Prayer Breakfasts – Lyndon B. Johnson
Remarks at the 12th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
February 5, 1964
Senator Carlson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the Cabinet, Dr. Graham, my fellow Americans:
No man could live in the house where I live now or work at the desk where I work now without needing and without seeking the strength and the support of earnest and frequent prayer.
Since last we met, it has fallen to me to learn personally the truth Thomas Jefferson spoke so long ago, when he said:
“The second office of the Government is honorable and easy–
“The first is but a splendid misery.”
In these last 70 days, prayer has helped me to bear the burdens of this first office which are too great to be borne by anyone alone.
We who hold public office are enjoined by our Constitution against enacting laws to tell the people when or where or how to pray.
All our experience and all our knowledge proves that injunction is good. for, if government could ordain the people’s prayers, government could also ordain its own worship–and that must never be.
The separation of church and state has served our freedom well because men of state have not separated themselves from church and faith and prayer.
Senator Carlson, I believe that these annual prayer breakfasts serve a most useful purpose in both reminding and reassuring the people that those who hold their trust are themselves godly and prayerful men and Women.
In saying this, there is a personal thought that I would like to express to you: This federal city of Washington in which we live and work is much more than a place of residence. for the 190 million people that we serve and for many millions in other lands, Washington is the symbol and the showcase of a great nation and a greater cause of human liberty on earth.
In this Capital City today we have monuments to Lincoln and to Jefferson and to Washington, and to many statesmen and many soldiers. But at this seat of government there must be a fitting memorial to the God who made us all.
Our Government cannot and should not sponsor the erection of such a memorial with public funds. But such a living memorial should be here. It should be a center of prayer, open to all men of all faiths at all times.
If I may speak this morning as a citizen and a colleague and a friend, I would like to suggest to this group, which has done so much through all the years, that it undertake the mission of bringing together the faiths and the religions of America to support jointly such a memorial here in this federal city–the capital of the free world.
The world is given many statistics about the per capita vices of Washington, but the world knows all too little about the per capita virtues of those who live and labor here.
I believe–and I would hope that you would agree–that the true image of Washington is not that of power or pomp or plenty. It is, rather, that of a prayerful capital of good and God-fearing people.
[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the hotel’s presidential ballroom and then to the ladies in the east room.]
Mrs. Lankford, Dr. Graham, ladies:
I am glad to be with you again this morning at your annual meeting, but I still believe that when the prophet Isaiah said, “Come, let us reason together,” he did not have in mind that the men and women should assemble in separate rooms.
Since we last met 1 year ago, all of us in this land have known the need of prayer. None has known that need so keenly as I have. If I may, I would like to relate to you a little personal experience from these days which fortifies anew the great teachings of the Book of Proverbs:
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
In my childhood, Mike your children-had the great blessings of a devout and faithful mother. In our home, as in yours, there was always prayer–aloud, proud, and unapologetic.
Through the long, busy, and sometimes hectic years since, observance of some of that training became irregular, especially the practice of returning thanks before each meal.
But in those first dark days of November, when the pressures were the heaviest and the need of strength from Above the greatest, Lady Bird and I sat down together to eat a meal alone. No word or glance passed between us, but in some way we found ourselves bowing together, and I found myself speaking the words of grace that I had learned at my mother’s knees so many years ago.
We of this land have so much to be grateful for. The God above us has been good to us from the very beginning of this Republic.
With the duties which rest upon us, we have much to pray for–that we may, as a nation, be just in our strength, wise in our actions, and faithful in our trust.
The men of public life have a very special debt–a special debt–to the strong women who, as their wives and as mothers of their children, make possible the service of the public trust.
I think the Nation may understand this a little better now since the unforgettable inspiration offered so gallantly before the entire world by the widow of our gallant and beloved President, Mrs. John f. Kennedy.
Ours is a great nation, but we must always humbly remember that much of our greatness in the world is born of the godliness that we practice in the homes that you keep.
I believe, as I know you believe, that our children should be taught to pray; but I know and I believe, as I think you believe, that this teaching is our task in our homes-a task much too sacred to ever be touched by the state.
