Sabbatical Update: Texas

Periodically, I’ve been providing updates on my sabbatical year. Those of you who have kept up with this know I’m working on more than one project. One, though, has kept me moving across the country to different presidential libraries as I examine documents related to spiritual advisers to presidents.

I’ve already gone to Wheaton College–back in August–and researched in the archives of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, since he is the premier spiritual adviser for a number of presidents since WWII. Then I traveled to California and spent time at both the Reagan and Nixon libraries.

This past week I’ve been in Texas, continuing my research at the LBJ and George H. W. Bush libraries. Both of these presidents were close to Graham, and LBJ also had a couple other spiritual advisers I looked into as well.

Let me just give you a few impressions.

The LBJ Library, in Austin, is on the campus of the University of Texas. It is nothing like the Reagan Library (which remains my favorite, not only because of the president himself but also because of the beauty of the place and the immensity and quality of the museum). My first view of it was this:

LBJ Library

I certainly don’t wish to be overly critical. One could say it is majestic, I guess, but to me it appeared like a big block of concrete—massive, forbidding, almost like a fortress. Well, that may be just me. You can come to your own conclusions.

The museum portion had its highlights, but nothing as grand, in my view, as what I experienced at the Reagan Library. There was one “grand” view, however, that was worth noting:

Stacks-Front

They decided to showcase some of the archives behind the scenes. Going up this staircase, one can get some idea of the enormity of the collection. This is only a portion of it.

While in Austin, I also took in the Texas State History Museum.

TX State History Museum

I’ve heard that everything in Texas is big, or at least purports to be. This museum fits the stereotype, from its three-level staircase in the lobby to its nearly breathtaking view from the top level.

TX Museum-Interior 2

TX Museum-Interior 1

I want to pause here and offer a word of gratitude to the Texas State Trooper who decided to have a little talk with me after I went the wrong way on a one-way street. I didn’t see the sign, told him I was a newcomer (never been in Austin before), and was there to do presidential research. He asked what I was researching and seemed interested when I mentioned Billy Graham. He let me off with a warning. Yes, I am grateful (and will be more alert to one-way street signs in downtown areas in the future).

My next stop was College Station, and the campus of Texas A&M, where the George H. W. Bush Library is located.

Bush Library-Front

This library looked much more inviting. I also didn’t have any encounters with one-way streets. I like College Station.

The lobby was pretty grand.

Bush Library Lobby 2

The exhibits were excellent throughout and catch one’s attention right away.

Bush Portrait

Quotes from Bush are liberally scattered throughout. There were some I particularly liked, such as this one after he went down in the Pacific during WWII:

Bush-God Quote

While there, I decided to get a little work done, so I looked around for a desk I could use. I found one:

Bush Oval Office 3

Please don’t tell anybody.

That’s the travelogue side. Most of my time, of course, was spent poring through papers. I found a lot of fine documents that should help my colleague and me put together what we want to say about these presidents. I came away with a little more grudging admiration for LBJ, not in policy matters (where I disagree with his entire Great Society program), but simply for what he had to go through in a turbulent time. I’m not convinced, however, that his faith was genuine. One’s life must match one’s talk.

As for Bush, my appreciation for him was strengthened. I’ve always considered him to be a decent man, but I’m more convinced than ever that his Christian faith was the real thing. I have policy disagreements with what he did as well, but I want to give some leeway and offer praise for his strong family ethic, which can be seen in the way his sons honor him today.

Bush is now in his nineties and his health is declining. When he passes, the nation will have lost a true Christian gentleman.

I’m not yet sure when and where my next trip will take place, but when it does, another update will be coming your way.

A New National Conversation

I’m fighting the temptation to write a blog that lists every action of the Obama administration that manifests scandal, deception, misinformation, racial division, or astounding incompetence, but I don’t have the time to write that long of an article—nor would many readers make it to the end. So I have to break up those incidents into bite-sized pieces.

Let’s just focus for now on the latest manifestations. Jonathan Gruber of Obamacare deception infamy will be testifying before a congressional panel soon. That will put him back in the limelight, which is important, because the public needs to be constantly reminded of what has been foisted upon them. When that happens, I fully expect this type of response from the White House:

Most Transparent Admin

The president’s chief enablers will probably step in at that point, and it will be hard to tell the difference between the White House spin and what the enablers are saying. But if they could be totally honest, we would hear something like this:

Our Job

Also, since Ferguson has been our obsession for the past week and a half, and we’ve made a hero out of a thug/thief, the administration has decided that we once again need a national conversation on race. If I had the authority, I think I would ban the phrase “national conversation on race” indefinitely. Why? The administration’s definition of any such national conversation only goes one way—blaming law enforcement for all the problems. In the past, we’ve had presidents who acted racially—think of Woodrow Wilson, a staunch supporter of segregation who acted it out during his administration—but now the pendulum has swung in the other direction:

Racial Profiling

Translation: guilty until proven innocent, and in our eyes, you are never innocent.

