In reading Gary Scott Smith’s Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents, I found careful and thorough research using both the words of each President featured in the book; a substantial cross section of historical assessment regarding both the faith views and practices of each President as well as their impact on their decision-making and policies; and a very valuable non-sectarian assessment as well.
The result is a book that both those who study faith, politics, and Presidents for a living as well as those who read about and on all of these topics for both pleasure as well as serious reading will want to buy, read, and keep!
Religion in the Oval Office is a well researched and in-depth study of the religious views and practices of a select group of eleven United States Presidents – John Adams, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, James McKinley, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barak Obama. It is a scholarly treatment of Presidential faith and, as such, avoids assumptions and conclusions based on personal views and bias of the author.
One of the strengths of this book is that it provides what I call a 360° view of each President’s faith and its relation to his policies and life. Smith uses a common chapter outline for each President to provide a consistent study of each President as follows:
- an examination of Presidential beliefs in their own words
- the recorded views of those who knew each President as to their religious life and faith
- participation in worship, Bible reading and the like
- their basic theological views regarding Christ, salvation, human nature and the like
- a study of their character
- their use of religious language and rhetoric
- their relationships with various faiths and faith leaders
- and which policies were developed on the basis of their faith
I liked this book for its fair, balanced, and scholarly approach to a very controversial subject. Smith has done his work on each President and includes both supporting and opposing views of each President as he allows both supporters and critics to speak. For example, in his chapter on William McKinley, Smith discusses McKinley’s decision to annex the Philippine Islands following the Spanish-American War in the 1890’s against the background of McKinley’s humanitarian concerns for the island nation coming out of his Methodist faith and belief. But he gives equal time to the 21st century view of McKinley’s policy as imperialistic in a time of emerging American imperialism that affected all sectors of American life and culture including religion.
Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents is a welcome addition to the study of both Presidential biography as well American faith and politics.
I rate this book an “outstanding” read.
Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the Publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a review.