I would hope that we might all remember the petition of the father of our Country, George Washington, who urged his countrymen to offer “humbly our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and ruler of nations, and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”
Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
February 4, 1965
Senator Carlson, Reverend Clergy, Vice President Humphrey, Speaker McCormack, Justice Clark, members of the Cabinet, Mr. Minority Leader of the House, distinguished guests, Governors, ladies and gentlemen:
I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate again in an occasion which all ready has come to be a very valued place in the life of Washington, our Capital City, and in the lives of so many of us who must labor here.
In our history it has been popular to regard with skepticism the private motives of public men, and never more than when they participate in meetings such as this. I am sure such skepticism has been deserved by some. But I am more certain that only the unknowing and the unthinking would challenge today the motives that bring our public officials together on occasions like this for prayer and meditation.
In these times, more than any other, the public life is a lonely life. The burden of every vote, of every decision, of every act, and, yes, even of every utterance, is too great to be shared and much too great to be borne alone.
I find for myself, as I know men and women throughout this great Government of ours also find, a sustaining strength from the moments of prayer, whether we assemble together or whether we pray silently alone.
What has become a tradition and practice in our time is actually one of the oldest public traditions of our national life. Long ago when this country was struggling to come into being, there arose at the Constitutional Convention a discussion and a debate about holding prayers before each session at that Convention. The great Benjamin Franklin spoke up to speak his views. I believe it is appropriate and timely this morning to repeat and to endorse those words now.
Dr. Franklin told the framers of our Constitution, and I quote him: “Without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests. Our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages.”
And, “What is worse,” Dr. Franklin went ahead to add, “mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance and to war and to conquest.”
Today in our times, the responsibilities and the burdens imposed upon each of us are great and frightening and growing. On us, on each of us, on our decisions that we individually and collectively make, rests the hope of mankind throughout the world for a world that is not left to chance, or not left to war, or not left to conquest.
I think that we could find no more appropriate way to begin our day today and our duties in this hour than to pray–for, as we are taught, “Except the Lord build this House, they labor in vain that build it.”
[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the hotel’s Regency Room and then to the ladies in the Blue Room. ]
Mrs. Humphrey, ladies:
This yearly gathering has become a source of great comfort to all of us. I hope that it serves as a good example for all the people of our country, because as a country we are greatly blessed.
The bounty of our land and the product of our labor have brought us wealth that is unmatched by any other nation or any other people in the history of the world.
We have the resources to attempt great deeds. We have the resources to eradicate the last vestiges of poverty from this land of ours. We have the resources to bring education and good health and jobs to all of our people.
I am so proud that today we will reveal that our unemployment rate has been going down and down and will be at the lowest level for many, many years. We are no longer prisoners in an economy of scarcity, where one man’s wealth causes another man’s misery. We have won our way to an economy of abundance, and today we know that the wise use of our great wealth can contribute to the betterment of life for us all.
Surely the words from Saint Luke have lost none of their meaning: “For unto whosoever much is given, of him shall be much required, and to whom man have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
As a people we live in a time that tests the best. We are afflicted by burdens that we would gladly not bear, and no leader of any people, however great his wisdom, can dare prophesy what the future holds for you.
We can see and foresee problems that are too great to be solved by men’s minds or, yes, even by women’s hearts. All of us appreciate and recognize and know the need for prayer, and with the blessings that belong to us, with the duties which rest upon us, we have much to pray for–that we may be just in our strength, wise in our actions, compassionate in our relations with humanity, and always faithful to our trust.
Remarks at the 14th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
February 17, 1966
Dr. Graham, my beloved friend Senator Carlson, distinguished guests at the head table, my dear friends:
I am pleased to return again to our annual prayer breakfast and to be among so many of my old friends. In this room this morning we have been privileged to hear one of the great speakers and leaders of our time. He has been heard by some of the great leaders of the most powerful Nation in all the world. Yet not a single one of us is ashamed to say, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”
Just a few blocks from here, on the front of the National Archives, is an inscription, “The past is prologue.” As your President, I have had many occasions to realize the truth of that statement. Throughout our long history our Presidents have struggled with recurring problems. The way they handled those problems and their successes or failures can guide us in the actions that we are called upon to take today.
