Prayer Breakfasts – John F. Kennedy
Remarks at the Dedication Breakfast of International Christian Leadership, Inc.
February 9, 1961
Mr. Chairman, Dr. Graham, Mr. Vice President–gentlemen:
I think it is most appropriate that we should be gathered together for this morning’s meeting. This country was founded by men and women who were dedicated or came to be dedicated to two propositions: first, a strong religious conviction, and secondly a recognition that this conviction could flourish only under a system of freedom.
I think it is appropriate that we pay tribute to this great constitutional principle which is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution: the principle of religious independence, of religious liberty, of religious freedom. But I think it is also important that we pay tribute and acknowledge another great principle, and that is the principle of religious conviction. Religious freedom has no significance unless it is accompanied by conviction. And therefore the Puritans and the Pilgrims of my own section of New England, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, the Catholics of Maryland, the Presbyterians of North Carolina, the Methodists and the Baptists who came later, all shared these two great traditions which, like silver threads, have run through the warp and the woof of American history.
No man who enters upon the office to which I have succeeded can fail to recognize how every President of the United States has placed special reliance upon his faith in God. Every President has taken comfort and courage when told, as we are told today, that the Lord “will be with thee. He will not fail thee nor forsake thee. Fear not–neither be thou dismayed.”
While they came from a wide variety of religious backgrounds and held a wide variety of religious beliefs, each of our Presidents in his own way has placed a special trust in God. Those who were strongest intellectually were also strongest spiritually.
Today our Nation is passing through another time of trial. In many ways, our dangers and our problems are far greater–and certainly infinitely more complex. We will need to draw upon the best that this Nation has–often–and draw upon it physically and intellectually and materially.
But we need also to call upon our great reservoir of spiritual resources. We must recognize that human collaboration is not enough, that in times such as these we must reach beyond ourselves if we are to seek ultimate courage and infinite wisdom. It is an ironic fact that in this nuclear age, when the horizon of human knowledge and human experience has passed far beyond any that any age has ever known, that we turn back at this time to the oldest source of wisdom and strength, to the words of the prophets and the saints, who tell us that faith is more powerful than doubt, that hope is more potent than despair, and that only through ‘the love that is sometimes called charity can we conquer those forces within ourselves and throughout all the world that threaten the very existence of mankind.
Keeping in mind that “when a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him,” let us go forth to lead this land that we love, joining in the prayer of General George Washington in 1783, “that God would have you in His holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the citizens …. to entertain a brotherly love and affection one for another …. and finally that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with …. the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, without an humble imitation of whose example we can never hope to be a happy nation.”
The guiding principle and prayer of this Nation has been, is now, and shall ever be “In God We Trust.” Thank you.
[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the hotel’s main ball room, and then to the ladies in the east room.]
Madam Chairwoman, Dr. Graham, Mr. Vice President:
It seems to me that in the true Christian spirit next year we should all sit down together, and that we should have gentlemen and ladies pray and reason together, and not confine them in different rooms.
But we are glad we came here–the Vice President and I came under the protection of Dr. Graham.
I do want to say that it is a pleasure to be here and to have participated in the breakfast this morning. I had an opportunity in the White House the other day to talk to a group of men and women from the Baptist World Alliance who have been missionaries, some in the Congo, one lady who has been in Bengal, India, since 1926, others who have been in Thailand and Korea.
I do not regard religion as a weapon in the cold war. I regard it as the essence of the differences which separate those on the other side of the Iron Curtain and ourselves.
The whole basis of the struggle is involved in the meeting this morning: our strong belief in religious freedom, our strong conviction, as I attempted to say in my inaugural, that the blessings which come to us come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God–and this alternate concept that the state is the master and the people the servants.
This is really the essence of the issue. We cannot have religious freedom without political freedom, and therefore what we really need is not to confuse a system of freedom with one of disinterest, uninterest, cynicism, materialism, but like the ladies and gentlemen whom I talked to the other day, who have been willing to spend their lives under the most difficult of circumstances, in great hardship, in order to carry the message in which they have such great conviction, it seems to me it shows a lesson for us all.
We must match that faith. We must demonstrate in our lives, whatever our responsibility may be, that we care deeply.
I see no reason why the servants of the Communist system should be marked by a discipline and strong conviction in the ultimate success of their cause. I believe that our cause is just, that ultimately it will be successful. But it can only be successful if we demonstrate our strong conviction in it.
Religious freedom and religious conviction are the two hallmarks of American society, and therefore as a strong believer in both, I wanted to say that I deem it an honor to share this evidence of our common belief in these two great principles at this breakfast this morning. What we do this morning, I hope we can do every day.
Remarks at the 10th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
March 1, 1962
Senator, Judge, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Justice, Governor, gentlemen:
I want to, as President, express my appreciation to all those whose efforts make this breakfast possible. This is only one of a worldwide effort, I believe, to build a closer and more intimate association among those of different faiths in different countries and in different continents, who are united by a common belief in God, and therefore united in a common commitment to the moral order–and as Governor Daniels said, the relationship of the individual to the state.
The effort made in New Delhi among the World Council of Churches, the efforts that have been made in Europe to build better understanding among men and women of different faiths, the effort made in this country, I believe are most important and most essential.
I do not suggest that religion is an instrument of the cold war. Rather it is the basis of the issue which separates us from those who make themselves our adversary. And at the heart of the matter, of course, is the position of the individual–his importance, his sanctity, his relationship to his fellow men, his relationship to his country and his state. This is in essence the struggle, and it is necessary, therefore, that in these difficult days, when men and women who have strong religious convictions are beleaguered by those who are neither hot nor cold, or by those who are icy cold, it is most important that we make these common efforts–as we do this morning. So I congratulate you all, and express appreciation to you and hope that it will serve as an inspiration to others in other parts of our country.
