President Johnson climbed out on a theological limb this month. Addressing nearly 1,000 guests at the twelfth annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Johnson proposed establishment in the capital city of a “memorial to the God who made us all.” It should be, he said, “a center of prayer, open to all men of all faiths at all times.” He suggested that International Christian Leadership, sponsor of the breakfast, round up necessary support.
The Chief Executive’s idea found no immediate groundswell of acceptance (see editorial on page 26), but if nothing else, it was noteworthy for its very daring. Seldom does any high-ranking politician, much less the President, have any suggestion to make to the religious community much beyond a variation of “keep up the good work.” Johnson at least showed that he wants to be a participant rather than just a spectator. Some observers felt his word choice was unfortunate; critics immediately drew the inference from the term “memorial” that “God is dead.”
Hundreds of government leaders, including Chief Justice Earl Warren, House Speaker John W. McCormack, six members of the Cabinet, and several state governors, were crowded into the grand ballroom of the Mayflower Hotel. Amidst notables at the head table was Los Angeles publisher William Jones, who each year picks up the entire tab for the Presidential Prayer Breakfast. Republican Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas presided.
Johnson said that “prayer has helped me to bear the burdens of this first office which are too great to be borne by anyone alone.” In remarks to the Congressional Wives’ Prayer Breakfast, held simultaneously in another room, he recalled “those first dark days of November, when the pressures were the heaviest and the ...1
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