Last w/e my wife and I sat through the movie "W." whose director described it as a three-act film. It started with George W. Bush as a young man "with a missed life". Then follows his transformation where he makes "an assertion of will which was amazingly powerful," with the aim of coming out from his father's shadow. Finally, there’s his invasion of Iraq. Says movie critic, Margaret Pomeranz, “Alternating between Bush’s deliberations post 9/11, in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, and his early life as a hard-drinking, poker-playing, oil-drilling young tearaway, the two lives seem incompatible."
Watching the film, all the while I was waiting and hoping to see W’s encounter with Billy Graham – which would explain the transformation - but it never appeared! What we do get is Stacey Keach, being a composite character called Earl Hudd, as Bush's pastor and spiritual advisor. Hudd solemnly quotes John 3:16 to him, in full KJV mode - as if that was the point of turn-around:
KJV John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Well, it could have been the turning point, but the reality is probably much closer to the following description:
Arthur Blessitt was "the Man who Carried the Cross Around the World," lugging a twelve-foot-long cross for Jesus through sixty countries all over the world. It became, according to the "Guinness Book of World Records," the longest walk in human history. Blessitt ‘delivered countless lost souls to Jesus,’ and one day in 1984 visited Bush’s hometown Midland TX. Bush’s encounter with Blessitt is told in Internet Salon:
“Baptized as an Episcopalian in Connecticut, Bush had been a regular churchgoer his entire life, but for the most part he had just been going through the motions. . . . But when Bush heard about [a friend’s] encounter with Blessitt, he was so interested that a meeting was arranged. So, on the afternoon of April 3, 1984, Blessitt and [another friend] went to the coffee shop in the local Holiday Inn. Bush had already arrived, and got straight to the point. "I didn't bring up the subject of Jesus," Blessitt recalled, "he did. That's his personality." "Arthur," Bush said, "I did not feel comfortable attending the meeting, but I want to talk to you about how to know Jesus Christ and how to follow Him." Stunned by Bush's directness, Blessitt silently prayed, "Oh Jesus put your words in my mouth and lead him to understand and be saved." Then he picked up the Bible and leaned forward. "What is your relationship with Jesus?" Blessitt asked. "I'm not sure," Bush replied. "Let me ask you this question. If you died this moment do you have the assurance you would go to heaven?" "No," Bush said. "Then let me explain to you how you can have that assurance and know for sure that you are saved." Bush: "I like that." Blessitt then quoted several verses on sin and salvation -- from Matthew, Romans, Mark, and John. "The call of Jesus is for us to repent and believe!" he explained. "The choice is like this. Would you rather live with Jesus in your life or live without Him?" "With Him," Bush replied. "Had you rather spend eternity with Jesus or without Him?" "With Jesus". Blessitt told Bush that Jesus wanted to write his name in the Book of Life, and extended his hand. "I want to pray with you now," he said. "I'd like that," Bush replied. He joined hands with Sale and Blessitt. Then, Blessitt prayed a variation on the Sinner's Prayer aloud, one phrase at a time, with Bush repeating after him:
Dear God, I believe in you and I need you in my life. Have mercy on me as a sinner. Lord Jesus, as best as I know how, I want to follow you. Cleanse me from my sins and come into my life as my Savior and Lord. I believe You lived without sin, died on the cross for my sins and arose again on the third day and have now ascended unto the Father. I love you Lord, take control of my life. I believe you hear my prayer. I welcome the Holy Spirit of God to lead me in Your way. I forgive everyone and ask You to fill me with Your Holy Spirit and give me love for all people. Lead me to care for the needs of others. Make my home in Heaven and write my name in Your book in Heaven. I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and desire to be a true believer in and follower of Jesus. Thank you God for hearing my prayer. In Jesus' name I pray.
The three men smiled. "It was a happy and glorious time," said Blessitt. He explained to Bush exactly what had just happened. "Jesus has come to live within your heart," he told Bush. "Your sins are forgiven ... You are saved ... You have received eternal life ... You are now the Child of God ... The Holy Spirit abides within you ... You have become a new person." A friend was present during the entire discourse. He said, "You can never tell what goes on in a man's heart and soul". "But the question was asked and answered." George W. Bush had invited Christ into his life. "Why God chose to move in our president's heart at that time, I don't know," his friend said. "I'm just glad he did." "A good and powerful day," Blessit wrote in his diary. " Led Vice President Bush's son to Jesus today. George Bush Jr.! This is great! Glory to God."
Well then, how did Billy Graham get in on the act? The year following his conversion, Bush tells the story in "A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House." One evening at the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, Billy Graham - spiritual confidant to Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan and a close friend of the Bush family - sat down by the fireplace and gave a talk. "I don't remember the exact words," Bush wrote. "It was more the power of his example. The Lord was so clearly reflected in his gentle and loving demeanor." The next morning, Bush and Graham went for a walk along the rugged Maine shore . . . . "I knew I was in the presence of a great man ..." Bush wrote. "He was like a magnet; I felt drawn to seek something different. He didn't lecture or admonish; he shared warmth and concern. Billy Graham didn't make you feel guilty; he made you feel loved." "Over the course of that weekend, Reverend Graham planted a mustard seed in my soul, a seed that grew over the next year," he continued. "He led me to the path, and I began walking." Billy Graham himself said of this occasion "I've heard others say that [I converted Bush], and people have written it, but I cannot say that," Graham said. "I was with him and I used to teach the Bible at Kennebunkport to the Bush family when he was a younger man, but I never feel that I in any way turned his life around."
Mickey Herskowitz, a sportswriter for the Houston Chronicle - he became close friends with the Bush family and was originally contracted to ghost write "A Charge to Keep" - recalled interviewing Bush when he was doing research for the book. "I remember asking him about the famous meeting . . . " Herskowitz said. "And you know what? He couldn't remember a single word that passed between [him and Bush]." Herskowitz was so stunned by Bush's memory lapse that he began prompting him. . . . 'Well, Governor, would he have said something like, "Have you gotten right with God?'" According to Herskowitz, Bush was visibly taken aback and bristled at the suggestion. "No," Bush replied. "Billy Graham isn't going to ask you a question like that." Salon has the full story.
When "A Charge to Keep" was published Herskowitz was stunned to find the ghost-writing team had changed a key part. "It had Graham asking Bush, 'George, are you right with God?'" In other words, Herskowitz's question to Bush was now coming out of Billy Graham's mouth. He says: “It was picked off the tape."
Whichever, Salon concludes, “We see why the episode in Maine could not possibly have been the first time George Bush gave his soul to Christ. That's because Bush had already been born again, more than a year earlier, in April 1984 -- thanks to an evangelical preacher named Arthur Blessitt. “ And that fact HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH POLITICS!! But, it does have everything to do with the Gospel in a nutshell: John 3:16.