at the 2003 National Religious Broadcasters' Convention
February 10, 2003
11:07 A.M. CST
Thank you so much for that warm welcome. I'm honored to be here. I want to thank
Glenn Plummer for his kind introduction. I want to thank those who put on the
convention for letting some of my fellow Texans in the hall. (Laughter.) I see
Evans, I see Gramm. It's good to see friendly faces. It's good to see people
with whom I've spent a lot of quality time. Thanks for -- thanks for letting
And I'm honored to be with so many of you all who have dedicated your lives
to sharing the good news. (Applause.) Before I came in this hall I had the opportunity
to have what they call a roundtable with members of the faith community here
in Nashville, Tennessee; people who are changing Nashville through their love
and compassion and decency.
I met folks from the Campus for Human Development. It's an extraordinary testament
to social entrepreneurship based upon faith. And I want to thank all the roundtable
participants for sharing with me your stories. I particularly want to thank
the four folks who have recovered from homelessness and addiction to alcohol
and drugs, for your courage to share your story with the President. It's so
inspirational to see your courage, as well as to see the great works of our
Lord in your heart.
I also landed today and met an extraordinary woman from Nashville named Sherry
Jean Williams. She is sitting right over here -- Sherry Jean, you mind standing
up just for a second? Thank you for coming. (Applause.) You'll hear me talk
about the armies of compassion in America -- she is a soldier in the armies
of compassion. Sherry Jean mentors children whose mom or dad may be in prison.
She volunteers to help grandparents who are raising their children. She is one
of millions of people who are helping people in need.
My call to our fellow Americans is, while one person can't do everything, one
person can do something to make our society a more compassionate and decent
place. And I want to thank you -- (applause) -- I want to thank you, Sherry
Jean, for representing all the decent people, whether they be foster moms or
dads -- and by the way, being a foster parent is an incredibly important part
of our society -- or whether being a mentor, or whether being somebody volunteering
their time for after-school programs to help save lives, particularly lives
of our children.
It's also great to be here in Opryland. It's an unbelievable complex. (Laughter.)
You need a road map to get around here. (Laughter.) Either that, or a good Secret
Service driver. (Laughter.) But I'm honored to be back, and I appreciate the
Opryland has a way of bringing out hidden talents of politicians. You may recall,
in 1974, Richard Nixon came to Opryland and played the piano and serenaded his
wife. In 1998, Ashcroft, the great Attorney General of the United States, came
and sang a duet with Ray Stevens. (Laughter.) So I was just thinking -- (laughter
and applause.) But that's as far as it got. (Laughter.) I think I'll leave the
talent to my great friend, Michael W. Smith and Sara Paul Brummett. (Applause.)
It's good to see Michael W. I like a man who's middle name who's middle name
is W. (Laughter.) He and Debbie joined Laura and me at the White House a couple
of nights ago. It was good to be in his presence. And one of the remarkable
things about the evening is Michael agreed to play the piano for us. He had
to sing for his dinner. Thankfully, he did. (Laughter.) But what a joy.
For more than 80 years, America's religious broadcasters have been sharing the
gospel on the airways. You bring words of truth, and comfort, and encouragement
into millions of homes. Broadcasting is more than a job for you. It is a great
commission. You serve with all your heart and soul and America is grateful.
Each one of you knows that the power of faith can transform a life. People of
faith and goodness and idealism also have the power to transform our neighborhoods
and our nation. I've set a great goal for America. We must apply the great compassion
of our people to the deepest problems of this country.
This country is blessed with virtually millions of good-hearted volunteers who
work daily miracles in the lives of their fellow citizens. And today I ask our
religious broadcasters, those who reach into every corner of America, to rally
the armies of compassion so that we can change America one heart, one soul at
a time. (Applause.)
The American people have deep and diverse religious beliefs, truly one of the
great strengths of our country. And the faith of our citizens is seeing us through
some demanding times. We're being challenged. We're meeting those challenges
because of our faith.
After we were attacked on September the 11th, we carried our grief to the Lord
Almighty in prayer. Last week, our nation lost seven brave Americans -- brave
souls, six Americans and one Israeli citizen, aboard the space shuttle Columbia.
