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(Fellow United Methodists George W. Bush and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf)

Margaret Thatcher was raised in and profoundly shaped by Methodism, even if later becoming Anglican. The thrifty moralism and missions faith of her girlhood were projected through her lifetime of politics. Who have been other Methodist heads of state, and is there any common Methodist ethos among them?

George W. Bush is United Methodist, though raised Episcopal and Presbyterian, joining Methodism upon marriage. He became more serious about faith in mid age after forswearing drink, adopting evangelical beliefs partly under family friend Billy Graham’s influence. His personal habits are Methodist: no liquor or smokes, early to bed and rise, faithful in marriage, and uninterested in high culture. His policies were often humanitarian and moralistic, such as AIDS work in Africa and the settlement of war in South Sudan. His lofty rhetoric about global democracy is described as Wilsonian but could just as easily be described as historically Methodist. Woodrow Wilson’s dreams of international freedom had strong Methodist support.

In some ways, America’s most Methodist president, William McKinley, was an earlier version of Bush, launching a global war to liberate Cubans and Filipinos from colonial rule that made America a global power, while championing unpretentious middle class normalcy at home. He amiably hosted hymn sings at the White House on Sundays. Karl Rove sought to mimic McKinley’s historic electoral victories.

President Rutherford Hayes was a churchman like McKinley, though less devout. Methodism certainly inspired his abolitionism and concern for civil rights for blacks. The same is true for Ulysses Grant, who was raised and married Methodist, though arguably not professing personal faith until a deathbed baptism. James Polk was another deathbed Methodist who had long appreciated Methodist preaching. His grueling work ethic, which likely helped kill him shortly after leaving office, was Methodist, as was his providential notion of manifest destiny, expanding the American republic across the continent. He fulfilled all his major campaign pledges, including leaving office after one term.

Non American Methodist leaders? Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek became a relatively sincere Methodist after marrying his flamboyant American educated wife, who was a lifelong Methodist. American Methodism loved them both, especially her, as harbingers of a Christian, democratic China. The Chiangs sought modernization and reform, helped defeat Japanese aggression but were themselves routed by communism. Unwavering, they constructed an ultimately democratic Taiwan, despite their own authoritarianism. In some ways, their vision for mainline China also prevailed, with robust free markets and burgeoning Christianity, while one party rule persists.

Similarly, fellow Methodist Syngman Rhee was an innovative authoritarian who founded an ultimately democratic South Korea, more successfully than the Chiangs defending against communism, with American aid. Like the Chiangs, he combined traditional Asian paternalism with a Protestant sensibility prone to capitalism. He liked to attend Foundry Methodist when in Washington, DC, and his faith ties facilitated American alliance.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, controversial 1980s New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange was a Methodist lay preacher and anti nuclear activist whose policies estranged his government from the U.S. A longtime adulterous affair with his speech writer sullied his Methodist reputation. Many South Pacific island nation leaders are typically Methodist, especially Fiji. Tongan monarchs are usually Methodist.

Methodism is now fastest growing in Africa. South African leader Nelson Mandela was raised Methodist and often cites the church’s formative influence though he did not remain practicing. Perhaps Methodism inspired his vision of post Apartheid reconciliation. Zimbabwe’s first black leader was United Methodist Bishop Abel Muzorewa, whose ouster in favor of longtime dictator Robert Mugabe was supported by some U.S. United Methodist leaders. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, is a serious United Methodist who addressed the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth. Her tenacity, reforming zeal, and work for reconciliation after civil war emblemize Methodist virtues.

Boris Trajkovski, president of Macedonia until his 2004 plane crash, was a prominent United Methodist leader whose faith guided his reconciliation work in his troubled Balkan nation, for which he won the 2002 World Methodist Peace Prize.

So are their common political traits among Methodist rulers? They tend to be industrious moralists, idealists, and reformers who often are both nationalistic and globally aware. Usually they are middle class in outlook and shun sophisticated elites. Often they lack, or avoid, complex ideologies in favor of simpler principles. Unlike with Catholicism or Calvinism, there is no clearly articulated Methodist political theology. And although there are about 70 million Methodists in the world, surprisingly few have been national leaders. Methodists tend to serve in the middle ranks and not rise to the political heights of higher brow faith traditions.