By Bill Clinton
Before religious leaders at annual prayer breakfast, Sep. 11, 1998.
[This is the text of the speech made by President Bill Clinton at the annual White
House prayer breakfast for clergy following his testimony and address to the nation on the
Monica Lewinsky affair, Washington, D.C. on September 11, 1998. Clinton was mired in controversy at that time with congressional hearings, Kenneth Starr inquiries. He used this speech as a way to ask for forgiveness.]
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to
the White House and to this day to which Hillary and the
Vice President and I look forward so much every year.
This is always an important day for our country, for the
reasons that the Vice President said. It is an unusual and, I
think, unusually important day today. I may not be quite as
easy with my words today as I have been in years past, and
I was up rather late last night thinking about and praying
about what I ought to say today. 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 want to say to you -- and I
may have to take my glasses out to read my own writing.
[Clinton puts on bifocals and pulls out hand-written notes.]
First, I want to say to all of you that, as you might imagine, I
have been on quite a journey these last few weeks to get to
the end of this, to the rock-bottom truth of where I am and
where we all are.
I agree with those who have said that in my first statement
after I testified I was not contrite enough. I don't think there
is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.
It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know
that the sorrow I feel is genuine: First and most important,
my family; also my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica
Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have
asked all for their forgiveness.
But I believe that to be forgiven, more than sorrow is required
-- at least two more things. First, genuine repentance -- a
determination to change and to repair breaches of my own
making. I have repented. Second, what my Bible calls a
"broken spirit"; an understanding that I must have God's help
to be the person that I want to be; a willingness to give the
very forgiveness I seek; a renunciation of the pride and the
anger which cloud judgment, lead people 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 all
available appropriate arguments. But legal language must
not obscure the fact that I have done wrong. Second, I will
continue on the path of repentance, seeking pastoral support
and that of other caring people so that they can hold me
accountable for my own commitment.
Third, I will intensify my efforts to lead our country and the
world toward peace and freedom, prosperity and harmony, in
the hope that with a broken spirit and a still strong heart I
can be used for greater good, for we have many blessings
and many challenges and so much work to do.
In this, I ask for your prayers and for your help in healing our
nation. And though I cannot move beyond or forget this --
indeed, I must always keep it as a caution light in my life --
it is very important that our nation move forward.
I am very grateful for the many, many people -- clergy and
ordinary citizens alike -- who have written me with wise
counsel. I am profoundly grateful for the support of so many
Americans who somehow through it all seem to still know
that I care about them a great deal, that I care about their
problems and their dreams. I am grateful for those who have
stood by me and who say that in this case and many
others, the bounds of privacy have been excessively and
unwisely invaded. That may be. Nevertheless, in this case,
it may be a blessing, because I still sinned. And if my
repentance is genuine and sustained, and if I can maintain
both a broken spirit and a strong heart, then good can come
of this for our country as well as for me and my family. [
The children of this country can learn in a profound way that
integrity is important and selfishness is wrong, but God can
change us and make us strong at the broken places. I want
to embody those lessons for the children of this country --
for that little boy in Florida who came up to me and said that
he wanted to grow up and be President and to be just like
me. I want the parents of all the children in America to be
able to say that to their children.
The children of this country
can learn in a profound way
that integrity is important and selfishness is wrong.
A couple of days ago when I was in Florida a Jewish friend of
mine gave me this liturgy book called Gates of Repentance.
And there was this incredible passage from the Yom Kippur
liturgy. I would like to read it to you:
Now is the time for turning. The leaves are
beginning to turn from green to red to orange.
The birds are beginning to turn and are
heading once more toward the south. The
animals are beginning to turn to storing their
food for the winter. For leaves, birds and
animals, turning comes instinctively. But for
us, turning does not come so easily. It takes
an act of will for us to make a turn. It means
breaking old habits. It means admitting that
we have been wrong, and this is never easy. It
means losing face. It means starting all over
again. And this is always painful. It means
saying I am sorry. It means recognizing that
we have the ability to change. These things
are terribly hard to do. But unless we turn, we
will be trapped forever in yesterday's ways.
Lord help us to turn, from callousness to
sensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness
to purpose, from envy to contentment, from
carelessness to discipline, from fear to faith.
Turn us around, O Lord, and bring us back
toward you. Revive our 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
my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if
there is any hurtfulness in me, and lead me toward the life
everlasting. I ask that 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 -- all my
neighbors -- as myself, to be an instrument of God's peace;
to let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my
heart and, in the end, the work of my hands, be pleasing.
This is what I wanted to say to you today.
Thank you. God bless you.