Jimmy Carter photo

Denver, Colorado Remarks at the Governor's Annual Prayer Breakfast.

May 04, 1978

Governor Dick Lamm and other political and professional leaders of Colorado, leaders in God's church, fellow citizens of a country that has been blessed by God with riches of all kinds, giving us a sense of self-worth which, perhaps, we do not deserve, and a growing sense that these blessings of God may have been appreciated too little and cared for with disdain or neglect:

When I was a small boy, there was a story that was always told about a man who was plowing in the field behind a mule, and he was very tired of this profession. And one day he knelt in the middle of the field and asked God to give him some guidance on how he should spend the rest of his life. And as he finished his prayer and looked up into the heavens, he thought he saw spelled out in the clouds something that looked like "g-o-a-p." So he said, "God wants me to go out and preach." So, after 2 years of unsuccessful ministry in the pulpit, he realized that God was telling him to go on and plow. [Laughter]

We ourselves, no matter what our profession might be, no matter what our calling might be in life, often feel that we are aliens in God's world. This morning we are remembering an admonition from native Americans who, perhaps, as much as any group of human beings on Earth, have lived and often still live in close communion with nature. And their admonition is "Touch the Earth."

God said, "The Earth is Mine and the fullness thereof." We are increasingly reminded of how much we have despoiled God's Earth.

A few days ago, I had a visitor in the Oval Office whose name was Iron Eyes Cody. I know all of you have seen the award-winning advertisement on television where a dignified, proud, quite native American, Iron Eyes Cody, walks across what seems to be God's beautiful Earth, looks down at his feet and sees trash, garbage, dips his hand in what ought to be a clear stream and comes up with filth, and a tear runs down his cheek. There are no words spoken, but the message is gripping and impelling.

We look upon the mysteries of nature with great wonder and a growing realization of the unfathomable accomplishment of God. Recently, for the first time, we detected with assurance a so-called black hole in the heavens, a phenomenon known to astronomers where a world such as we know collapses with such tremendous force that a cubic inch of that material can weigh thousands and thousands and thousands of tons, with a pole of gravity so great that nothing can escape, even a ray of light. And from our own observation here on Earth looking toward it, a black hole is created because no light can leave it nor pass near it.

These infinite phenomena cause us concern, but they also teach us how fragile is the environment created for us on Earth, given to us by God, carefully balanced, very delicate, subject to minute, incremental changes made by you and me which can destroy the very gift of life that we've received from God.

My first memory of farming during the thirties was struggling to preserve the quality of our land which steadily deteriorated-in Georgia, in Oklahoma, perhaps, here in Colorado. Because of inattention to our stewardship of the land, the topsoil was washed away, or the topsoil was blown away, or the quality of the earth itself deteriorated rapidly. And there was a sense of foredoom, of warning about the future getting ever more troubling to the farmers who lived there.

The church itself, all denominations, organized annual stewardship weeks, and the laymen and the pastors, the preachers, the priests would devote that whole week from the pulpit of God's church to teach farmers and others how to preserve the quality of their land. We didn't burn much oil and gasoline or coal in those days. The air was pure. The streams were contaminated only by earth which had washed away. But in those early days of warning in my own life 40 years ago, I have seen a deterioration since then with other forms of pollution that have caused us even greater concern.

As a coastal State, Georgia and others like it are faced with the present circumstance where sand beaches, so attractive to tourists and others who love the ocean, have disappeared because of a destruction of the sand dunes and the normal, inevitable actions of the waves and the air.

Noise impacts on our ears in such a way that we hardly recognize the level of disturbance that's constant to our human brains. The White House is located in an area of about 18 acres that seems to be quiet and peaceful. But when my wife and I play tennis on the court there, we cannot hear each other from one end of the court to the other when we try to shout out the score or communicate between two people.

We don't realize how much we have permitted a deterioration in the quality of the place where we live.

For millions of years, fossil fuels were built up with a strange chemical mechanism and a strange physical pressure mechanism. And in just a few decades, we've wasted most of those fossil fuels and now face with imminence deprivation for our children and our grandchildren, brought about by our own uncorrected, wasteful ways. This sense of carelessness or callousness or even destruction of God's earth and air and water has a depressing effect on the human spirit.

It's not just a physical thing; it's a spiritual thing. And as we who worship God care little about our own physical surroundings, so we've shown in the Christian church and other churches a callousness toward human beings.

I've traveled a lot in recent years, as President and before, to foreign countries. And there is a reluctance within the churches of all denominations to reach out a helping hand to the poor, the deprived, those who suffer from a deprivation of basic civil rights, basic human rights.

There is an upcoming conference in Mexico where that is and will be the main problem for church leaders to face-"How much should we care for our fellow human beings? How much should a church be isolated from people around the worshippers?"

We, as a nation, are committed to the preservation and enhancement of human rights. But quite often, we preach with a hollow voice because of an absence of a total commitment to civil rights, human rights, the basic needs of people in our own great and free land. But still there is a tie that binds us together which is a basis for future hope.

One of the most moving religious statements that I've ever heard was in the State Dining Room of the White House about a year ago, when Crown Prince Fahd from Saudi Arabia pointed out the indestructible religious commitment of the people of his land.

Later, when we were gratified to see a meeting between the Egyptians and the Israelis at their top leadership level and a breaking down of decades of insurmountable barriers between two peoples who genuinely want peace, as I talked privately with those leaders, they pointed out that the thing they had in common that gave them hope for the future was a common belief in God. They both say with pride, "We are children of Abraham." It gives a sense of community.

Perhaps the great struggle in the future will come in Africa between the free world and the Communist form of government. Black Africans have long felt a need for a deep religious faith, whether Islam, Christianity, or others, and they have an abhorrence of the intrusion of an atheistic officialdom in their own country.

So, our faith in God, no matter what form it may have taken in our own individual lives, can be a basis for repairing the damage that has been done to the human spirit and should be a constant reminder that we have an equivalent responsibility to care for the environment, the ecology, the place where we live. We have a responsibility for stewardship.

The Bible says that the body is a temple of God and that we should care for our own bodies and for those around us.

So, I think that as we've gone through this phase of constantly deteriorating commitment to the premises of God, we've now begun to realize our faults, our failures, and with that realization can come the basis for correcting our defects, answering difficult questions, resolving apparently insurmountable problems, and joining our hearts and minds together in a commitment for a better future—a future for the Earth, a future for our fellow men, and a future for our spirit as human beings under the guidance and with the commitment to God through prayer.

These should be the noble endeavors of all human beings. And in our own great Nation, the United States, we have a pulpit and we have a base for correcting our own mistakes and setting example for others throughout the Earth.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 7:50 a.m. at the Currigan Exhibition Center.

Jimmy Carter, Denver, Colorado Remarks at the Governor's Annual Prayer Breakfast. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245628

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