Condoleezza Rice: Southern Baptist Convention
Remarks at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Greensboro, North Carolina
June 14, 2006
(10:15 a.m. EDT)
Well, thank you. Thank you for that terrific welcome. Thank you, Bobby, for that kind introduction and let me also recognize Dr. Morris Chapman and Dr. Richard Land. I want to thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to be here in Greensboro today and a chance to have a conversation with you.
It's a great honor to be joined by thousands of people of faith here today at the Southern Baptist Convention. You are all individual messengers of independent churches, but today, through you, America's 16 million Southern Baptists celebrate their unity. Yesterday the democratic voice of your church spoke and I would like to congratulate Pastor Frank Page of Taylors, South Carolina, who now has the privilege of serving as the new elected leader of America's Southern Baptists. (Applause.)
Now, I am a Presbyterian. (Laughter.) But I want to tell you why I'm a Presbyterian. I trace the roots of my faith back to my granddaddy. Granddaddy Rice was a poor sharecropper's son in Eutaw, Alabama. That's E-u-t-a-w, Alabama. (Laughter.) And one day he decided he was going to get book learning, so he asked where a colored man could go to college. And they told him that there was this little school called Stillman College. It was about 60 miles away from where he lived and he could go to Stillman College and get an education. So Granddaddy Rice saved up his tuition, saved up his cotton, and he went off to school and he finished his first year, and they said, "Well, that's very good. Now how are you going to pay for your second year?" And he said, "Well, I'm fresh out of cotton." And they said, "Well, you'll have to leave."
And he said, "Well, how are those boys going to college?" And they said, "Well, they have what's called a scholarship. And if you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, then you could have a scholarship, too." (Laughter.) Well, my granddaddy said, "You know, that's exactly what I had in mind." (Laughter.) And my family has been college educated and Presbyterian ever since. (Laughter and applause.)
Now, like Granddaddy Rice, my father was also a minister. And I was born on a Sunday morning -- (laughter) -- and he was literally preaching when I was born. He had been told to go ahead and give his sermon, that child probably wasn't going to be born before he could get back. But he came out of the pulpit and his mother said, "John, you have a little girl." That was my first introduction to the church. (Laughter.) And I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and in the South we have an expression -- yeah, there's some folks out there from Birmingham. I can hear them. We have an expression for people who were raised with religion. We say they grew up in the church. Well, ladies and gentlemen, when I say I grew up in the church, I'm not speaking metaphorically, because for the first three years of my life we literally lived in the back of the church in two little rooms where my father preached. And it was the church that my grandfather founded and I'm very proud of that heritage.
People ask me all the time about my beliefs and I tell them faith has been a journey for me, as I'm sure it has been for each and every one of you. I do pray every day and in times of tragedy and heartbreak, like the passing of my own parents or September 11th, I have found solace and strength in the power of prayer. It's not surprising then that I deeply admire the faith and the traditions and the good works of America's Southern Baptists. Through President Bush's faith-based initiatives, all of you are helping to multiply the compassion of our government. And in my work as Secretary of State, I have seen the contribution to America's mission abroad that is being carried out by Southern Baptists of many nations who are living out the calling of their convictions through countless works of private charity.
In towns and villages across Africa, Southern Baptists are digging wells and building dams and strengthening communities in the fight against AIDS. When a nightmare of wind and water devastated Southeast Asia, Baptists were among the first on the scene in Banda Aceh helping to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless and to care for the sick and the wounded. And of course here in our own country, few have done more than Southern Baptists to help ease the suffering of our fellow citizens who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. No man, no woman, no child is beyond the reach of your compassion. Whenever tragedy brings people to their knees, Southern Baptists have been there to help them get back on their feet. (Applause.)
So on behalf of President Bush and all of the American people, I want to thank you for your sacrifice. I want to thank you for your courage. I want to thank you for your faith and I want to thank you for your moral leadership. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, President Bush and I share your conviction that America can and must be a force for good in the world. The President and I believe that the United States must remain engaged as a leader in events beyond our borders. We believe this because we are guided by the same enduring principle that gave birth to our own nation: Human dignity is not a government's grant to its citizens nor mankind's gift to one another; it is God's endowment to all humanity. (Applause.)
These are critical and important and even trying times for America, but it is time when we must affirm what we stand for as a nation and what role we must play in the world. And it's that that I'd like to talk to you about here in Greensboro this morning.
We in America are blessed with lives of tremendous liberty: the freedom to govern ourselves and elect our leaders; the freedom to own property; the freedom to educate our children, our boys and our girls; and of course the freedom to think as we please and to worship as we wish. America embodies these liberties but America does not own these liberties. We stand for ideals that are greater than ourselves and we go into the world not to plunder but to protect, not to subjugate but to liberate, not as masters of others but as servants of freedom. (Applause.)
Our world needs America's leadership now more than ever. As we celebrate our freedom here today, our thoughts turn to the many people throughout the world who are not as fortunate as we are. We're mindful that many men and women beyond our shores still live at the mercy of thieves and thugs and petty tyrants. We're mindful that many still suffer from scourges like poverty and disease that are offensive to human dignity. And of course we're mindful that too many people of faith can only whisper to God in the silent sanctuaries of their conscience because they fear persecution for their religious beliefs. These are tragedies. These are tragedies, but they are also threats in the making. For in today's world, we have learned that whenever freedom and tolerance are on the march, we are secure. But when these ideals are in retreat we are vulnerable. As long as governments practice and propagate hatred, as long as half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, as long as entire countries remain sources of rage and stagnation, our world will neither be stable, nor just.
