Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast

February 01, 1968

Distinguished head table guests, reverend clergy, gentlemen:

At this season of the calendar, the nights are long, the winds are chili, the light of day is often dull and gray. Our minds know that the chill will pass, that spring will come, that the days will be brighter once again.

What our minds know, our spirits often forget. We weary of the winter and despair of the coming of the spring. We are tempted to turn from the tasks of duty and to lay down the works that are ours to do.

At this season of the affairs of man, it is all much the same. The nights are very long. The winds are very chill. Our spirits grow weary and restive as the springtime of man seems farther and farther away.

It is for such seasons as this one that man was given by his Creator the saving strength of faith--the strength we summon to sustain us when we pray.
Once again, this is a season now when America needs to draw upon the strength of our many faiths. In this great office of all the people, it is not my right or my privilege to tell citizens how or when or what they should worship. I can--and I do---tell you that in these long nights your President prays.

In the hours of this night just past, I found these lines of prayer that were repeated a quarter of a century ago by another President. It was in 1942--when we were challenged in both oceans--at a season when the winds of the world blew harsh and the dawn of a brighter day seemed very far away, Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered to this Nation these words and I repeat them in these times now:

"God of the free, we pledge our hearts and lives today to the cause of all free mankind .... Grant us a common faith that man shall know bread and peace, that he shall know justice and righteousness, freedom and security, and an equal chance to do his best, not only in our own lands, but throughout the world. And in that faith let us march toward the clean world our hands can make. Amen."

We cannot know what the morrow will bring. We can know that to meet its challenges and to withstand its assaults, America never stands taller than when her people go to their knees.

[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the Shoreham Hotel's Regency Room and then to the ladies in the Blue Room.]

Distinguished head table guests, ladies:

Mrs. Johnson deeply regrets that conditions make it impossible for her to be here with you this morning. She always gets strength and pleasure from her associations with you. And she asked me to convey her regrets to you.

It is all too easy at a gathering like this to evoke our faith in a divine being without realizing the full implications of this invocation.

There are people here of many backgrounds and of different religious traditions. The bond that unites us cannot therefore be some special doctrine or theology. At the same time we do have a bond--this is not merely an empty ritual.

Basically we all share the conviction-which we explain in different ways, in different sacramental forms--that man is not just an atom, a random piece of matter living in a mechanical, purposeless universe.

We believe that there is in every one an inner compass, a spark of divinity, which sets him apart from the rest of creation.

We believe that this inner force gives mankind the capacity both for establishing ideals and for striving to bring these ideals to reality in a harsh and in an often hostile world.

And, at the same time, it makes him responsible for his blunders and his betrayals. He cannot face God---or himself--and say "Don't blame me, I have no alternatives."

Belief in a divine providence is not-then--an escape or a tranquilizer. It is rather a compelling challenge to men to attain the ideals of liberty, justice, peace, and compassion.

It is often--as it is today in Vietnam--a call for very great sacrifice. For ideals unfortunately do not triumph simply because one believes in them or wishes for them. There are in the world today hundreds of millions of people who dream of a world free from war, oppression, and injustice--but until the power of idealism can match the brutal coercion of totalitarianism and aggression, their dreams will be empty.

What we pray for with all our hearts is an end to war and tyranny. We hope that in time the restless spirit of humanity will be freed in those parts of the world where it is now oppressed.

We are fighting now--as we fought 25 years ago--to prevent any further expansion of totalitarian coercion over the souls of men.

We do all of this with a very deep sense of humility--recognizing our own fallibilities and errors--but with an equally strong belief that the cause of humanity cannot be permitted to lose by default.

We can never be so arrogant as to claim God's special blessing for America, but we can express the hope that in His eyes we have at least tried to help make possible a new vitality of the human conscience--not only here in America, our beloved land, but we have tried it and are still trying it throughout all the world.

Thank you very much.

Note: The annual prayer breakfast of International Christian Leadership, Inc., a nondenominational group of laymen, was held at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington. The President spoke at 9:29 a.m.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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