Laura and I went to Houston. We were so honored to meet the families. There's
no question in my mind they are finding strength and comfort because of your
prayers and because of the Almighty God.
In times of tragedy, faith assures us that death and suffering are not the final
word; that love and hope are eternal. Religious faith not only comforts, it
challenges. Faith teaches that every person is equal in God's sight, and must
be treated with equal dignity here on earth.
This idea of human dignity forces us to constantly examine our own country and
our own hearts. And this ideal has inspired some of the great reforms in American
history. People of faith led the struggle against slavery. People of faith fought
against child labor. People of faith worked for women's equality. And people
of faith worked for civil rights.
And in America today, people of faith are doing the work of compassion. So many
good people are serving their neighbors because they love their God. The spirit
of service is vital because the need in America is great. There are pockets
of despair and loneliness and hopelessness in America. We do not accept as a
fact of life that some Americans must endure permanent poverty or bigotry or
childhood without love and guidance. Our work as Americans is not complete until
we build a single nation of justice and a nation of opportunity.
Government, of course, must be involved and will be involved. We just reformed
our welfare in America and we've helped a lot of people. Yet, even as we work
to improve the welfare laws, we know that welfare policy will not solve the
deepest problems of the spirit. (Applause.)
I first heard an interesting reminder of that fact from Tony Evans. He doesn't
remember, but I do. We were in Greenville, Texas. He tells a story about the
guy who owns the house and there's a crack running up the wall in the house.
So he hires the best painter he can find, and the guy covers the crack and everything
is fine. Until the crack reappears.
And so he hires another painter and he covers the crack. And Tony Evans reminded
me and the audience, he said, you don't fix the crack on the wall until you
first fix the foundation. (Applause.)
This economy of ours is growing okay; it can be better. As a matter of fact,
we've got plans in place to encourage job growth, ways to stimulate the entrepreneurial
spirit of the country, encourage small business expansion so that people can
find work. Yet, there are some needs that prosperity can never meet.
We've arrested and we convict criminals; yet building more prisons will not
substitute for responsibility and order in our souls. (Applause.) The role of
government is limited, because government cannot put hope in people's hearts,
or a sense of purpose in people's lives. That happens when someone puts an arm
around a neighbor and says, God loves you, I love you, and you can count on
us both. (Applause.)
And it is that spirit which defines some of the most effective social programs
in America. It is that spirit of love and compassion which makes healing lives
work. Yet, for too long, some in government thought there was no room for faith-based
groups to provide social services. I have a different point of view. I believe
government should welcome faith-based groups as allies in the great work of
renewing America. (Applause.)
I welcome faith. I welcome faith to help solve the nation's deepest problems.
I understand there's a -- that government must not and will not endorse a religious
creed, or directly fund religious worship. That's obviously not a role of government,
and that's not what we're talking about here.
But governments can and should support effective social services provided by
religious people, so long as they work and as long as those services go to anyone
in need, regardless of their faith. And when government gives that support,
it is equally important that faith-based institutions should not be forced to
change the character or compromise their prophetic role. (Applause.)
I think the charities helping the needy, it should not matter if there is a
rabbi on the board, or a cross on the wall, or crescent on the wall, or religious
commitment in the charter. And he'd ask, does it work? If an earthquake or hurricane
damages a Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim school, that school should not be
denied federal disaster assistance because of it's religious character. (Applause.)
What I'm saying is, the days of discriminating against religious groups just
because they're religious are coming to an end. (Applause.) Thank you. I have
issued an executive order banning discrimination against faith-based charities
and social service grants by federal agencies. (Applause.) I continue to work
with members of Congress of both political parties to enact faith-based legislation
to encourage more charitable giving, so we're more likely able to rally the
armies of compassion. We created faith-based offices in key Cabinet departments
to ensure that faith-based groups get equal treatment and fair access to government
I recognize some people around our country asking, what does this faith-based
initiative mean? And is it a threat to my very program? And so we're holding
meetings across the country to help faith-based groups to understand how they
can qualify for government grants without compromising their mission. We're
on an education campaign. We're reaching out to find the social entrepreneurs
who exist all across this nation.
