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God in the White House: A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  122 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews

How did we go from John F. Kennedy declaring that religion should play no role in the elections to Bush saying, "I believe that God wants me to be president"?

Historian Randall Balmer takes us on a tour of presidential religiosity in the last half of the twentieth century—from Kennedy's 1960 speech that proposed an almost absolute wall between American political and rel

Paperback, 243 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by HarperOne (first published January 22nd 2008)
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Daniel Solera
Apr 22, 2010 Daniel Solera rated it really liked it
The intersection of religion and politics is a subject of great fascination to me. It seems that a lot of today’s world leaders have an unfortunate tendency to frame large-scale conflicts as matters of revelation and prophecy, our most recent Republican president being an embarrassing example. Randall Balmer takes a look at the way that faith has affected the last nine presidents, from John F. Kennedy’s struggle to overcome an electorate’s anti-Catholic prejudices to George W. Bush’s embrace of ...more
I picked this up at the library because it looked interesting. That proved to be the case, but the author's bias kept it from being any better. In fact, that bias leaves the reader under-informed and distorts the author's analysis.

The author gives it away in his introduction. He doesn't care for the so-called Religious Right, though he maintains that he's tried to be "fair" in this history. He should have tried harder.

Balmer examines the faith of each president back to JFK to see what impact, if
Summary: Traces the history of the religious faith and presidential politics from the election of John Kennedy as the first Catholic president up through George W. Bush and the religious-political alliances by which he was elected to two terms as president.

One of the most surprising discoveries in reading this history of religion and the White House was how the religious lives and views of the Presidents were not a significant issue, with few exceptions until the 1960 election campaign between R
Christopher Krowka
May 31, 2009 Christopher Krowka rated it really liked it
I recently finished God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, by Randall Balmer. I found out about this book from a segment Balmer did on The Daily Show, but in the interests of transparency, I have been a fan of his for a while. During my sophomore year of college, a group of students travelled to hear him speak on the history of evangelicalism in America. Though I do not always agree with him (mostly on political matters), he seems to be—fr ...more
Jan 28, 2008 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Covering a 40 year span, the author traces how the US went from Kennedy's absolute belief that religion has no place in government to the current president's assertion that he was divinely chosen by God to be president. An evangelical himself, Mr. Balmer argues most interestingly that while public discourse would weaken without the inclusion of voices of faith, he believes that "religion functions best from the margins of society, not in the councils of power."

His faith portrait of each preside
Feb 19, 2016 Dianne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Found this book in a sale bin. As a Canadian & not that familiar with the American political system thought it would be an interesting read. An quick OK read but have to admit I was a bit surprised at the some of the 'dirty tricks' or 'lies' however you wish to call it from both sides. Much is made of getting the 'evangelical vote' but then once in office....there seems to be no followup from the electorate to hold the elected person accountable for the 'so-called values' they claim while ru ...more
Jul 23, 2011 Toni rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title peeked my interest when I was browsing the library shelves for another book. What a wonderful book. It gave an interesting perspective on how religion shaped the US Presidents from JFK to George W Bush. I especially liked the chapters on Lyndon B Johnson and Jimmy Carter. After reading this book, I had a better understanding of why President Johnson increased the number of servicemen in Vietnam. It was the way he was raised and showed his strong commitment to his faith. So much of the ...more
Feb 03, 2009 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting overview of the religious background & expression of the "modern" presidents (starting with JFK).

The author admits a liberal evangelical viewpoint, which comes through pretty strongly in his relative soft-pedaling of JFK's infidelities & his unquestioning support of Jimmy Carter's post-presidential activities.

The strongest part of the book is his conclusion in which he posits that we get spiritually hypocritical presidents (conservatives who promise family values &
Jul 29, 2011 Jeff rated it liked it
Very good and insightful book until he got to George W. His take on Bush was not without bias. I think it would be safe to say that faith shaped Bush's presidency more than any other in recent memory, with the possible exception of Carter, yet the author cannot seem to get any further than the war in Iraq and condemning Bush for Abu Graib over and over again. How faith drove his domestic policies is all but ignored. This book had the potential to be a fascinating and historical look at a topic t ...more
The topic is interesting, the history is engaging, and the writing style is quite readable, but this book needed a good editor. It is one thing when a writer is simply redundant, making the same point again and again (see most business and self help books). Balmer is truly repetitive, sharing the same anecdotes and repeating quotes several times.
Ballmer's book seems rather brief, and doesn't do as effective a job of weaving his narrative throughout the historical exposition. But he does a masterful job of assembling a theme in the conclusion, noting the fault of the public in allowing religion to be made both so important and so superficial in national politics.
Jul 12, 2012 Andrew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-politics
Read David L. Holmes 'Faiths of the Postwar Presidents' as well as his 'Faiths of the Founding Fathers.' They are far more objective and detailed. Unlike Holmes, Balmer's words are filled with vitriol and hatred. When writing history, one needs to take a step back from his opinions and just give facts.
Mar 26, 2011 Jane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book, charting the history of the evangelical movement and politics. Randall Balmer was our Theologian in Residence for a weekend in early March at our church. He was an excellent speaker and very informative.
Richard Harden
An interesting exploration of how Presidents from Kennedy to G.W.Bush have dealt with and or molded their beliefs while they were in the White House. Unfortunately, much of the information is taken almost directly from the author's previous book, Thy Kingdom Come.
I found it a quick, easy, enjoyable read. It is frightening how we've come full-circle from JFK's speech on religion to every president after Carter telling us again and again about their faith, etc.
Sandy Haramut
Interesting view on how religion and politics were intertwined with the Presidents starting with John Kennedy and ending with George W. Bush. Each President used their religion to advance their cause.
Jul 03, 2008 Abby rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good reminder of things I learned in history class and the news. A quick read. Not a whole lot of depth to the book, more like a fast overview of each president mentioned. Thesis not well fleshed out.
Aug 11, 2008 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting from a historical perspective. It's connecting a lot of dots for me and providing better insight into how we have gone down this poarizing political path we seem to be on currently.
Kai Palchikoff
Nov 12, 2016 Kai Palchikoff rated it liked it
Jul 13, 2008 Mikew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice little book that chronicles the role of religion in presidential politics from Kennedy to Bush II.
Dec 14, 2008 Hakija rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are wondering how we ended up with hockey moms as VP candidates, read this book.
David Burkam
A quick, but interesting, read.
Heather rated it it was amazing
Nov 11, 2013
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Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez
Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez rated it it was amazing
Mar 29, 2016
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Jun 07, 2012
Steven P. Little
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Randall Herbert Balmer, Ph.D. (Princeton University, 1985), is an ordained Episcopal Priest and historian of American religion, and holds the John Phillips Chair in Religion at Dartmouth College. He also has taught at Barnard College; Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, Drew, Emory, Yale and Northwestern universities; and at Union Theological Seminary. Balmer was nominated for an Emmy Award for the PBS ...more
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“My reading of American religious history is that religion always functions best from the margins of society and not in the councils of power. Once you identify the faith with a particular candidate or party or with the quest for political influence, ultimately it is the faith that suffers. Compromise may work in politics. It's less appropriate to the realm of faith and belief.” 5 likes
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