But there are some things that history cannot teach us and among them is how to bear, without pain, the sending of our young Americans into battle, and how to fill the aching void as we wait for the news of their fate, and how to console the wife or the mother or the little children when that news is bad.
These are the times when I recall the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln when he said, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seem insufficient for the day.” In private prayer at unusual moments, I have found courage to meet another day in a world where peace on earth is still only an empty dream.
The Prophet Isaiah tells us, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
I believe that with all my heart, but in these troubled times I am sustained by much more than my own prayers. I am sustained by the prayers of hundreds of Americans who daily take the time to look up from their own problems in order to try to give me a little encouragement in mine. Not long ago I received a letter one morning from a mother whose son had been killed in Vietnam. She spoke of the pain and the loss, and the tears that are ever ready to flow, but through all of this were words of encouragement for me from this dear little lady.
In her letter she concluded: “Mr. President, I wish I could tell you all that I feel in my heart. But there just aren’t words, so we ask God to bless you and your little family, that He will guide you in all the terrible decisions that you must make. As long as we believe, our strength is in our faith in God and He will never fail us.”
So, my countrymen, in those words from that dear mother are to be found the greatness of this Nation and also the strength of its President.
Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
February 2, 1967
Senator Carlson, Mr. Vice President, our beloved Speaker of the House, Members of the Congress, Members of the Cabinet, distinguished Governors, reverend clergy, my very dear friends:
Once again we come together to affirm our faith in a Divine Being.
We–the heirs and trustees of a great civilization, richer and more powerful by far than any that has gone before us, cherishing freedom and the majesty of the human spirit–ask God’s mercy and blessing on us now, and in all that we shall do in the years ahead.
We all know that great civilizations have risen before us, and then have crumbled into dust. We all know that rich and powerful peoples have passed into the night of history, driven by pride and vain pretensions. We know that the defense of freedom and the nourishment of the human spirit have ever been very costly enterprises. We know that at the hour of decision in public and private life, faced with the tormenting choices that are always a part of man’s destiny, none of us can ever be certain that we are right.
We know, as Abraham Lincoln said in the midst of war, that “the Almighty has his own purposes”; but that men must be firm in the right, as God gives them to see the right. How we shall be judged, we may never know. Yet we believe, as a great theologian wrote, that the whole drama of human history is under the scrutiny of a divine judge who laughs at human pretensions, without being hostile to human aspirations.
That is the mercy of God–that, and the spirit that moves men to compassion and courage, that calls forth the best within them in the darkest hours.
I shall close, this morning, with a prayer that I heard in northern Australia in the town of Townsville on a Sunday morning during my trip to Asia and the Pacific last fall. And because I was then going to a council of nations meeting in Manila, and on to visit our brave and selfless men in Vietnam, to deal with the gravest questions of war and peace, this prayer had a very special and a very profound significance to me. Since I have returned home, it has not lost its power to speak to me, and to speak for me.
“O God, Who has bound us together in this bundle of life, give us grace to understand how our lives depend upon the courage, the industry, the honesty, and the integrity of our fellow men, that we may be mindful of their needs, grateful for their faithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to them, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the hotel’s Regency Room and then to the ladies in the Blue Room.]
Ladies of the Presidential Prayer Breakfast:
A few moments ago, in my remarks to the gentlemen, I spoke of the opportunities and the obligations that God has given to all of us as American citizens.
I reminded them then, as I remind you now, of the responsibilities that accompany God’s mercy and God’s generosity. Courage is one of those responsibilities. Compassion is another of those responsibilities.
These need always be present in our hearts. And they must burn brightest during our darkest hours.
Our Government has great power and influence. Yet we all finally depend upon the will and the energy of our individual citizens.
So, if our neighborhoods are to be rebuilt, if our schools are to be renewed, if our people are to be healthy and responsible citizens-the achievement will not be just the work of men here in the Federal Government in Washington, but it will be the work of thousands of citizens, men and women, in private life, throughout the 50 States.
We gather here this morning for prayer-as citizens of “one nation, under God, indivisible.”