I went to Congress at my State of the Union and spoke about two needs I want
to share with you today. I have concerns -- I know you do, as well -- about
children whose mom or dad may be in prison. Imagine what life must be like for
those children. Imagine how they wonder about their future, whether or not this
great country holds out hope for them. I know by calling upon the compassionate
hearts of our fellow citizens we can help save those lives by mentoring programs,
by putting the child in touch with somebody like Sherry Jean Williams, who realizes
somebody does care about them during these tough and difficult times.
I asked Congress to support a mentoring proposal which will bring caring adults
into the lives of more than a million children, disadvantaged children, including
the children whose mom or dad may be in prison. There's no question in my mind
that if this nation puts their mind to it, we can surround those little ones
with love and provide a better hope for them.
As well, I am concerned about those who are addicted to drugs, who fight for
their very lives and survival against addiction. I believe that we can take
a approach that focuses on the addict, give that person a voucher to be redeemed
at any program that he or she chooses. Especially those programs that have got
the capacity to change heart and, therefore, change habit. (Applause.) Congress
needs to hear this call and work with us to facilitate the mentoring and the
healing of those who hurt.
America's religious broadcasters can really play an important role in this work,
and I want to discuss what I think that role can be, and make a few suggestions
today. (Laughter.) Christian media outlets like yours reach 141 million people
every year. That's a huge audience, and it's a responsibility that I know you
take seriously. This nation has got a lot of wealthy and caring congregations,
and we've got a lot of churches in low-income areas that need help, too. Your
voices reach them all; you can communicate with them, rich and poor, alike;
suburban church and urban church, alike. And you can help bring them together
to serve those who hurt, so we can achieve a more just and generous society.
It's been said that 11:00 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America.
We all have a responsibility to break down the barriers that divide us. In Scripture,
God commands us to reach out to those who are different, to reconcile with each
other, to lay down our lives in service to others. And He promises that the
fruits of faith and fellowship, service and reconciliation will far surpass
the struggles we go through to achieve them.
Suburban churches are often just a short drive away from brothers and sisters
who are facing great need, and doing God's work. There's an opportunity here
to end artificial divisions and join together in fellowship and service. There's
also an obligation. The poor and suffering are the responsibility of the whole
church, even when they're not members of any church. (Applause.)
When a suburban church and an urban church become full partners, great things
can happen. Both churches benefit. The Chicago Christ Church of Oak Brook, and
Lawndale Community Church are working together to serve the sick in Lawndale's
health care clinic for the poor. In Boston, Wellesley Congregational Church
and the historic Charles Street AME Church are creating a new center to boost
the reading and computer skills of Roxbury residents.
Right here on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, in Franklin, Tennessee,
a conversion between an associate pastor of Christ Community Church and the
pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church began a fellowship that now includes
nearly 60 pastors and church members of all different races and denominations.
I know that to be a fact because I heard them both talk today. (Applause.) Their
churches work together to support a medical clinic for poor children.
A legal office that gives free advice; a New Hope Academy, a faith-based school
where children from different backgrounds study together, learn the classics
together. The inspiration for the church told me that her hope was to provide
a vision for the children -- a vision that was positive and optimistic and clear.
She said, it's one thing to teach a child to read, but she wants the literate
child to see a better day.
At first, Pastor Denny Denson of the First Missionary Baptist -- Denny is with
us, by the way -- was a little wary about how these very different churches
would work together. And here's what he says. He says: there's some walls still
there -- but they're down low enough that we can just step over them. (Applause.)
And then he said this, he said: we are committed to each other to the end. And
the Nashville area is better off for it.
In all these partnerships lives are lifted up. We see unity and racial reconciliation.
We see faith renewed by its works.
So today I ask you to challenge your listeners to love somebody just like they'd
like to be loved themselves; to remind them that one person can make a difference
in somebody's life; to encourage them, to mentor; to encourage them to start
a ministry, which will find the children of those who are incarcerated and love
them. I ask you to challenge your listeners to encourage your congregations
to work together for the good of this nation, to work hard to break down the
barriers that have divided the children of God for too long. (Applause.)
There is no question that we can rid this nation of hopelessness and despair,
because the greatest of America is the character of the American people. (Applause.)
We are a compassionate country, and we are generous toward our fellow citizens.
