Jimmy Carter photo

National Prayer Breakfast Remarks at the 26th Annual Breakfast.

February 02, 1978

You may have noticed that the chairman of this breakfast and the master of ceremonies is Senator Jim Allen of Alabama. You may have noticed that our main speaker is Max Cleland from Georgia. You may have noticed that the President is Jimmy Carter from the same State. And there may be some concern among those among you about the secret to the South's growing influence.

I might point out one coincidental piece of evidence in that the very fine Blackwood Quartet had six members in it. I think up North a quartet still has four members. [Laughter]

It's been a wonderful program. And it's almost anticlimactic for anyone to try to follow Max Cleland, who in his own life and in his .own words gives us a testimony of what true faith can be and the closeness of God means to us.

To me, God is real. To me, the relationship with God is a very personal thing. God is ever-present in my life—sustains me when I am weak, gives me guidance when I turn to him, and provides for me as a Christian through the life of Christ, a perfect example to emulate in my experiences with other human beings.

My wife and I worship together every night, and often during the day I turn to God in a quiet and personal way.

A few months back, the words "born again" were vividly impressed on the consciousness of many Americans who were not familiar with their meaning. They've been used in many headlines and on the front covers of many magazines.

But for those of us who share the Christian faith, the words "born again" have a very simple meaning—that through a personal experience, we recommit our lives as humble children of God, which makes us in the realest possible sense brothers and sisters of one another. Families are bound by the closest possible ties.

I noticed in a small news item this morning that I was chosen "Lover of the Year." [Laughter] It concerned me very much until I read on and found that it was because my wife and I have been in love for more than 31 years, and that the exemplification of a close family life is the best expression of love.

But for a Member of Congress, for a Governor, for an executive officer who cares for hundreds of thousands of veterans of war, for the Commanding General of the United States Marines, for foreign dignitaries, and for a President, the word "family" has a broader meaning-the family of all human beings and how we might alleviate world tensions and hatred and misunderstandings and death and suffering and loneliness and alienation through a common understanding and a common purpose and, sometimes, even a common belief.

A few weeks ago, I was in India. As part of my preparation for meeting with Indian leaders, I read the Bhagavad-Gita and later visited the site where Mahatma Gandhi's body was cremated and thought about his simple, deeply committed life, his knowledge of Christianity and Judaism, his worship of God, the simplicity and humility and sensitivity of his life. And I felt a kinship with him and a kinship of the Indian leaders who have not always been our friends in recent years. And as I talked to Prime Minister Desai, this was a common thread that ran through the conversations between us—how we shared something.

Last year, at a relatively small supper at the White House, Crown Prince Fahd from Saudi Arabia, when asked a question by a member of the group, a Member of Congress—how will Saudi Arabia with its tremendous growing wealth deal with the needs of its own people and hold together as a community?—gave one of the most eloquent impromptu speeches I have ever heard about how a common religious faith and their responsibility to hold together the interest in the holy places of Islam gave him confidence in the future and guidance on how his own life should be expended in the service of others.

I met with Prime Minister Begin twice during this past year and hope to see him again soon when he comes to our country. I like him, admire him, and respect him, because throughout his conversations with me in the quiet, lonely, private times together, and even when he talks with others in a larger group, there's a fervor of a deeply committed, religious man who again worships the same God I do and you do.

I felt an instant friendship with President Sadat. And in his messages to me and in my talks with him, he never fails to point out that the Egyptians and the Jews are sons of Abraham, worship the same God, share a common heritage and a common faith, and that this is a transcendent thing, quite often forgotten, but still there; that it doesn't change.

And in our own search for peace and good will, in spite of setbacks and criticisms and sometimes the undertaking of tasks that are not easily performed, I have a sense of confidence that if we emphasize and reinforce those ties of mutual faith and our subservience and humility before God and an acquiescence in his deeply sought guidance, that we can prevail.

The leaders of our Nation look with a great deal of concern over the past experiences when kings and princesses had tied themselves to God, to the church, sometimes even in an exalted position relative to God, and had cloaked maladministration and injustice in the protection of the church. So, in our Constitution, we carefully prescribed that there should be no establishment of religion in this country.

So, we worship freely. But that does not mean that leaders of our Nation and the people of our Nation are not called upon to worship, because those who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights and our Constitution did it under the aegis of, the guidance of, with a full belief in God.

In our rapidly changing world, we need to cling to things that don't change—to truth and justice, to fairness, to brotherhood, to love, and to faith. And through prayer, I believe that we can find those things. I don't think that's overly optimistic. And when Judge Sirica, one of the great men of all times in our country, referred to Solomon, I thought about the time described in the First Book of Kings, I believe, when God said to Solomon, "What do you want from me?" And Solomon said, "Give Thy servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I might discern between good and evil." And God said, "That's such a fine prayer that I will not only grant you wisdom, but I will grant you the other blessings of life as well."

Almost everyone in this room is a leader, trusted by others, looked up to by others, respected by others, influential among others. And I pray that that doesn't give us a sense of pride or exaltation or a sense of self-satisfaction, but that it gives us a sense of humility and that we turn to God through prayer, so that we might better serve those who have placed their faith in us as we place our faith in God.

Note: The President spoke at 9:23 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. The annual event is sponsored by the United States Senate and House prayer breakfast groups.

Jimmy Carter, National Prayer Breakfast Remarks at the 26th Annual Breakfast. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244153

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