Remembering the Sunday President George H.W. Bush Preached at a Black Church

Former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday at 94, was a war hero, Republican national chairman, CIA director, congressman, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, head of the U.S. Liaison Office to China and vice president in a life defined by public service.

Akron native Thaddeus Garrett Jr. gave Bush, a Republican, the opportunity to add a line to that impressive resume and Bush took it:

Sunday morning preacher in a predominantly African-American church.

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an every-flowing stream,” then President Bush said on Jan. 28, 1990, at the John Wesley Temple AME Zion Church in Washington, D.C., quoting the Old Testament prophet Amos.

“No more racism … ” the president continued. “ … Leave the tired baggage of bigotry behind.”

If Bush, a white, Yale-educated patrician whose wardrobe defined preppy, felt out of place, he didn’t show it. It marked the first time Bush had worshiped at a black church since becoming president in 1989, Garrett said.

Garrett, who died at 51 in 1999, was the real guest preacher that Sunday and Bush’s well-received “sermon” lasted less than three minutes. Garrett was associate pastor of the Wesley Temple AME Zion Church in Akron and also operated an international trade and government relations consulting business in Washington.

He had been a domestic policy adviser to Bush when Bush was vice president. Garrett was a guest preacher two or three times a year in Washington and sometimes invited Bush and his wife Barbara to the services.

When Bush was vice president from 1981 to 1988, the couple each year went to a service to hear him preach, Garrett said.

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