And we are a courageous country, ready when necessary to defend the peace.
And today, the peace is threatened. We face a continuing threat of terrorist
networks that hate the very thought of people being able to live in freedom.
They hate the thought of the fact that in this great country, we can worship
the Almighty God the way we see fit. (Applause.) And what probably makes him
even angrier is we're not going to change. (Laughter and applause.)
We face an outlaw regime in Iraq that hates our country. A regime that aids
and harbors terrorists and is armed with weapons of mass murder. Before September
the 11th, 2001, there's a lot of good folks who believe that Saddam Hussein
can be contained. Before September the 11th, 2001, we thought oceans would protect
us forever; that if we saw a gathering threat somewhere else in the world, we
could respond to it if we chose -- so chose to do so. But that all changed on
that fateful day.
Chemical agents, lethal viruses, and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily
contained. Secretly, without fingerprints, Saddam Hussein could provide one
of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own. Saddam
Hussein is a threat. He's a threat to the United States of America. He's a threat
to some of our closest friends and allies. We don't accept this threat. (Applause.)
As a matter of fact, the world saw this as a threat 12 years ago. Twelve years
ago, Saddam Hussein was told to disarm -- for a reason: he's a dangerous man.
And he hadn't disarmed. We've tried economic sanctions; he hasn't changed. Over
the years, we've tried limited strikes against military facilities. It didn't
work. We've offered Iraq the path of voluntary disarmament and inspections.
The Iraqi regime is rejecting it.
Saddam Hussein has broken every promise to disarm. He has shown complete contempt
for the international community. Last fall the international community spoke,
with united voice. It said: this is your last chance, Mr. Saddam Hussein, to
do what you said you would do, which is, in the name of peace, disarm; destroy
your weapons of mass destruction. The role of the inspectors is not to play
hide-and-seek, in a country the size of California, with 104 people. The role
of inspectors is to verify whether or not Mr. Saddam Hussein is keeping his
word; whether or not he's showing up with his weapons and destroying them. The
weapons, by the way, he says he doesn't have.
My attitude is that we owe it to future generations of Americans and citizens
in freedom-loving countries to see to it that Mr. Saddam Hussein is disarmed.
(Applause.) It's his choice to make as to how he will be disarmed. He can either
do so -- which it doesn't look like he's going to -- for the sake of peace,
we will lead a coalition of willing countries and disarm Saddam Hussein. (Applause.)
If war is forced upon us -- and I say "forced upon us," because use
of the military is not my first choice. I hug the mothers and the widows of
those who may have lost their life in the name of peace and freedom. I take
my responsibilities incredibly seriously about the commitment of troops. But
should we need to use troops, for the sake of future generations of Americans,
American troops will act in the honorable traditions of our military and in
the highest moral traditions of our country.
We will try in every way we can to spare innocent life. The people of Iraq are
not our enemies. (Applause.)
The true enemy of the Iraqi people, Saddam Hussein, has a different strategy.
In violation of the Geneva Conventions, Saddam Hussein is positioning his military
forces within civilian populations in order to shield his military and blame
coalition forces for civilian casualties that he has caused. Saddam Hussein
regards the Iraqi people as human shields, entirely expendable when their suffering
serves his purposes.
America views the Iraqi people as human beings who have suffered long enough
under this tyrant. (Applause.) And the Iraqi people can be certain of this:
the United States is committed to helping them build a better future. If conflict
occurs, we'll bring Iraq food and medicine and supplies and, most importantly,
As I said in my State of the Union, liberty is not America's gift to the world.
Liberty is God's gift to every human being in the world. (Applause.) America
has great challenges; challenges at home and challenges abroad. We're called
to extend the promise of this country into the lives of every citizen who lives
here. We're called to defend our nation and to lead the world to peace, and
we will meet both challenges with courage and with confidence. (Applause.)
There's an old saying, "Let us not pray for tasks equal to our strength.
Let us pray for strength equal to our tasks." (Applause.) And that is our
prayer today, for the strength in every task we face.
I want to thank each of you for your prayers. I want to thank you for your faithfulness.
I want to thank you for your good work. And I want to thank you for loving your
May God bless you all, and may God bless America. (Applause.)