But guaranteeing that our Nation will be one, and will deserve the favor of providence, will take much more than prayers and pledges: It will require action.
I have come here to ask for your prayers and to plead for your action.
For I remember the old rhyme that I learned at my mother’s knees: “In back of every noble enterprise, The shadow of a noble woman lies.”
Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
February 1, 1968
Distinguished head table guests, reverend clergy, gentlemen:
At this season of the calendar, the nights are long, the winds are chili, the light of day is often dull and gray. Our minds know that the chill will pass, that spring will come, that the days will be brighter once again.
What our minds know, our spirits often forget. We weary of the winter and despair of the coming of the spring. We are tempted to turn from the tasks of duty and to lay down the works that are ours to do.
At this season of the affairs of man, it is all much the same. The nights are very long. The winds are very chill. Our spirits grow weary and restive as the springtime of man seems farther and farther away.
It is for such seasons as this one that man was given by his Creator the saving strength of faith–the strength we summon to sustain us when we pray.
Once again, this is a season now when America needs to draw upon the strength of our many faiths. In this great office of all the people, it is not my right or my privilege to tell citizens how or when or what they should worship. I can–and I do—tell you that in these long nights your President prays.
In the hours of this night just past, I found these lines of prayer that were repeated a quarter of a century ago by another President. It was in 1942–when we were challenged in both oceans–at a season when the winds of the world blew harsh and the dawn of a brighter day seemed very far away, Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered to this Nation these words and I repeat them in these times now:
“God of the free, we pledge our hearts and lives today to the cause of all free mankind …. Grant us a common faith that man shall know bread and peace, that he shall know justice and righteousness, freedom and security, and an equal chance to do his best, not only in our own lands, but throughout the world. And in that faith let us march toward the clean world our hands can make. Amen.”
We cannot know what the morrow will bring. We can know that to meet its challenges and to withstand its assaults, America never stands taller than when her people go to their knees.
[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the Shoreham Hotel’s Regency Room and then to the ladies in the Blue Room.]
Distinguished head table guests, ladies:
Mrs. Johnson deeply regrets that conditions make it impossible for her to be here with you this morning. She always gets strength and pleasure from her associations with you. And she asked me to convey her regrets to you.
It is all too easy at a gathering like this to evoke our faith in a divine being without realizing the full implications of this invocation.
There are people here of many backgrounds and of different religious traditions. The bond that unites us cannot therefore be some special doctrine or theology. At the same time we do have a bond–this is not merely an empty ritual.
Basically we all share the conviction-which we explain in different ways, in different sacramental forms–that man is not just an atom, a random piece of matter living in a mechanical, purposeless universe.
We believe that there is in every one an inner compass, a spark of divinity, which sets him apart from the rest of creation.
We believe that this inner force gives mankind the capacity both for establishing ideals and for striving to bring these ideals to reality in a harsh and in an often hostile world.
And, at the same time, it makes him responsible for his blunders and his betrayals. He cannot face God—or himself–and say “Don’t blame me, I have no alternatives.”
Belief in a divine providence is not-then–an escape or a tranquilizer. It is rather a compelling challenge to men to attain the ideals of liberty, justice, peace, and compassion.
It is often–as it is today in Vietnam–a call for very great sacrifice. For ideals unfortunately do not triumph simply because one believes in them or wishes for them. There are in the world today hundreds of millions of people who dream of a world free from war, oppression, and injustice–but until the power of idealism can match the brutal coercion of totalitarianism and aggression, their dreams will be empty.
What we pray for with all our hearts is an end to war and tyranny. We hope that in time the restless spirit of humanity will be freed in those parts of the world where it is now oppressed.
We are fighting now–as we fought 25 years ago–to prevent any further expansion of totalitarian coercion over the souls of men.
We do all of this with a very deep sense of humility–recognizing our own fallibilities and errors–but with an equally strong belief that the cause of humanity cannot be permitted to lose by default.
We can never be so arrogant as to claim God’s special blessing for America, but we can express the hope that in His eyes we have at least tried to help make possible a new vitality of the human conscience–not only here in America, our beloved land, but we have tried it and are still trying it throughout all the world.
Thank you very much.