Does George W. Bush believe, as has been reported, that God wanted him to be president? If so, could it be in part because a Baptist preacher told him so?

The Dallas Morning News reported Atlanta pastor James Merritt’s account of a private meeting with Bush and a small group of religious leaders in the Oval Office shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I wasn’t going to say anything unless he asked,” Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in suburban Atlanta, who at the time was president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in an interview with the newspaper.

After a verse of Scripture and a discussion of 9/11 and its aftermath, Merritt said Bush turned to him and asked his thoughts.

“I said, ‘Mr. President, you and I are fellow believers in Jesus Christ.'”

Bush nodded.

“I said, ‘We both believe there is a sovereign God in control of this universe.’ And he nodded his head again.”

“Since God knew that those planes would hit those towers before you and I were ever born, since God knew that you would be sitting in that chair before this world was even created, I can only draw the conclusion that you are God’s man for this hour,” Merritt continued.

Merritt said Bush lowered his head and there were tears in his eyes.

Merritt predicted that evangelicals would come out in droves to vote for Bush, whom he said is pushing more buttons with religious voters than any president since Ronald Reagan. “If we can’t get fired up about this president, we may never get fired up about another president,” he said.

Merritt is the latest in a line of prominent Southern Baptist preachers to jump on the Bush re-election bandwagon. Facing a likely close race, the Bush campaign is reaching out to religious voters in unprecedented ways, including dispatching Republican organizer Ralph Reed to an invitation-only meeting with pastors at this summer’s Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis.

A Methodist who has said he reads the Bible and Charles Stanley devotionals every day, Bush is regarded by many as the most overtly religious president in years. He named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher in a debate and invoked a Christian hymn in his State of the Union address in the line, “There is power, wonder-working power in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.”

And Merritt isn’t the first to declare the president to be God’s own politician.

The controversial terrorism fighter Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who was criticized for a series of anti-Muslim comments in churches, said God chose Bush over former Vice President Al Gore. “Why is this man in the White House?” Boykin asked. “The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? And I tell you this morning that he’s in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this.”

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land gained media attention in April for telling a PBS “Frontline” documentary that the day in 1999 Bush was inaugurated for a second term as the governor of Texas he told Land and others meeting with him at the governor’s mansion, “I believe that God wants me to be president.” Land later claimed the quote was taken out of context.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said he believed God was telling him that Bush would win re-election “in a walk.”

Much has been made of the so-called “religion gap,” polls showing that Americans who claim to be more religious strongly support Bush over Democratic nominee John Kerry.

In his recent speech at the Republican National Convention, Bush proclaimed himself a missionary for freedom around the world. “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world,” he said. “It is the Almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in this world.”

Other Christians take exception to the claim that God is taking sides in the election and that true believers should vote for Bush. The anti-poverty group Sojourners recently ran an ad in The New York Times announcing “God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat.”

Author Tony Campolo complained that evangelical Christianity has been “hijacked” by the Religious Right, opposing abortion and gay rights while ignoring other moral issues like war and poverty.

“The Republican and Democratic parties are neither thoroughly moral nor completely immoral,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “Both are flawed.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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