February 9, 1982
Thank you all very much. Thank you, Dr. Hoffer, Dr. Armstrong, the distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I'm not going to beat around the bush, because I want you to know that you've made my day. Do you realize how great it is after being in the heartland to return and find the population of Washington, D.C., increased by 3,500 more believers?
I've just traveled halfway across the country since yesterday noon. I've visited three States and given four speeches, but no message given or received was more important than the theme of your conference. To preserve our blessed land, we must look to God. And we must look to the hearthstone, because that's where all hope for America lies. Families are the bedrock of our nation -- teachers of cooperation, tolerance, concern, and responsibility. Rebuilding America begins with restoring family strength and preserving family values.
One great joy in my job has been sending anniversary greetings to couples who've been married 50 years or more. More than 65,000 greetings were sent out last year. And believe it or not, I loved knowing that every one of them and seeing that every one of them was sent out.
America's elderly are a wise and a very precious resource, and we should always honor them and never set them aside. I know that people in that generation -- in our generation -- [laughter] -- are sometimes a bit sensitive about their age. I was kidded myself again last week, as I celebrated the 32d anniversary of my 39th birthday. But then I remembered something that Thomas Jefferson said. He said that we should never judge a President by his age; we should judge him by his work. And ever since he told me that, I've stopped -- [laughter] -- I've stopped worrying. I have increased the workload a little. [Laughter]
But like you, I've always believed that we were put here for a reason, that there is a path, somehow, a divine plan for all of us and for each one of us. And I've also always believed that America was set apart in a special way, that it was put here between the oceans to be found by a certain kind of people, based on a quality that these people had in that they came from every corner of the world. And a country then was created by men and women who came not for gold but mainly in search of God. They would be free people, living under the law, with faith in their Maker and in their future.
It's been written that the most sublime figure in American history was George Washington on his knees in the snow at Valley Forge. He personified a people who knew that it was not enough to depend on their own courage and goodness, that they must also seek help from God -- their Father and preserver.
Where did we begin to lose sight of that noble beginning, of our conviction that standards of right and wrong do exist and must be lived up to? Do we really think that we can have it both ways, that God will protect us in a time of crisis even as we turn away from him in our day-to-day life?
It's time to realize, I think, that we need God more than he needs us. But millions of Americans haven't forgotten. They know we've been on a toboggan slide, and they're determined to do something about it. And I'm honored to stand before you, 3,500 of their most effective and courageous leaders. And let me say, I do not agree with those who accuse you of trying to impose your views on others. If we have come to the point in America where any attempt to see traditional values reflected in public policy would leave one open to irresponsible charges, then I say the entire structure of our free society is threatened. The first amendment was not written to protect the people from religious values; it was written to protect those values from government tyranny.
Let us go forward with our conviction that education doesn't begin with Washington officials or State officials or local officials. It begins with the family, where it is the right and the responsibility of every parent. And that responsibility, I think, includes teaching children respect for skin color that is different than their own; religious beliefs that are different from their own. It includes conveying the message to the young as well as to the old that racial discrimination and religious bigotry have no place in a free society.
And let us go forward with our conviction that there is in the American heart a deep spirit of love -- of caring and willingness to work together -- waiting to be tapped. And I want to ask you tonight, will you lead our crusade to restore our tradition of neighbor caring for neighbor?
I've appointed a private sector initiatives task force to help build partnerships between the private and public sector in every community in America. It includes Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York; E. V. Hill, pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Los Angeles; Dr. Dee Jepsen, advisory board member of STEP in Washington, D.C.; Elder Thomas Monson of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City; and other prominent Americans of Christian and Jewish faith. They need your help, and I hope you'll be working together.
I know how much many of you are already doing and, believe me, I'm grateful. It's a little like preaching to the choir, I know, for me to be saying these things to this particular audience. You are already out on the point. But too many people have been told that what they do is not as important or worthwhile as what government does. I don't buy that. Last week at the Annual Prayer Breakfast, I spoke of the parable of the good Samaritan. And I've always believed that the meaning and the importance of that parable is not so much the good that was done to the beaten pilgrim, it was to the Samaritan who crossed the road, who knelt down and bound up the wounds of the beaten traveler, and then carried him into the nearest town. He didn't take a look and hurry on by into that town and then find a caseworker and say, ``There's somebody out there on the road I think needs help.''
We need all of you now more than ever. I have always believed that this country -- not always, but in recent years, I should say, believed that this country is hungering for a spiritual revival. I believe we need to build on what they're doing in Atlanta, where local churches have spearheaded a community effort, thousands of citizens, to help fight crime by serving as extra eyes and ears for the Atlanta police department, no longer turning their head away and saying, ``I don't want to get involved.''
We need to duplicate the example of Rock Island, Illinois, where a Christian family care center established by local churches and run by volunteer funds provides aid to victims of child or spouse abuse; and the ecumenical Loaves and Fishes Program which help feed the poor in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, St. Paul, where I just was last night; and the Christian Broadcasting Network's Operation Blessing, which matches volunteers of goods and services with those in need throughout the country.
Let us rebuild our communities and as we do, can we not do something else? Can we not, as Americans, become better friends again? We come from different backgrounds, pursue different interests, and hold different views, but we can draw communion from our shared values.
Recently, I read a story by a reporter, Judy Foreman, in the Boston Globe that explains what I mean. I was a sports announcer years ago. I was a sports announcer at a time when organized baseball was declared to be a game for Caucasian gentlemen. And it was kept that way. And then one owner of one baseball club had the courage to take Jackie Robinson, former athletic star from UCLA, into the major leagues in defiance of that rule -- the first black man to play major league baseball. And, as you can imagine, from that day that time ago, in the excitement that comes and the partisanship of a ballgame, he was subjected many times to racial harassment. And one day when his Brooklyn Dodgers were playing a game away from home, the racial slurs from the crowd started up and then grew louder. And then suddenly a teammate of Jackie Robinson's, a white teammate, PeeWee Reese, called for time out and slowly walked over to Jackie Robinson, put his arm around his shoulder, and then stood there facing that hostile crowd. He didn't say anything, just silently but eloquently he told the crowd, ``This man is my friend.''
Well, let us come together as friends. We'll never find every answer, solve every problem, heal every wound, or live all our dreams. But we can do a lot if we walk together down that one path that we know provides real hope.
The Book of St. John tells us that ``For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.'' We have God's promise that what we give will be given back many times over. And we also have His promise that we could take to heart with regard to our country -- ``That if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land.''
Maybe it's later than we think. Let us go forth from here and rekindle the fire of our faith. Let our wisdom be vindicated by our deeds. And when our work is done, we can say that we have fought the good fight, we have finished the race, we have kept the faith. And we can say some day to our children's children, ``We did all that could be done in the moment that was given us here on Earth.''
Thank you, and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 5:35 p.m. at the Sheraton Washington Hotel.