Almost unnoticed while the fallout from Ferguson continues is the new barrier we’ve broken with our national debt. The $18 trillion mark is now in our rearview mirror as we head on to new heights in the next two years. It is now an established fact that the Obama years have added more to the national debt than all other years in our nation’s history combined. Yet the president brushes it off as inconsequential while he seeks to add even more to that total:

How Much

What makes this particularly galling is that while running for president back in 2008, he specifically targeted the debt George Bush contributed, calling it “irresponsible” and a “failure of leadership.” Then, to add to the rhetorical flourish, he said that amassing a debt such as Bush had done was clearly “unpatriotic.”

By your own words, you will be judged.

Might I suggest a new national conversation? How about we talk nationally about the voters’ responsibility to place men and women of honor and integrity in office? For some reason, I doubt the eagerness of the Obama administration to take part in that national conversation.

A Tale of Two Speeches

So there was President Obama, standing before the UN, sounding like a true warrior against Islamic terrorism. But was the speech all sound and fury, lacking in substance? It certainly wasn’t the same type of speech he gave to the UN last year.

Never Mind

On Fox’s The Kelly File, an interesting comparison was made between what Obama said in his newest UN speech with what George Bush said in 2001. They were strikingly similar:

United Nations Hosts World Leaders For Annual General Assembly

Both speeches spoke of the bloodthirsty, evil enemies who have to be destroyed. What makes this ironic, of course, is that Obama ran in 2008 on the premise that Bush was practically a warmonger and, if we would elect him [Obama], the Islamic world would embrace us as true friends. Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows forever.

Yet even in this ostensibly tough speech this week, Obama hedged. In an almost apologetic tone for being forced to act, he found it useful, for some reason, to point to what he considers America’s faults. For some reason, he inserted Ferguson into the speech as an example of America not being perfect. That episode is still under investigation, the policeman has not been indicted, and there’s no evidence yet that racism played a role. Yet he has already given his verdict.

He also praised a Muslim cleric who has publicly stated that it is right for Muslims to kill American soldiers. Mixed message? Does Obama really believe all his tough talk, or is this primarily an attempt to shore up his approval rating and help Democrats in the upcoming elections?

If there’s one thing we have learned about our president over the years, he is good at making promises he never intends to keep:

Here Is the Promise

We’ve also learned that his ego seems to know no bounds. He actually believes—and has stated publicly–that he is better and smarter than all of his advisers. When it comes to the military, he has a habit of rejecting the seasoned advice of his generals. He’s proven that in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Reports are bubbling to the surface even now that he is dismissing what they are telling him about the needs of this current counterterrorism endeavor.

Better

Remind me again what military experience our commander in chief has in his background. Oh, that’s right—none. In fact, as many critics pointed out from the first day he ran for the highest office in the land, he’s never run any organization or made executive decisions at any point in his life.

Yet here we are with a president who knows nothing about being the chief executive of a nation. This, along with his radical ideology, is why I have no confidence in his decisions, even when they appear to be correct.

Obama’s Disengagement Ideology

No one man or administration can be blamed for the ongoing Middle East crisis. It’s rooted in ancient history and will never be erased completely. But that doesn’t mean that American policy can’t have an effect on those festering resentments and hatreds. We can help keep them under control or we can create a situation where they break into the open.

George Bush, when he changed tactics and approved the surge, largely pacified Iraq. He handed over to Barack Obama a country that had engaged in free elections and had a fledgling government. The presence of American troops helped keep the peace.

Obama, from the start, had an ideological contempt for any American involvement militarily in the area. That ideology also led him to apologize for America’s past actions in the region and fooled him into believing he could make all things right with soothing speeches and total pullout of the military. That’s what he did in Iraq, although his top generals told him it was a mistake and would be the opening that the terrorists needed.

