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New scrutiny of role of religion in Bush's policies

The president's rhetoric worries even some evangelicals

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President Bush has never been shy about injecting his faith into the public arena - his campaign remark that Jesus Christ was his "favorite political philosopher" was an early signal. But his rising use of religious language and imagery in recent months, especially with regard to the US role in the world, has stirred concern both at home and abroad.

In this year's State of the Union address, for example, Bush quoted an evangelical hymn that refers to the power of Christ. "'There's power, wonder-working power,' in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people," he said.

Now, some critics are wondering whether the influence of Bush's evangelical faith goes beyond public rhetoric to shape his foreign policy regarding Iraq and the Middle East.

With public speculation in full swing, the Christian Century last week insisted that "the American people have a right to know how the president's faith is informing his public policies, not least his design on Iraq."

No one presumes to know how another's personal faith plays out in public life, and the president's spokesman insists that Mr. Bush makes his decisions as a "secular leader."

Not all evangelicals are pleased

Yet among those who share his evangelical Christianity, the satisfaction of having a born-again believer in the White House doesn't necessarily preclude an uneasiness with some of his rhetoric and policies.

Forty evangelical leaders, for instance, wrote the president last summer seeking an "evenhanded US policy" toward Israel and the Palestinians and rejecting "the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support" for Israel. Some evangelical groups are close allies of the Sharon government and work in the US to build support.

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