At least once a month, I pop open a search engine and go fishing on the World Wide Web, looking for a quotation or some other reference that I remember from the distant past. Just because you remember something -- as an aging religion-beat scribe -- doesn't mean that you are going to be able to find a reference online (or in the boxes of notes and clippings that line a wall in your basement).
So let me share what I remember about a First Things article I read just before the birth of the Internet. It focused on the differences, in terms of faith and personal style, between President Bill Clinton and the recently ousted President George H.W. Bush.
The basic idea was that Clinton, as a Bible Belt Baptist, was much more comfortable talking about his faith than the more reserved Bush, a Yankee Episcopalian. At one point there was a footnote to a press-conference transcript from the Bush campaign.
As I recall, Bush was asked what he thought about during the hours in which he floated in shark-infested Pacific Ocean waters after his fighter plane was shot down during World War II.
The transcript indicated that Bush said that he thought about Barbara, this family and God -- then there was a strategic pause before he added -- and "the separation of church and state."
Now there's a man who is a mainline Protestant's mainline Protestant.
I thought about article (if anyone can find it online, I'd love a URL) this morning while reading lots of news and commentary about the death of the 92-year-old Barbara Bush, the Bush family's beloved "Silver Fox" who had become a quirky, candid grandmother figure for millions of Americans. Good luck trying to find insights into the family's faith -- which can be sensed in between the lines, but that's as far as journalists were willing to go.
My main question: Were Barbara and George H.W. Bush the last old-school mainline Protestants -- in terms of low-key style and quiet faith -- to occupy the White House?
I mean, George W. Bush was a United Methodist, but he adopted a more outspoken, evangelical style after the religious rebirth that helped him defeat alcohol.