by Gleaves Whitney, Executive Director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation (with thanks to Mike Ford and Steve Ford)
Although Gerald Ford was a man of quiet faith, his Protestant upbringing informed his excellent character. When sworn in as Vice President (December 6, 1973) and then eight months later as President (August 9, 1974), Ford placed his left hand on the Bible that his eldest son, Mike Ford, had recently given him. It was the Jerusalem Bible. Significantly, on both occasions it was open to President Ford’s favorite Old Testament passage, Proverbs 3: 5-6.
Following are the scripted first words of the newly sworn-in President, which includes the Bible passage:
Mr. Chief Justice, and My Dear Friends: The Bible upon which my hand just rested was opened to Proverbs, third chapter, the fifth and sixth verses. I learned these verses many years ago, and have often said them as a prayer. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
In the overture to Ford’s presidency–his swearing-in ceremony that occurred 49 years ago this week–the Bible was not for show but for soul; not a prop but a pillar. In his brief remarks, Ford invoked God, the Bible, or prayer numerous times and also offered a benediction, making his inaugural address one of the most faith-saturated state papers in U.S. history.
Mike Ford was studying in a Protestant seminary during his father’s ascent to the Vice Presidency and Presidency, and I asked him why he had chosen to give his father a Catholic Bible. Mike said that the Jerusalem Bible allowed for the widest latitude of orthodox interpretations–something Mike believed would be spiritually, morally, and culturally important for the leader of 215 million Americans and the two billion people of the Free World.
Visitors to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, can see President Ford’s Jerusalem Bible on permanent display. They can read the text of the Swearing-In Remarks here.
- The source documents reveal that there were two different openings of the Swearing-In Address. When looking at the source documents at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, the question arises: Did the newly sworn-in President begin by referencing Proverbs or did he start by referring to the oath of office taken by his predecessors? How would you find out the answer? How might these two different openings be reconciled? How might the impact of the two different openings on his audience differ?
- Based on Ford’s own words, how important was religious faith to him–politically and personally? Evangelical Christians were a growing and considerable political force in the mid-1970s. Did Ford think it would be politically astute to reference Christianity and the Bible to garner support for the Republican Party in the coming midterm elections, just three months away? Or, given what you know of Ford, were the references to God, prayer, and the Bible integral to his principles, independent of political expedience?
- Do you think Presidents today can be so open about their faith?