WASHINGTON, D.C. (EP) - Speaking at the 47th Annual National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 1, newly elected President George W. Bush said his personal faith in God sustained him "in moments of success and in moments of disappointment." He added, "Without it, I'd be a different person. And without it, I doubt I'd be here today."
Bush used the prayer breakfast as an opportunity to promote his faith-based initiative, a plan that would provide government funding to religious social service ministries and would encourage charitable giving.
"Government cannot be replaced by charities, but it can welcome them as partners instead of resenting them as rivals," said Bush, who promised not to "favor religious institutions over non-religious" ones.
Bush explained, "I'm interested in what is constitutional and in what works. The days of discriminating against religious institutions simply because they are religious must come to an end."
Bush pointed to religious faith as a source of strength for the United States. "Men and women can be good without faith, but faith is a force of goodness," he said. "Men and women can be compassionate without faith, but faith often inspires compassion. Human beings can love without faith but faith is a great teacher of love."
Addressing concerns that government funding of faith-based initiatives would constitute an establishment of religion, Bush insisted, "We do not impose any religion; we welcome all religions. We do not prescribe any prayer; we welcome all prayer. This is the tradition of the nation, and it will be the standard of my administration. We will respect every creed. We will honor the diversity of our country and the deep convictions of our people."
The president, said Bush, serves "people of every faith and serves some of no faith at all. Yet I have found my faith helps me in the service to people. Faith teaches humility."
Bush also called for greater civility in policy disputes. Noting that the Bible's book of James says "fresh water and salt water cannot flow from the same spring," Bush said, "We will have our disagreements ... civility does not require us to abandon our beliefs. But it does mean that our public debate ought to be free from bitterness and anger and rancor."
Bush said he and his family had been blessed by the many Americans who have committed to pray for them, and noted, "I hope Americans will continue to pray that everyone in my administration finds wisdom and always remembers the common good."
The Rev. Rob Schenk of the National Clergy Council told Focus on the Family that this year's National Prayer Breakfast was more spiritual than those of years past. "With President Clinton, it always seemed that he was in conflict both in his policies and in his personal practices with the principles that are promoted at the prayer breakfast," Schenk said. "This administration seems to embrace [the] prayer breakfast movement as friends.
The annual breakfast is a tradition dating back to 1952 when a group of lawmakers gathered to pray for newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower. It attracts lawmakers, members of the executive branch, and national religious leaders.