What we are currently facing in that region, via ISIS, is the direct result of President Obama’s disengagement policy. It emboldened those who seek to set up an Islamic caliphate and dictate Sharia law. It may be the only occasion where this president has spurred “growth”:

Created Jobs

As ISIS set up its Islamic state and the beheadings began, our president seemed more concerned about his next golf outing than dealing with the increasing instability. Many were wondering what it would take to get his full attention:

Ton of Bricks

So he decided to give another speech. The incentive for that speech might have had political undertones:

Grave Threat

As many have commented since, and as I noted a few days ago, one of the most bewildering statements in his speech came near the beginning when he claimed that the Islamists and their Islamic State weren’t really Muslim at all. That was news to the rest of the world:

You First

He then backpedaled on his own stated policy toward the Syrian rebels. Previously, he said they weren’t a valid fighting force to support. Now, all of a sudden, they were:

New Strategy

Further, he continued to try to convince Americans that ISIS is merely a regional threat and that we shouldn’t worry about what they might do here. After all, we have a very secure border, right?

Regional Threat

Obama’s approval numbers are about what Bush’s were at the low ebb of his presidency, but if you don’t know that, there may be a reason:

Presidential Approval Reports

But don’t let anyone tell you the news media is biased. Of course not. Or could our president’s friends in the media be the main reason his numbers haven’t tanked completely? How long can they prop him up?

Iraq: A Tragedy Unfolds

What’s transpiring in Iraq is horrendous. No matter what one’s position on whether we should have gotten involved there, current events should leave everyone uneasy. The stability that seemed to have been achieved in the later Bush years has now crumbled.

I’m caught between two points of view myself on our Iraqi involvement. Saddam Hussein was a destabilizing influence throughout the Middle East, his regime was rewarding suicide bombers, and he was beginning to welcome Al Qaeda elements into the country. The ripple effect could touch not only Israel but reach our shores as well.

At the same time, too many people in the foreign policy realm had a rosy picture of how a “democracy” could be created in a nation that was hardly even a nation, torn within ideologically and ethnically. Those fissures remain and are now once again surfacing. Unless people have a solid foundation for building a stable government, disaster is not hard to predict. Iraq lacked that foundation, one I believe can only be rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic.

President Bush, concerned that the U.S. not appear to be a heavy-handed occupier, sought to move the Iraqis toward self-government. Only when it became apparent that things were not coalescing as hoped did he give the go-ahead for the “Surge.” It was largely successful, if success is measured by the lessening of attacks from rival groups and the basic functioning of a government.

Then came Barack Obama. I could end the post here and most would know why, but I’ll elaborate a little. Obama’s worldview doesn’t have much of a place for concern about terrorism. Neither does he think the U.S. has any special role or responsibility in combating  that evil. I’m not even sure he believes the terrorists actually are evil; his anti-colonial mindset conditions him to see them as oppressed people groups rising up against their oppressors. In his mind, the U.S. is more of a problem.

Hence his determination to pull all American troops out of Iraq, which he accomplished. The generals begged him to leave some troops as a safety measure, but he refused. Now Iraq plunges into turmoil. His response is what it always is:

Leave It Alone

What were we to expect with this wholesale departure? He left Iraq wide open to a resurgence of terrorism:

Left the Keys

Yet he acts as if this is a complete surprise. Most intelligent people knew that this would come back to hurt us:

Never Saw

And now that the situation is on the verge of getting out of control, what is his response? The same old same old:

Immediate Action

It doesn’t help U.S. credibility when we send John Kerry out as our representative. He doesn’t exactly inspire confidence:

Negotiating

There even was some talk about bringing Iran in as a “partner” to resolve the crisis. Iran???? Really????

Iran Can Help

As long as this is the team we have on the playing field, we should get used to losing. What is the prognosis for Iraq? I wish I could be more optimistic.

Iraqaida

The Productive Year Ahead

Colonial Williamsburg--CapitolLater this week, I’ll begin showing students around some of Virginia’s best historic sites. I’ll be staying in Williamsburg, one of my favorite places on the planet. The historic colonial area always attracts me.

We’ll also tour Jamestown’s original site, the re-created Jamestown settlement, Yorktown, Monticello (Jefferson’s home), Mt. Vernon (Washington’s home), and sites in Richmond (Virginia capitol, John Marshall’s house, St. John’s church, where Patrick Henry delivered his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” oration).

That’s just the beginning of a year of travel for my sabbatical. I’ll be at Wheaton College in August to examine the Billy Graham papers. If I can, I also hope to squeeze in some time to at least begin looking at the papers of C. S. Lewis, also housed at Wheaton. Then I hope my collaborative colleague and I can make a trip to North Carolina in September to interview some of Graham’s family and associates.

