[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[December 7, 1997]
[Pages 1724-1725]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the Metropolitan Baptist Church
December 7, 1997

    Thank you. Thank you, Reverend Hicks, Mrs. Hicks, members of the 
ministry. Thank you, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for telling me 
I should come here today, thank you. I must say, I would rather be in 
the choir than in the pulpit. [Laughter] They were wonderful. Thank you. 
Mr. Mayor, City Council Chair Cropp, and members of the council; Dr. 
Swygert and Mrs. Swygert; my good friend Maya Angelou, thank you for 
being here; David Du Bois. I thank three members of my Cabinet--
Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman; the Secretary of Transportation, 
Rodney Slater; and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, 
Frank Raines--for coming with me, and many members of the White House 
staff and friends. We're all glad to be here, and we have a happy heart 
after hearing all the wonderful music and seeing the people here, and 
especially the children.
    Sean and Ahjah and the other children gave me the letters and the 
drawings; I was back there reading them. One letter said, ``Can Project 
Spirit come and visit the White House and see the Christmas tree?'' 
[Laughter] Yes. As a matter of fact, Dr. Hicks, anybody, any of these 
children in your youth group you want to bring, just bus them on in. 
We'd be glad to see them, and we'll arrange it. I'd like that.
    Now, the letters contain some interesting things. One young man 
wrote, ``I'm not trying to get myself in trouble, but I've always had a 
crush on Hillary.'' [Laughter] Now, I can certainly understand that. 
[Laughter] A lot of the letters were serious. They said, can I do more 
to get rid of violence, guns. A lot of them said very specific things 
about what they'd like to do to make their schools better.
    Why are we here today? Or, at least, why am I here today, instead of 
down the street at Foundry, where I normally am on Sunday? Ephesians 
says we should speak the truth with our neighbors, for we are members, 
one of another. I believe that. I think that is the single most 
important political insight, or social insight, in the Bible. And I 
think it is what should drive us as we behave together. We have to 
decide whether we are members, one of the other: Is my destiny caught up 
in yours; are your children my children; do you care about my daughter; 
are we part of the same family of God? It's not enough to say that we 
are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all also connected in the eyes 
of God.
    Now, just because we have responsibilities one to another doesn't 
mean we don't have a primary responsibility to ourselves. God helps 
those who help themselves. One great athlete once said, ``You know, it's 
amazing, the more I practice, the luckier I get.'' [Laughter] So we have 
responsibilities to ourselves, but we owe a lot to each other.
    I come here to say that I don't believe our National Government has 
always been the best neighbor to the City of Washington, Mr. Mayor, Ms. 
Cropp, Congresswoman Norton, but we are

[[Page 1725]]

committed to becoming a better neighbor. Washington has gotten a lot of 
lectures from people in national politics about being more responsible, 
from making the schools work better, to the streets become safer, to the 
neighborhoods having more hope and economic opportunity. But in the 
essence of our Constitution is the idea that responsibility requires 
    And so I believe in the independence of Washington, DC. I want 
Washington, DC, to be able to run its own affairs. I want the crime to 
go down and the schools to go up and the neighborhoods to be strong and 
full. We are trying to do better. In this last meeting of Congress we 
did more things to take loads off of Washington that it should not have 
and to give Washington responsibilities that it should have. And we must 
do more. I met with the mayor, the city council, the control board, and 
a lot of community leaders just a few days ago, a meeting that the 
Congresswoman requested. And we talked about what we could do together.
    But I want to say to you that I come here at this Christmas season 
to say that I hope one of the gifts that I and our administration can 
leave for the 21st century is a National Capital that is a shining city 
on the hill for all America, that every American is proud of. I want a 
National Capital where every child looks like the children that I heard 
sing and who brought me those letters today, where they're all filled 
with a spirit of their own goodness, where they all believe they are 
children of God, where they all are animated to believe that they can 
have hope to live out their dreams. And this place symbolizes that. 
Wouldn't you like it if your city and your country worked the way this 
church did? Wouldn't you like that? [Applause]
    And I'm not violating the first amendment by saying that. [Laughter] 
This has nothing to do with the separation of church and state. This has 
to do with the values we all share. Most people who are not even 
Christians, who are Jewish people, who are Muslims, who are Buddhist, 
who are all the different religions we have in our country today, they'd 
still like it if our country worked more the way this church does--and 
often the way their houses of worship do.
    And so I say to you, it begins when we speak the truth to one 
another, when we feel free to disagree, when we don't hide what we 
feel--but if you go on down in that chapter, when we don't let the sun 
go down on our anger, when we are genuinely kind to one another, for we 
are members, one of another. Now, on Christmas, we celebrate the birth 
of a child born in poverty, who never got elected to anything, never had 
a nickel to his name, and has more followers than any politician who 
ever lived for simply reminding us that we are children of God and that 
we are members, one of another.
    So let us go out of here resolved to keep working together until 
every child is in a good school, until every family can be safe in their 
neighborhoods, until every grownup has a place to go to work in the 
morning. And we'll all be better off when we are selfishly selfless, 
recognizing that we are members, one of another.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:50 a.m. In his remarks, he referred to 
Rev. H. Beecher Hicks, Jr., senior minister, Metropolitan Baptist 
Church, and his wife, Elizabeth; Mayor Marion S. Barry, Jr., of 
Washington, DC; Linda W. Cropp, chair, District of Columbia City 
Council; Dr. H. Patrick Swygert, president, Howard University, and his 
wife, Sonja; poet Maya Angelou; David Du Bois, grandson of W.E.B. Du 
Bois; Sean Nalle and Ahjah Prom, who presented a book of children's 
letters to the President; and Ian Jackson, who wrote the letter 
regarding the First Lady.