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Bittersweet early December

Remembering an honorable president during a gospel-focused funeral

Bittersweet early December

The current and former U.S. presidents and their wives attend the funeral for George H.W. Bush. (Alex Brandon/Getty)

“I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.”

When George H.W. Bush turned 19 on June 12, 1943, he had already gained his U.S. Navy commission. He almost died the following year when a Japanese flyer shot down his plane—but Bush bailed out and survived to sing along to Lee Greenwood’s signature song at the 1988 Republican convention.

Tributes to Bush filled the early days of December, as mediacrats once again showed their ability to portray Republicans fairly only after they die. In 1988 Newsweek’s cover headline infamously declared, “Bush Battles the Wimp Factor.” Among the touching moments as Bush’s casket lay in state at the U.S. Capitol: Bob Dole, 95, rising from his wheelchair to salute his opponent and ally. Among those touched by honesty: former Newsweek editor Evan Thomas, who wrote, “I called George Bush a ‘wimp.’…  I was wrong.”

Drew Angerer/Getty

Bob Dole salutes the casket. (Drew Angerer/Getty)

What Bush had was self-deprecating humor, as at the 1989 Gridiron Club dinner: “People say I’m indecisive, but I don’t know about that.” The service on Dec. 5 at the Washington National Cathedral was not indecisive. It had lots of teaching about Christ and the future for all who believe in Him: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth. After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God. I myself shall see.”

During Bush’s 1989-1993 years as president, the Soviet Union collapsed and Francis Fukuyama declared in a book title that we had reached “the end of history.” He was wrong. Revelation has it right, and millions watching on television and computers heard it: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

The Trumps, Obamas, and Clintons sat adjacent in a pew, and throughout the cathedral wolves and lambs cohabited. Those unable to attend the service included theologian Thomas Jonathan Jackson Altizer, a descendant of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson: Altizer died two days before Bush. A New York Times headline noted, “Thomas Altizer, 91, Proponent of ‘God Is Dead’ Theology, Dies.”

Justin Sullivan/Getty

Well-wishers wave as the funeral train passes. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

In other news since our last issue went to press: The board of CBS received a report stating that former CEO Leslie Moonves had one CBS staffer “on call” for sexual activities and four more employees had sex with him “under circumstances that sound transactional and improper.” The U.S. Supreme Court decided that a 1,544-acre wooded area in Mississippi may not have to be left as it is just because 100 dusky gopher frogs who live in a nearby area might decide to move there.

One month after Election Day a North Carolina congressional district was still up for grabs, since the GOP candidate may have benefited from “vote harvesting,” where partisans go house to house to collect the absentee ballots of only those likely to vote their way. That’s illegal in North Carolina but legal in California, where some Democratic candidates gained election that way. Meanwhile, day after day the national debt continued to increase, with an inevitable fiscal crisis down the road.

 Lee Luther Jr./News & Advance/AP

Freeze speaks at a press conference. ( Lee Luther Jr./News & Advance/AP)

In hiring news, Liberty University on Dec. 7 made Hugh Freeze its head football coach. Freeze last year resigned under fire from Ole Miss after football success but moral failure: During recruiting trips for his Mississippi team he regularly called “escort services.” The sneering press had great sport with Liberty’s announcement: Headlines included The Daily Beast’s “Holy Hypocrisy” and Deadspin’s “Liberty Hires Hugh Freeze, because of course they would,” since “it’s the place that will hire any scandal-plagued dirtball.”

Was FanSided right to report, “Money and greed outshines morality and creed, regardless of what a university purports to stand for”? In January of this year Freeze spoke at Liberty of his repentance and his dependence on forgiveness from God and his wife. But on Dec. 7 Liberty missed an opportunity to face this head-on: Its website announcement of Freeze’s appointment did not even mention the 800-pound linebacker in the room.

Doug Mills/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP

The State Funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington. (Doug Mills/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP)

Will Freeze’s future reflect what he said and tweeted that day: Jesus is “the only one who can handle my junk,” and “The taste of dirt teaches us to savor the taste of sugar”? We can pray for Freeze, Liberty, and ourselves with words from the Bush service in the National Cathedral: “Almighty God, look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants. … Nourish them with patience; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; lift up your countenance upon them; and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


  • Judy Farrington
    Posted: Fri, 12/14/2018 09:38 am

    Good article, but the Carters were not included in the list of current and former presidents seated together. Former president and Mrs. Carter's lives have surely been more in line with the worship service than the others who shared the pew.