President George W. Bush stood before a cheering crowd at a Dallas Christian youth center last week, and told them about being 'born again' as a Christian.
'If you change their heart, then they change their behavior. I know,' he said, referring to his own conversion, which led to him giving up drinking.
Behind Bush were two banners. 'King of Kings', proclaimed one. 'Lord of Lords', said the other. The symbolism of how fervent Christianity has become deeply entwined with the most powerful man on the planet could not have been stronger.
Few US Presidents have been as openly religious as Bush. Now a new book has lifted the lid on how deep those Christian convictions run. It will stir up controversy at a time when the administration is keen to portray its 'war on terror' as non-religious.
The book, which depicts a President who prays each day and believes he is on a direct mission from God, will give ammunition to critics who claim Bush's administration is heavily influenced by extremist Christians.
Bush is already under fire for allowing the appointment of General William Boykin to head the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Boykin, who speaks at evangelical Christian meetings, once said the war on terror was a fight against Satan, and also told a Somali warlord that, 'My God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.'
Bush has also been accused of a 'creeping Christianization' of federal government programs. In September, the government made more than $60 billion available for religious charitable groups. Critics say the groups will be able to use the cash to promote their religion. One group that benefited from previous grants was an Iowa prison project that entitled inmates to televisions, private bathrooms and computers - in return for Christian counseling.
Now Bush is likely to face intense scrutiny. The book, The Faith of George W. Bush, was written by Christian author Stephen Mansfield. It details numerous incidents where Bush's faith has been shown to be at the center of his political thinking.
Among Mansfield's revelations is his insistence that Bush and Tony Blair have prayed together at a private meeting at Camp David. Blair has previously denied this.
Mansfield, however, says that, while there were no witnesses, aides were left in little doubt as to what had happened. He told The Observer: 'There is no question they have shared scripture and prayed together.'
The book also shows that in the lead-up to announcing his candidacy for the presidency, Bush told a Texan evangelist that he had had a premonition of some form of national disaster happening.
Bush said to James Robinson: 'I feel like God wants me to run for President. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen... I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it.'
In another incident, Mansfield recounts how, on Palm Sunday last year, Bush was flying back from El Salvador aboard the presidential jet Air Force One and seemed to be destined to miss church.
However, knowing that Bush hated to miss a service, some officials suggested they worship in the air. Bush agreed, and soon 40 officials were crammed into the plane's conference room. The service was led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, while the lesson was read by close Bush aide Karen Hughes.
The author also proves anecdotes about Bush that had previously been dismissed as false. Rumors that he had prayed with a young soldier who had lost a hand in Iraq were thought to be myth, but Mansfield tracked down witnesses and a hospital chaplain who said that Bush had prayed with the man, ending by kissing him on the forehead and telling him he loved him. 'For me, that sums up Bush's beliefs. He really believes Jesus is taken up in his heart and soul,' Mansfield said.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003