I believe yesterday we saw an interesting contrast in the response which Colonel Glenn made as to whether he had prayed, and he said that he had not, that he had made his peace with his Maker many years before, and the statement made by Titov in which during his flight, as he flew over the Soviet Union he realized, he said, the wonders of the Communist system.
I preferred Colonel Glenn’s answer because I thought it was so solidly based, in his own life, in his activities in his church, and I think reflects a quality which we like to believe and I think we can believe is much a part of our American heritage. So I congratulate you.
In our program this morning there is a quotation from Lincoln which I think is particularly applicable today. He said, “I believe there is a God. I see the storm coming and I believe He has a hand in it. If He has a part and place for me, I believe that I am ready.”
We see the storm coming, and we believe He has a hand in it, and if He has a place and a part for us, I believe that we are ready.
[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the hotel’s main ball room and then to the ladies in the state and east rooms.]
Last year I expressed some concern that instead of having been separated at these breakfasts–the pharisees and the publicans and the sinners and the saints–that the separation occurred on the basis of sex and not on those who should have been in the front room and those who were in the back room.
I do want to say, however–express my appreciation to you for the effort that you are making, to tell you how valuable I think it is that in this Capital of this most important country, upon which so much depends, that these breakfasts should be held, and that this demonstration of our commitment should be made.
We bear great responsibilities and great burdens not only to ourselves in this country but to so many around the world whose future hangs in the balance and depends so much on us.
We may not feel that our efforts are always appreciated, and I am not sure that that is so of the Presidents important, but we want to make sure that our efforts are effective, and that this generation-which faces the greatest challenges that any country, any free people, have ever faced, and moves in the midst of the greatest of opportunities and the greatest of dangers-that we shall meet our responsibility, which carries with it an obligation to our country, but I think in a larger sense carries with it an obligation to all those who desire to live a life of freedom and a life which permits them to participate with their neighbors and with God in the way they choose.
So I commend you for the example you set to us all. Upon your conviction and your effort so much depends, and it is a source of satisfaction to be here with Mrs. Johnson, the Vice President’s wife, and with the Governor of Texas–and Senator Carlson-Senator Stennis–most importantly, I think, of Reverend Billy Graham, who has served this cause about which I speak so well here and around the world. He has, I think, transmitted this most important quality of our common commitments to faith in a way which makes us all particularly proud.
So we are glad to see you this morning, and we appreciate what you are doing.
Remarks at the 11th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
February 7, 1963
Senator Carlson, Mr. Vice President, Reverend Billy Graham, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, gentlemen:
I am honored to be with you here again this morning. These breakfasts are dedicated to prayer and all of us believe in and need prayer. Of all the thousands of letters that are received in the office of the President of the United States, letters of good will and wishes, none, I am sure, have moved any of the incumbents half so much as those that write that those of us who work here in behalf of the country are remembered in their prayers.
You and I are charged with obligations to serve the Great Republic in years of great crisis. The problems we face are complex; the pressures are immense, and both the perils and the opportunities are greater than any nation ever faced. In such a time, the limits of mere human endeavor become more apparent than ever. We cannot depend solely on our material wealth, on our military might, or on our intellectual skill or physical courage to see us safely through the seas that we must sail in the months and years to come.
Along with all of these we need faith. We need the faith with which our first settlers crossed the sea to carve out a state in the wilderness, a mission they said in the Pilgrims’ Compact, the Mayflower Compact, undertaken for the glory of God. We need the faith with which our Founding Fathers proudly proclaimed the independence of this country to what seemed at that time an almost hopeless struggle, pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence. We need the faith which has sustained and guided this Nation for 175 long and short years. We are all builders of the future, and whether we build as public servants or private citizens, whether we build at the national or the local level, whether we build in foreign or domestic affairs, we know the truth of the ancient Psalm, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”
This morning we pray together; this evening apart. But each morning and each evening, let us remember the advice of my fellow Bostonian, the Reverend Phillips Brooks: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.”
[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the hotel’s main ballroom and then to the ladies in the east room.]
I’m glad to be with you again this morning with the Vice President, Reverend Billy Graham, Dr. Vereide, Senator Carlson, the same quartet that was here last year and the year before.
I think these breakfasts serve a most useful cause in uniting us all on an occasion when we look not to ourselves but to above for assistance. On our way from the last meeting to this, we met two members of Parliament who carried with them a message from Lord Home to this breakfast, in which Lord Home quoted the Bible and said that perhaps the wisest thing that was said in the Bible was the words, “Peace, be still.”
I think it’s appropriate that we should on occasion be still and consider where we are, where we’ve been, what we believe in, what we are trying to work for, what we want for our country, what we want our country to be, what our individual responsibilities are, and what our national responsibilities are. This country has carried great responsibilities, particularly in the years since the end of the Second War, and I think that willingness to assume those responsibilities has come in part from the strong religious conviction which must carry with it a sense of responsibility to others if it is genuine, which has marked our country from its earliest beginnings, when the recognition of our obligation to God was stated in nearly every public document, down to the present day.
This is not an occasion for feeling pleased with ourselves, but, rather, it is an occasion for asking for help to continue our work and to do more. This is a country which has this feeling strongly. I mentioned in the other room the letters which I receive, which the Members of Congress receive, which the Governors receive, which carry with them by the hundreds the strong commitment to the good life and also the strong feeling of communication which so many of our citizens have with God, and the feeling that we are under His protection. This is, I think, a source of strength to us all.
I want to commend all that you do, not merely for gathering together this morning, but for all the work and works that make up part of your Christian commitment. I am very proud to be with you.