[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[February 2, 1995]
[Pages 144-146]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 2, 1995

    Thank you, Martin Lancaster, for your incredible devotion to this 
prayer breakfast and for all the work you have done to make it a 
success. To Vice President and Mrs. Gore and to the Members of Congress 
and the Supreme Court, the Governors, the distinguished leaders of 
previous administrations, and of course, to all of our foreign guests 
who are here and my fellow

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Americans: Hillary and I look forward to this day every year with much 
anticipation. It always gives me new energy and new peace of mind. But 
today has been a special day for me.
    It's always wonderful to see our friend Billy Graham back here. This 
is the 40th of 43 prayer breakfasts he has attended. I'd say he's been 
faithful to this as he has to everything else in his life, and we are 
all the richer for it.
    It was wonderful to be with Andy Young again. He stayed with us last 
evening at the White House, and we relived some old times and talked 
about the future. None of us could fail to be moved today by the power 
of his message, the depth of his love for his wonderful wife, who 
blessed so many of us with her friendship. And I'm sure he inspired us 
    I also want to say a special word of thanks to my friend Janice 
Sjostrand for coming here all the way from Arkansas. You know, one of 
the greatest things about being Governor of my State is I got to hear 
her sing about once a month instead of once in a blue moon. And I miss 
you, and I'm glad to hear you today. Thank you.
    We have heard a lot of words today of great power. There is very 
little I can add to them. But let me say that, in this age, which the 
Speaker of the House is always reminding us is the information age--an 
exciting time; a time of personal computers, not mainframes; a time when 
we are going to be judged by how smart we work, not just how hard we 
work--the power of words is greater than ever before. So by any 
objective standard the problems we face today, while profound, are 
certainly not greater than they were in the Great Depression, or in the 
Second World War, or when Mr. Lincoln made those statements when he left 
his home in Illinois to become President that Governor Engler quoted, or 
when George Washington suffered defeat after defeat until, finally, we 
were able to win by persistence our freedom. No, they are not, these 
times, as difficult as they are, more difficult than those.
    What makes them more difficult is the power of words, the very 
source of our liberation, of all of our possibility and all of our 
potential for growth. The communications revolution gives words not only 
the power to lift up and liberate, the power to divide and destroy as 
never before--just words--to darken our spirits and weaken our resolve, 
divide our hearts. So I say, perhaps the most important thing we should 
take out of Andy Young's wonderful message about what we share in common 
is the resolve to clear our heads and our hearts and to use our words 
more to build up and unify and less to tear down and divide.
    We are here because we are all the children of God, because we know 
we have all fallen short of God's glory, because we know that no matter 
how much power we have, we have it but for a moment. And in the end, we 
can only exercise it well if we see ourselves as servants, not 
    We see sometimes the glimmer of this great possibility: When, after 
hundreds of years, the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland 
decide that it may be time to stop killing each other; when after 27 
years, Nelson Mandela walks out of his jail cell and a couple of years 
later is the President of a free country from a free election; when we 
see the miraculous reaching out across all the obstacles in the Middle 
East. God must have been telling us something when he created the three 
great monotheistic religions of the world in one little patch and then 
had people fight with each other for every century after that. Maybe we 
have seen the beginning of the end of that, in spite of all the 
difficulty. But it never happened unless the power of words become 
instruments of elevation and liberation.
    So we must work together to tear down barriers, as Andy Young has 
worked his whole life. We must do it with greater civility. In Romans, 
St. Paul said, ``Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what 
is noble in the sight of all; do not be overcome by evil, but overcome 
evil by good.'' There's not a person in this room that hasn't failed in 
that admonition, including me. But I'm going to leave here today 
determined to live more by it.
    And we must finally be humble, all of us, in whatever position we 
have not only because, as Andy reminded us, we're just here for a little 
while, not only in our positions but on this Earth, but because we know, 
as St. Paul said in Corinthians, that we see through a glass darkly and 
we will never see clearly until our life is over. We will never have the 
full truth, the whole truth. Even the facts, as Andy said--I thought 
that was a brilliant thing--the flesh and blood of our lives, the facts 
we think we know, even they do not tell us the whole truth. The mystery 
of life.

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    So, my fellow Americans and my fellow citizens of the world, let us 
leave this place renewed, in a spirit of civility and humility, and a 
determination not to use the power of our words to tear down.
    I was honored to say in the State of the Union last week that none 
of us can change our yesterdays, but all of us can change our tomorrows. 
That, surely, is the wisdom of the message we have heard on this day.
    Lastly, let me ask you to pray for the President that he will have 
the wisdom to change when he is wrong, the courage to stay the course 
when he is right, and somehow, somehow, the grace of God not to use the 
power of words at a time in human history when words are more 
omnipresent and more powerful than ever before to divide and to destroy 
but instead to pierce to the truth, to the heart, to the best that is in 
us all.
    Thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:20 a.m. at the Washington Hilton Hotel 
and Towers. In his remarks, he referred to Martin Lancaster, chair, 
National Prayer Breakfast; evangelist Billy Graham; former United 
Nations Ambassador Andrew Young; and singer Janice Sjostrand.