President Gordon B. Hinckley
Copyright 2001 Intellectual Reserve
Used by Permission
On Tuesday, September 18, 2001, President Gordon B. Hinckley received an invitation from the White House to come to a meeting of American religious leaders. He attended this meeting with President George W. Bush in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday, September 20, 2001 at about 1:30 p.m. ET. Also present were Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston; Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America; Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Reverend Billy Graham, and others representing a large diversity of religions – Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, Evangelical, Jewish, etc.
Following a short automobile ride from the hotel, President Hinckley was dropped off at the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. The avenue was blocked off at this point and no vehicular traffic was allowed any closer to the White House. The President proceeded on foot about one block to the northwest appointment gate of the White House. Outside the gate were gathering the religious leaders involved in the meeting. They greeted President Hinckley cordially and expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet him. A Muslim cleric from California indicated that he had recently read President Hinckley’s book Standing for Something and was very impressed with the message.
Following appropriate identification checks, President Hinckley and all of the attendees were allowed through the security building and onto the White House grounds. The group was then taken to the Executive Office Building for a preliminary meeting.
Some twenty-six leaders representing a vast diversity of religious persuasion gathered at a table in a meeting room in the Office Building. The group was first addressed by Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston. He offered a moving invocation and then indicated to those gathered one of the main reasons for their coming together in this unique manner. Archbishop Law presented a proposed public statement which he hoped would represent the feelings of all present regarding the recent tragic events in America. After reading the statement he called for suggestions as to how it might be improved. President Hinckley voiced his opinion that it was an excellent statement and that he would not hesitate to sign it. Several others offered their suggestions and the statement was finalized for release through the White House.
The group was then lead out of the Executive Office Building, across the way to the West Wing of the White House and into the Roosevelt Room. Following a short wait, President Bush came into the room through the door leading from the Oval Office.
President Bush indicated that he wanted to say a few words and then would seek input from those assembled. “I have never felt stronger,” he said, “and that strength comes from God.” He went on to say,” This is a struggle against evil. Fortunately, the good is bigger than the evil. We have an opportunity to find some good out of the rubble. This campaign will create a spiritual renewal in America.” President Bush looked well and said that he was feeling fit and sleeping soundly. “I feel good,” he said, and added, “I do not feel the heavy burden of the office that some of my predecessors wrote about.”
President Bush then asked for responses from the religious leaders. President Hinckley quickly spoke up and said, “I just want you to know, Mr. President, that we are behind you. We pray for you. We love this ‘nation under God.'” President Bush responded, “Thank you, President Hinckley. I’m glad that you could come.”
When asked what the American people should be praying for, President Bush indicated, “We need to be aware and pray for the safety of the nation. We need to pray that such incidents do not happen again.” He then said, “I have no fear, but we won’t play all of our cards at once. I’m not interested in the Nobel Prize. I’m interested in peace.” This was a particularly interesting comment given the fact that on the mantel just behind the President was displayed the Nobel Peace Prize given to President Theodore Roosevelt. This President seemed most sincere in his desire to bring peace back to an injured world.
Several religious leaders offered additional statements of support. A Hindu woman indicated that leaders for such times are raised up by God. One preacher suggested that the President make an effort to teach that the nation seeks justice, not vengeance. The president of the Lutheran Missouri Synod quoted Paul in saying:
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore [ye] must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
(Romans 13:3 – 5)
With that he offered the support of his people.
Finally, one minister inquired of President Bush regarding that for which the people might pray for him specifically. The President asked that prayers be offered in his behalf for wisdom, strength and clarity of thought. He then added, “I am most afraid for my children.” He asked that prayers be offered for his family. Earlier he had noted that his wife, Laura, is a “real rock under fire.” This observation brought on enthusiastic applause from all present.
At the conclusion of the forty-five minute meeting, the Primate of the Greek Orthodox in America, Archbishop Demetrios, offered a tender benediction. The entire group then stood and sang the first verse of America the Beautiful. President Bush lingered to shake hands with all who wished to do so.
The invited party then went out to an area on the north side of the West Wing where reporters and cameras were placed. Archbishop Law and a few others made comments as the group was photographed. The White House later released the signed statement of the religious leaders.
President Hinckley immediately left Washington and flew back to Salt Lake City, arriving at approximately 7:00 p.m.