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Remarks Of The President At Religious Leaders Breakfast

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 11, 1998


The East Room

9:40 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, ladies andgentlemen. Welcome to the White House and to this day to whichHillary and the Vice President and I look forward so much every year.

This is always an important day for our country, for thereasons that the Vice President said. It is an unusual and, I think,unusually important day today. I may not be quite as easy with mywords today as I have been in years past, and I was up rather latelast night thinking about and praying about what I ought to saytoday. And rather unusual for me, I actually tried to write it down.So if you will forgive me, I will do my best to say what it is I wantto say to you -- and I may have to take my glasses out to read my ownwriting.

First, I want to say to all of you that, as you mightimagine, I have been on quite a journey these last few weeks to getto the end of this, to the rock bottom truth of where I am and wherewe all are. I agree with those who have said that in my firststatement after I testified I was not contrite enough. I don't thinkthere is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.

It is important to me that everybody who has been hurtknow that the sorrow I feel is genuine: first and most important, myfamily; also my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky andher family, and the American people. I have asked all for theirforgiveness.

But I believe that to be forgiven, more than sorrow isrequired -- at least two more things. First, genuine repentance -- adetermination to change and to repair breaches of my own making. Ihave repented. Second, what my bible calls a "broken spirit"; anunderstanding that I must have God's help to be the person that Iwant to be; a willingness to give the very forgiveness I seek; arenunciation of the pride and the anger which cloud judgment, leadpeople to excuse and compare and to blame and complain.

Now, what does all this mean for me and for us? First,I will instruct my lawyers to mount a vigorous defense, using allavailable appropriate arguments. But legal language must not obscurethe fact that I have done wrong. Second, I will continue on the pathof repentance, seeking pastoral support and that of other caringpeople so that they can hold me accountable for my own commitment.

Third, I will intensify my efforts to lead our countryand the world toward peace and freedom, prosperity and harmony, inthe hope that with a broken spirit and a still strong heart I can beused for greater good, for we have many blessings and many challengesand so much work to do.

In this, I ask for your prayers and for your help inhealing our nation. And though I cannot move beyond or forget this-- indeed, I must always keep it as a caution light in my life -- itis very important that our nation move forward.

I am very grateful for the many, many people -- clergyand ordinary citizens alike -- who have written me with wise counsel.I am profoundly grateful for the support of so many Americans whosomehow through it all seem to still know that I care about them agreat deal, that I care about their problems and their dreams. I amgrateful for those who have stood by me and who say that in this caseand many others, the bounds of presidency have been excessively andunwisely invaded. That may be. Nevertheless, in this case, it maybe a blessing, because I still sinned. And if my repentance isgenuine and sustained, and if I can maintain both a broken spirit anda strong heart, then good can come of this for our country as well asfor me and my family. (Applause.)

The children of this country can learn in a profound waythat integrity is important and selfishness is wrong, but God canchange us and make us strong at the broken places. I want to embodythose lessons for the children of this country -- for that little boyin Florida who came up to me and said that he wanted to grow up andbe President and to be just like me. I want the parents of all thechildren in America to be able to say that to their children.

A couple of days ago when I was in Florida a Jewishfriend of mine gave me this liturgy book called, "Gates ofRepentance." And there was this incredible passage from the YomKippur liturgy. I would like to read it to you: "Now is the timefor turning. The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red toorange. The birds are beginning to turn and are heading once moretoward the south. The animals are beginning to turn to storing theirfood for the winter. For leaves, birds and animals, turning comesinstinctively. But for us, turning does not come so easily. Ittakes an act of will for us to make a turn. It means breaking oldhabits. It means admitting that we have been wrong, and this isnever easy. It means losing face. It means starting all over again.And this is always painful. It means saying I am sorry. It meansrecognizing that we have the ability to change. These things areterribly hard to do.

But unless we turn, we will be trapped forever inyesterday's ways. Lord help us to turn, from callousness tosensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness to purpose, fromenvy to contentment, from carelessness to discipline, from fear tofaith. Turn us around, O Lord, and bring us back toward you. Reviveour lives as at the beginning, and turn us toward each other, Lord,for in isolation there is no life."

I thank my friend for that. I thank you for being here.I ask you to share my prayer that God will search me and know myheart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is anyhurtfulness in me, and lead me toward the life everlasting. I askthat God give me a clean heart, let me walk by faith and not sight.

I ask once again to be able to love my neighbor -- allmy neighbors -- as my self, to be an instrument of God's peace; tolet the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and, in theend, the work of my hands, be pleasing. This is what I wanted to sayto you today.

Thank you. God bless you. (Applause.)

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