Once a year the high and the mighty in the nation’s capital assemble for a breakfast meeting that features prayers and sermons along with the sausage and mushroom quiche. Among the 3,000 who gathered at the Washington Hilton on January 18 for the twenty-seventh National Prayer Breakfast were most members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and top administration officials.

In attendance also were foreign dignitaries and luminaries from the private sector of national leadership and, by special dispensation, a delegation of Christian inmates (with their guards) from the District of Columbia prison.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the venerable Roman Catholic, looked toward the entire assembly and said: “Fellow sinners …” After the laughter and applause subsided, Sheen launched into an address on sin. He said that Americans must acknowledge their sins and deal with them seriously instead of glossing them over as mere “mistakes.” This means, he suggested, that a personal relationship with God is crucial.

Americans insist on talking about their rights, said Sheen, but “if we wish to keep our rights, we must keep our God.” He cited a presidential address by Abraham Lincoln, who called on his fellow Americans “to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.” Sheen concluded with a simple prayer: “Good Lord, deliver us.”

President Jimmy Carter led in a standing ovation, then gave a brief talk on the importance of applying the virtues of faith to “the responsibilities of a secular life (even in government).…” The world is becoming increasingly secular, he declared, yet the “great events that move people here and in other nations are intimately related to religion.”

The three top news stories of 1978—the Jonestown tragedy, ...

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