had never been in a room with someone who was recently the most powerful person in the world, but on that evening last week, we were the ones who felt powerful.  We were the ones who were motivated to use faith to transform lives.  We were the ones who were reminded of how conservative principles can and should shape the future of our children, our citizens, and our country.