Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at a Luncheon Meeting of the General Board of the National Council of Churches.

November 18, 1953

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

Among the more pleasant duties that devolve upon the Chief Executive is that of greeting here in the Capital bodies of American citizens that meet to devote themselves, and rededicate themselves to the service of America and to humanity.

When I think of this body as a religious body, I do feel, you might say, a bit of unfitness for being here. For though I am deeply religious in my convictions, I am certainly probably more fully aware than anyone else of my shortcomings as a religious being in the sense that we should like people to be.

Now I feel a very definite reason for being here. I happen to be the Chief Executive of a nation of which the Government is merely a translation in the political field of a deeply-felt religious faith. The Magna Charta, our Declaration of Independence, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man were certainly nothing else than the attempt on the part of men to state that in their government there would be recognized the principle of the equality of man, the dignity of man. That is a completely false premise unless we recognize the Supreme Being, in front of whom we are all equal.

So the fact that our Government rests and is founded on a deeply-felt religious faith gives to my appearance, even before such a body, a certain validity--say, a certain fitness.

Moreover, a great deal of my life has been led in a profession that is supposed to be almost the antithesis of the profession of you men of the cloth. I used to uphold with very great vehemence the theory that we were identical in our purposes, in our dedication to free government which means in some form or another a dedication to the dignity of man and, therefore, to the glory of God.

I believe that every soldier--every American soldier, at least-seeking to find within his own soul some reason for being on the battlefield, for enduring the things he has to endure there, has in the long run got to fix this relationship in his own mind if he is to be really a soldier who can carry forward the terrible load that devolves upon him in those circumstances. And so I think, therefore, it is fitting that I should be allowed to come over and to greet this body.

I have one further reason for saying this: I believe that if there is one single word that could define free government, it is cooperation. Free government is based, among other things, on the theory that problems which the individual man cannot solve for himself will be solved by cooperation, not by regimentation.

As I understand it, this body is met to devise ways and means to cooperate in the great religious life of America, so that differences in dogma, or ritual--as a matter of fact, I am not sure just exactly how you describe it--will be minimized and cooperation will center around those things that are at the bottom of the life of this country: that is, the readiness to cooperate, the recognition that man is a person and an entity of dignity in front of his God, regardless of his religion or his race, or any other such things of inconsequential character. You are cooperating in order that this great recognition that man is after all basically a spiritual being and not merely an animal, or physical thing, you are cooperating to bring that understanding home with more force to each of us.

In doing so, I thoroughly believe that not only will it operate better and more effectively to the advancement of religion in the United States, it will advance all of us in the practice of democracy as it should be practiced in this country.

And so again I say, I still believe that unworthy as I am, it is fitting from the official standpoint at least, to say nothing of my personal convictions, that I bid you welcome to the Capital and hope you have a successful meeting.

Now, I might say I am going to address a group for a moment, before I hope to get in an afternoon of golf, that possibly will be more fitting to a soldier--I am going to talk to a bunch of icemen. And before I went to West Point that is what I was.

Note: The President spoke at 12:43 p.m. at the Statler Hotel in Washington. His opening words "Mr. Chairman" referred to Bishop William C. Martin, President of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at a Luncheon Meeting of the General Board of the National Council of Churches. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232437

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