October is the target date for the Reagan and Nixon libraries in California. On that trip, I may also have the opportunity to interview Michael Reagan and visit Reagan’s ranch. I’ve been to the Reagan library three times before, but all prior to the erection of the massive building that houses Air Force One, and also before the renovation of the museum. It will be like seeing all things new.

Air Force One

November provides a change of pace, as I’ve been invited to return to Puerto Rico to teach at a Youth with a Mission base. That’s always a highlight for me. Then I’m aiming for a Texas excursion in December. I have three presidential libraries to visit there: both Bushes’ and Lyndon Johnson’s. That will leave the Eisenhower library and any others I might be able to add (if the funding holds out) for 2015. Everywhere I go, I’m hoping to reconnect with friends and former students.

The goal for all these trips is to provide enough research to write a series of books on spiritual advisers to presidents. In addition to that, I’m collaborating with another faculty colleague on a book that showcases prominent individuals who switched from being political liberals to political conservatives.

This will be a full year, and a very productive one. I simply thank the Lord for this great opportunity.

The Sabbatical Year

I received a tremendous blessing recently: Southeastern University awarded me a sabbatical for the upcoming academic year. Once the current spring semester ends in May, I will have until the beginning of the fall semester in August 2015 to research and write. In tandem with a colleague in the college of religion, I will have the opportunity to delve into the subject of spiritual advisers to presidents. Our goal is to begin with a couple of articles on the topic, then, hopefully, into the authorship of a series of books, each one dealing with a specific president.

My task, as the historian, is to gather as much evidence as possible on those who had the ear of presidents and offered them spiritual advice. We will try to answer questions such as “How much influence did these individuals have on the presidents?” “Were they primarily pastoral in their dealings or did they in any way interact on policy issues?” “What is the proper role of a spiritual adviser?” “What are the pitfalls of being so close to political power?” “Did these spiritual advisers remain true to their calling or become too political?” “Were they respected advisers or merely being used by politicians?”

We can’t do all presidents, at least not for the moment. We’ve decided to concentrate on presidents after WWII. That seems a propitious place to begin for a couple of reasons: the public is more familiar with them; we have one huge example of a spiritual adviser during this era who touched the lives of every president—Billy Graham.

Reagan LibraryThe research cannot all be done via books, articles, and internet searches. Personal papers are essential to get to the heart of the matter; therefore, I will need to travel to a number of presidential libraries. My favorite, naturally, will be the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. I’ve been there twice before for research and rejoice at the opportunity to return. I’m also going to look into the possibility of visiting the Reagan Ranch while I’m out that way. I know this is supposed to be academic research, but I trust I’ll be forgiven for actually enjoying what I do.

While I’m in California, I’ll also need to go to the Nixon Library, which is not too far from Reagan’s. Other presidential libraries on the itinerary for the year are Eisenhower’s in Kansas and three in Texas: Lyndon Johnson’s, George H. W. Bush’s and George W. Bush’s. We’ve chosen to start with those particular presidents because Graham was closest to them.

Billy GrahamIt would be difficult to exaggerate the role Billy Graham played in the lives of those presidents. As I’ve begun my reading on his ministry and influence, I’ve been amazed at the access he had to them. So I’ll also need to examine Graham’s personal papers, which are housed at Wheaton College in Illinois. My colleague and I also entertain the hope of interviewing some of Graham’s children and associates in North Carolina.

This may sound like books just on Billy Graham’s relationship to the various presidents, but it won’t be. He’s merely a fine starting point. There are other spiritual advisers who will need our close attention as well. By the time we’re finished, we hope to have a well-rounded portrait for each of the presidents listed above. If all goes well with those, who knows, perhaps we can continue the series with others. I can overcome my own personal feelings about such men as Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy to continue this valuable research with them also. Personally, I’d eventually like to delve further back and deal with Abraham Lincoln and others who have evidence of Christian faith in their lives.

The next step is to get the funding to accomplish all the travel necessary to complete the research. We are in the process of applying for a grant, having identified a number of private foundations that typically fund research of this type. Prayer for success on this front is always appreciated. I pledge to keep regular readers up to date with progress reports from time to time.

How do I adequately express my excitement over the prospect of being able to devote my life over the next year to this project? Well, maybe I’ve already done that with this blog today. Thanks be to God for His many blessings.