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Transcript: Clinton addresses National Prayer Breakfast
February 4, 1999
February 4, 1999
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much, thank you. Thank you, thank you.
Thank you very much, Steve, distinguished head table guests, to the leaders from around the world who are here, the members of Congress, Mr. Speaker and others, ladies and gentlemen.
You know I feel exactly the way I did the first time I ever gave a speech as a public official, to the Pine Bluff Rotary Club officers' installation banquet, in January, 1977. The dinner started at 6:30; there were 500 people there. All but three were introduced. They went home mad.
We had been there since 6:30, I was introduced at 9:45. The guy that introduced me was so nervous, he didn't know what to do. And so help me, the first words out of his mouth were: You know, we could stop here and have had a very nice evening.
He didn't mean it the way it sounded, but I do mean it. We could stop here and have had a very wonderful breakfast.
You were magnificent, Max, thank you very much.
And I did want to assure you that one of the things that has been said here today repeatedly is absolutely true. You know, Senator Hutchison was talking about how when we come here, we set party aside. And there is absolutely no politics in this. I can tell you that is absolutely so. I have had a terrific relationship with Steve Largent, and he has yet to vote with me the first time.
So, I know there is no politics in this prayer breakfast.
We come here every year. Hillary and I were staying up kind of late last night, talking about what we should say today, who would be here.
I think especially in light of what of Max Lacado (ph) has -- Lucado (ph) has just said -- I would like to ask you think about what he said in terms of the world we live in for it is easier to talk about than to do this idea of making peace with those are different from us.
We have certain signs of hope, of course. Last Good Friday in Northern Ireland, the Irish Protestants and the Irish Catholics set aside literally centuries of distrust and chose peace for their children.
Last October at the Wye Plantation in Maryland, Chairman Arafat, Abu Mazen and the Palestinian delegation and Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli delegation went through literally sleepless nights to try to save the peace process in the Middle East and put it back on track.
Throughout this year, our allies and we have worked to deepen the peace in Bosnia, and we're delighted to have the leader of the Republic Srpska here today. And we're working today to avoid a new catastrophe in Kosovo with some hopeful signs.
We also have worked to guarantee religious freedom to those who disagree with all of us in this room, recognizing that so much of the trouble in the world is rooted in what we believe are the instructions we get from God to do things to people who are different from us.
And we think the only answer is to promote religious freedom at home and around the world.
I want to thank all of you who helped us to pass the Religious Freedom Act of 1998. I'd like to say a special word of appreciation to Dr. Robert Syful (ph), the former head of World Vision, who is with us today, who is now America's ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
Later this month, I have to appoint three new members to United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; the Congress has already nominated its members.
We know that's a part of it, but, respectfully, I would suggest it's not enough. As we pray for peace, as we listen to what Max said, we say well, of course it is God's will.
But the truth is, throughout history, people have prayed to God to aid them in war. People have claimed repeatedly that it was God's will that they prevail in conflict.
Christians have done it at least since the time of the Crusades. Jews have done it since the times of the Old Testament. Muslims have done it from the time of the Yasin (ph) down to the present day. No faith is blameless in saying that they have taken up arms against others of other faiths, other races because it was God's will that they do so.
And nearly everybody would agree that from time to time that happens over the long course of history.
I do believe that even though Adolph Hitler preached a perverted form of Christianity, God did not want him to prevail. But I also know that when we take up arms or words against one another, we must be very careful in invoking the name of our Lord.
Abraham Lincoln once said that in the great Civil War, neither side wanted war and both sides prayed to the same God.
But one side would make war rather than stay in the Union. And the other side would accept war rather than let it be went asunder. So, the war came.
Ino know God's will.
What's that got to do with us? Martin Luther King once said we had to be careful taking vengeance in the name of God because the old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.
And so today, in the spirit in which we have been truly ministered to today, I ask you to pray for peace in the Middle East in Bosnia and Kosovo, in Northern Ireland where there are new difficulties.
I ask you to pray that the young leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea will find a way to avoid war. And I ask you to pray for the resolution of the conflicts between India and Pakistan. I ask you to pray for the success of the peace process in Colombia, for the agreement made by the leaders of Ecuador and Peru, for the ongoing struggle to make the peace process work in Guatemala. I ask you to pray for peace.
I ask you to pray for the peacemakers, for the prime minister of Albania who is here, for the prime miI ask you to pray for Chairman Arafat and the Palestinians, for the government of Israel, for Mrs. Laraden (ph) and her children who are here, for the awful price they have paid in the loss of Prime Minister Rabin for the cause of peace.
I ask you to pray for King Hussein, a wonderful human being, a champion of peace, who I promise you today is fighting for his life mostly, mostly so he can continue to fight for peace.
And finally, I ask you to pray for all of us, including yourself, to pray that our purpose truly will reflect God's will, to pray that we can all be purged of the temptation to pretend that our willfulness is somehow equal to God's will, to remember that all the great peacemakers in the world in the end have to let go and walk away, like Christ, not from apparent but from genuine grievances.
If Nelson Mandela can walk away from 28 years of oppression in a little prison cell, we can walk away from whatever is bothering us.
If Leah Rabin and her family can continue their struggle for peace after the prime minister's assassination, then we can continue to believe in our better selves.
I remember on September 19, 1993, when the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority gathered in Washington to sign the peace accord, the great questions rose about whether in front of a billion people on international television for the very first time, Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin would shake hands.
Now, this may seem like a little thing to you. But Yitzhak and I were sitting in my office talking and he said, "You know, Mr. President, I've been fighting this man for 30 years."
I have buried a lot of people. This is difficult. And I started to make an argument, and before I could say anything, he said, "But you do not make peace with your friends." And so, the handshake occurred that was seen around the world.
Then, a little while afterwards, some time passed and they came back to Washington. And they were going to sign these agreements about what the details were of handing over Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
And the two of them had to sign on this second signing, three copies of these huge maps, books of maps. There were 27 maps -- you will remember, 27 maps. There were literally thousands of markings on these maps, on each page. What would happen at every little crossroad. Who would be in charge? Who would do this? Who would do that? Who would do the other thing?
And right before the ceremony, there was a hitch. And some jurisdictional issue was not resolved. And everybody was going around in a tizzy.
When I opened the door to the little back room where the vice president and I have lunch once a week, and I said to these two people, who shook hands for the first time, not so long ago: Why don't you guys go in this room and work this out. This is not a big deal.
Thirty minutes later they came out, no one else was in there, they worked it out. They signed the copies three times, 27 pieces -- each page they were signing -- and it was over.
You do not make peace with your friends, but friendship can come with time and trust and humility when we do not pretend that our willfulness is an expression of God's will.
I do not know how to put this into words. A friend of mine, last week, sent me a little story that -- out of Mother Teresa's life when she said she was asked, "When you pray, what do you say to God?"
And she said, "I don't say anything, I listen." And then she was asked, "Well, when you listen, what does God say to you?" And she said, "He doesn't say anything either, he listens."
In another way St. Paul said the same thing. We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the spirit himself intercedes for us with size too deep for words. So, I ask you reflect on all we have seen and heard and felt today.
I ask you to pray for peace, for the peace makers and for peace within each of our hearts in silence.