WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bill Clinton, the first Southern Baptist sworn in for a second full term in the White House, called on Americans to accept personal responsibility not only for themselves and their families but “for our neighbors and our nation” as the country nears a new century. The president also called for an end to racial and political strife in a “land of new promise.”
Speaking at his inauguration Jan. 20, Clinton told a crowd of more than 200,000 spread out before the west steps of the U.S. Capitol the country needs “a new sense of responsibility for a new century.”
“Our greatest responsibility is to embrace a new spirit of community for a new century,” he said in his 25-minute address. “For any one of us to succeed, we must succeed as one America.
“The challenge of our past remains the challenge of our future. Will we be one nation, one people, with one common destiny or not? Will we come together or come apart?”
Sixteen years after President Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural speech government is the problem, not the solution, Clinton said, “Government is not the problem, and government is not the solution. We — the American people — we are the solution.
“We need a new government for a new century — humble enough not to try to solve all our problems for us, but strong enough to give us the tools to solve our problems for ourselves; a government that is smaller, lives within its means and does more with less.”
When it can stand for America’s “values and interests in the world” and help citizens “make a real difference in their everyday lives, government should do more, not less,” Clinton said.
Racial division “has been America’s constant curse,” he said. “And each new wave of immigrants gives new targets to old prejudices. Prejudice and contempt, cloaked in the pretense of religious or political conviction, are no different.
“We cannot, we will not, succumb to the dark impulses that lurk in the far regions of the soul everywhere. We shall overcome them, and we shall replace them with the generous spirit of a people who feel at home with one another.”
The president said, “With a new vision of government, a new sense of responsibility, a new spirit of community, we will sustain America’s journey. The promise we sought in a new land we will find again in a land of new promise.”
The president pledged to seek to fulfill the dream of equality expressed by Martin Luther King Jr. The inauguration was held on the holiday commemorating the slain civil rights leader’s birthday. He called for the same from the Republican-controlled Congress, which has clashed often with his administration since the GOP gained majorities in both houses in the 1994 elections.
“The American people returned to office a president of one party and a Congress of another,” Clinton said. “Surely, they did not do this to advance the politics of petty bickering and extreme partisanship they plainly deplore. No, they call on us instead to be repairers of the breach and to move on with America’s mission. America demands and deserves big things from us — and nothing big ever came from being small.”
Undoubtedly remembering what they considered the president’s demagoguery on such issues as Medicare, some Republican members of Congress expressed a wait-and-see attitude afterward.
“The president gave a conciliatory speech,” Sen. Dan Coats, R.-Ind., told The Washington Post. “Maybe the reality will closely resemble the rhetoric this time.”
The president’s day began with his family and that of Vice President Al Gore, also a member of a Southern Baptist church, attending a prayer service at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church near the White House.
Speaking at the service were civil rights leader and former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson; popular, though controversial, evangelical author/speaker Tony Campolo; and Chicago-area mega-church pastor Bill Hybels.
Hybels said the president and he have met monthly since the first inauguration, The Washington Times reported.
“Four years ago, in an act of uncommon humility for a newly elected president, President Clinton asked if I would meet with him privately every month,” said Hybels, founding pastor of one of the country’s leading “seeker-sensitive” congregations, Willow Creek Community Church.
The sole agenda item, he said, “was to talk about things of God and pray.”
Hybels said the president has increased in his “desire to know God.”
“Know in the depth of your being that you are loved by God and not incidentally by many, many of us,” Hybels said, according to The Times.
In interceding for the president, National Association of Evangelicals President Don Argue prayed, “We confess that many of us have not prayed for the president as your Word directs. We do ask for your forgiveness and pledge that every day, every day we will earnestly and sincerely pray for him.”
International evangelist Luis Palau offered the benediction at the prayer service.
While some evangelical leaders joined with Catholic, Jewish and Muslim officials to participate in the prayer service, some evangelicals joined with other pro-life activists to protest Clinton’s abortion rights advocacy. On the inaugural parade route, about two dozen protesters, according to The Times, displayed posters, some nearly six feet tall, of photos of aborted babies.
Before the president was sworn in, evangelist Billy Graham prayed.
“Where there’s been failure, forgive us; where there’s been progress, confirm; where there’s been success, give us humility and teach us to follow your instructions more closely as we enter the next century,” Graham prayed.
When he was sworn in by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Clinton placed his left hand on the Bible, with it opened to Isaiah 58:12, according to The Post. The verse reads, “And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”
Preceding Clinton as Southern Baptists to the White House were Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter, also Democrats. Truman served out the fourth term of Franklin Roosevelt at the New Deal leader’s death but was elected president only once, in 1948. Carter won the 1976 election but lost in 1980.