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Public Papers - 1992

Remarks at a Prayer Breakfast in Houston

1992-08-20

Thank you very much, Mary Lou. For heaven sakes, that was just wonderful, and thank you for that wonderful introduction.

Let me repeat what I said last week to the 1992 -- --

[At this point, audience members interrupted the President's remarks.]

I apologize to those who have put together this ecumenical, lovely prayer breakfast, but you just can't control things like this. I hope you understand. I certainly do.

I was saying that I salute Mary Lou and thank her. Let me repeat what I said last week to the 1992 summer Olympic team when they came to the White House. Whether they won a gold, silver, or bronze medal, or simply gave their best, they are all heroes in the eyes of each American.

I also want to salute my friend and running mate, Vice President Dan Quayle. Ninfa said it all; my friend Ninfa said it all: first-class.

May I salute the Mayor. And fellow Texans and Americans, I'm delighted to address this ecumenical prayer breakfast on this great occasion. You see, breakfast speeches are always my favorite. I figure it's the one meal where broccoli is never served. [Laughter]

Let me first salute that marvelous choir behind us. Think of it: a 40-piece orchestra; 85 singers from the Houston Children's Choir, too; our adult choir, members of 40 area congregations, 1,200 voices; and then, of course, there was Alan Green, football player, ``A'' student, Rice graduate, and magnificent musician. Believe me, as one who works in the divisive world of politics, it's amazing to hear that many voices raised in unison on anything.

As you know, we meet on a special day. Tonight I give my acceptance speech. If it catches fire, it might give a whole new meaning to the story of the ``burning bush.'' [Laughter] The only problem is I have a funny feeling that Barbara and Marilyn Quayle raised the high bar quite a bit for me.

But anyway, as we meet today, deep in the heart of Texas, we meet deep in the heart of the most religious nation on Earth, too. I'm usually not much for polls, but here's a Gallup poll that makes sense to me. According to this survey, 7 in 10 Americans believe in life after death; 8 in 10, that God works miracles; 9 in 10 pray; and more than 90 percent believe in God. To which I say, thank God for the United States of America.

I'm delighted that Jim Baker's here, fellow Houstonian, and Susan. As he knows and as our Vice President knows and the other members of our Cabinet who I see out here know, we open every Cabinet meeting with a prayer. And it's going to be that way as long as I am President.

Today we've got difficult times, but we Americans have much to thank God for. Yes, challenges face us: good schools and safe streets, sound economy -- all the problems that Bob Lanier works with as Mayor of our great city -- and a world at peace. But we will meet and master them as Americans always have, not by running America down but by using God's gifts to lift America up.

Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan's friend -- [laughter] -- he phrased the first gift best. ``The God who gave us life,'' he said, ``gave us liberty at the same time.'' Today God's gift of liberty is remaking the entire globe. In Berlin, like Jericho, the walls come tumbling down. In Barcelona, just ask Mary Lou, this summer the games were held without boycotts, without terrorism, without politics. That's exactly as it should be.

On that score, all of us have Olympic heroes; mine, Pablo Morales. Pablo, he's the swimmer who missed out in 1984, didn't make the team in '88, then came back this year to earn a gold medal at the ripe old age of 27. Now, let that be a lesson: Youth and inexperience are no match for maturity and determination.

Over the past 3/2\ years, bayonets have been no match for the righteousness of God. Look at Bulgaria, where at last people wish Merry Christmas to each other without fear of being labeled religious. Look to Russia, where a cathedral once called the All Union Museum of Religion and Atheism now houses God's apostles, or the former East Germany, where Bible studies are like bluebonnets in the spring, they're busting out all over. In a season of thanksgiving the world says grace. By God's providence, the cold war is over, and America's views prevailed.

I remember when, 10 years ago, one of God's great soldiers went to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Returning to America, Billy Graham predicted that freedom would outlast tyranny. He felt that religion was alive way back then. The doubters said, ``He's been tricked.'' But Dr. Graham knew something they didn't. He knew the chains of oppression forged by men were no match for the keys to salvation forged by God.

I talked about this with Billy, Barbara and I did, just, well, it was a year ago in January when we invited him to stay at the White House the night before our troops started Desert Storm. I thought a lot that night about thousands of people praying in the churches, about our own home parish right here, Jim's and mine, St. Martin's. I see our bishop over here, and welcome, sir. St. Martin's parish, with its prayer books and its crosses and handmade Christmas cards made in Sunday schools for our troops in the Gulf. It's true of every parish represented at this wonderful ecumenical service. It is absolutely true of all religions.

We prayed for the troops themselves, the finest sons and daughters any nation could ever have. I know how a second gift of God's, family, can lift America. I can no more imagine a life without family than I can a universe without love. Last night -- here she is -- you saw Barbara on television. I'll let her explain why family matters so much. I thought she did a first-class job of that last night. But here's her quote. ``At the end of your life,'' she said, ``you will never forget not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, nor closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.''

Barbara knows that kids, quoting Art Linkletter, say not only the funniest but the most insightful things, especially about religion. Once a Sunday school teacher started talking about the story of Jonah and the whale, and she asked what the story showed. A small boy raised his hand. ``I know,'' he said. ``People make whales sick.'' [Laughter]

Well, each of us turns to God daily to make lives well, and we act through the third and greatest of God's gifts, prayer. If Congress can spend time debating Vanna White's appearance on the Home Shopping Network, surely Congress can find time to pass an amendment allowing voluntary prayer in our classrooms. So let's do what we can to bring the faith of our fathers back to our schools.

You know, I've been President for 3/2\ years now. More than ever, I believe with all my heart that one cannot be President of our great country without a belief in God, without the truth that comes on one's knees. For me, prayer has always been important but quite personal. You know us Episcopalians. [Laughter] And yet, it has sustained me at every point of my life: as a boy, when religious reading was part of our home life; as a teenager, when I memorized the Navy Hymn. Or how 48 years ago, aboard the submarine Finback after being shot down in the war, I went up topside one night on the deck, on the conning tower, and stood watch and looked out at the dark. The sky was clear. The stars were brilliant like a blizzard of fireflies in the night. There was a calm inner peace. Halfway around the world in the war zone, there was a calm inner peace: God's therapy.

This month I got a letter from a little girl, age 11, Joy Vaughn. Oh, I love getting the mail at the White House, but this one was special. She lives in Mesa, Arizona, and one of her brothers is a missionary. She wrote, ``I just wanted to tell you that I am praying for you.'' And then she added, ``God is in charge.''

So Barbara and I have concluded, as every family that's been privileged to live in the White House I'm sure has concluded, that you cannot be President without believing in God. We say our prayers every night. When we sit in that historic family dining room on the second floor of the White House, we say the blessing before our meals. Today I ask for your prayers, not for the campaign that we're in but prayers asking God to give those of us in leadership positions and give me as President the strength to do what is right, the courage to lead this, the greatest nation on the face of the Earth, the United States of America, one Nation under God.

Thank you, and may God bless our great country.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 a.m. at the University of Houston. In his remarks, he referred to Mary Lou Retton, 1984 Olympic gold medalist; Ninfa Laurenzo, Houston business leader; and evangelist Billy Graham.

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