So here, ladies and gentlemen, is the choice before our country, before us as Americans. Will we lead in the world or will we withdraw? Will we rise to the challenges of our time or will we shrink from them? America is a country of vast wealth and power, to be sure. But just as important, we are a nation of great compassion and conscience and democratic principle. So as we consider our future role in the world, we must reflect on some important questions. We must ask ourselves: If not for America, who would rally other nations to conscience to the international defense of religious liberty?
President Bush has made clear that the best relations with the United States are reserved for those governments that respect the beliefs of their people. When you go to a place like China as I have and you sit in a church with Chinese Christians, you cannot help but marvel at their faith and their courage. If America does not rally support for people everywhere who desire to worship in peace and freedom then I ask you: Who will? (Applause.)
You see, religious freedom is an issue that demands moral clarity. And ladies and gentlemen, America's message could not be clearer. Government simply has no right to stand between the individual and the All Mighty. (Applause.) If not for America, who would rally a great coalition and work to end the horrific international crime of human trafficking? Slavery did not end in the 19th century. It remains a tragic reality for thousands of people, mostly women and young girls, who are stolen and beaten and bought and sold like freight.
Under President Bush's leadership, the United States has launched a new abolitionist movement to end the illicit trade in human beings. (Applause.) We are rooting out the perpetrators and helping to care for their victims. We are calling to account any nation that turns a blind eye to human trafficking. And we have made this promise to every person still held captive. So long as America has anything to say about it, slavery will have no place in the modern world. (Applause.)
If not for America, who would rally likeminded countries in the global fights against HIV/AIDS? As Southern Baptists, you are not new to this struggle. You are a part of a vast international coalition that aims to turn the tide. And Americans are, by far, the largest contributor to these global efforts.
Three years ago, President Bush decided to do even more, so he launched the largest international effort by one nation to combat a single disease. Today with the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS relief, America is spreading the message of prevention -- the ABC method. We are enabling men and women to live with the disease and we are providing care to many of the orphans who are left behind. The fight against HIV/AIDS is one of the great moral causes of the 21st century and America is answering the call. (Applause.)
If not for America, who would rally other compassionate countries to support peace and justice in Sudan? It was our diplomacy that helped to end Sudan's civil war between North and South which claimed the lives of more than two million people. Now we are working to ease the suffering and end the violence in Darfur. The United States helped to pave the way by signing -- to the signing of a peace agreement last month. We are providing nearly all of the food aid that is being sent to the people of Darfur and we are working to increase security under a UN peacekeeping mission.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've visited the camps in Darfur. I've spoken with the people. I've seen abused women and young children who have endured a kind of suffering that few of us can fathom. For the sake of peace, for the sake of justice, and for the sake of human dignity, we will help the people of Darfur experience peace and freedom. We will help them. (Applause.) We will help the people of Darfur to rebuild their lives. We will help them to return to their homes because no child deserves to grow up in a refugee camp. (Applause.)
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, we must consider one further question which is this: If not for America, who would rally freedom-loving nations to defend liberty and democracy in our world? Nearly five years after the tragedy of September 11th, the United States is leading a great coalition of countries in a global war on terrorism. When possible, we are bringing terrorists to justice. And when necessary, we are bringing justice to the terrorists. (Applause.) This is the fate that our troops delivered last week to the terrorist Zarqawi and now he will never harm, he will never murder, he will never terrorize innocent people again. (Applause.) That is what America stands for. (Applause.)
Yet, we must do more than just capture or kill individual terrorists and we're doing that. We're striking at the very source of terror itself by summoning a vision of hope that outshines any ideology of hatred. The United States is supporting the democratic aspirations of all people, regardless of their culture or their race or their religion. We are leading the cause of freedom not because we believe that free peoples will always agree with us. They will not. That is their right and America will defend that right. We are doing this because we believe, and because we are seeing our belief confirmed, that all people deserve to and desire to live in freedom. (Applause.)
You see, human beings share certain basic aspirations. They want to choose those who are going to govern them. They want a good job, an education, protection from injustice, the freedom to worship as they please, the future that will be better for their children. We are standing with people everywhere who desire these fundamental freedoms. We're standing with them all across the Middle East and we're standing with them shoulder-to-shoulder in Afghanistan and in Iraq. In those two countries alone, we have given more than 55 million people an opportunity to flourish in freedom, not a guarantee of success but a chance. A chance to lift up democratic institutions that reflect their own cultures and customs, a chance to experience justice under laws of their own making and a chance to change the character of their countries and of their region.
This mission has been extremely difficult. I know it's been far more difficult than many of us imagined it would be. And I realize how hard it can be to remain hopeful when we hear of death squads and beheadings and sectarian strife in Iraq and when we see the daily devastation of evil people killing the innocent. And it's hard; it's especially hard when we remember our men and women in uniform who have made the ultimate sacrifice. (Applause.)
Yet, as we mourn each and every one of these lives, we also affirm that the goal of democracy in Iraq is worth the cost and worth the sacrifice. Just yesterday, we saw a powerful reminder of that fact. As I sat at Camp David yesterday, watching the President of the United States embrace the duly-elected Prime Minister of a free Iraq, I thought to myself; who would have thought that's possible only a few years ago? Who could have imagined that these two democratic leaders would be standing together in Baghdad in the very same palace where Saddam Hussein and his henchmen conducted their tyranny, plundered their country and condemned thousands, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis to death?
It has happened because of the hope and dedication of millions of ordinary Iraqis and it has happened, ladies and gentlemen, because of the courage and the sacrifice of America's fighting men and women. (Applause.)
Today I want to send a message to the many thousands of our fellow citizens who are serving on the frontlines of freedom: You are in our thoughts and our prayers. You're meeting your duty with honor and you are making America very, very proud. (Applause.)
The weight of international leadership is not borne easily. But we in America are more than equal to this challenge and we must be. For as we imagine a world without American leadership, we are led inescapably to this solemn conclusion. If America does not serve great purposes, if we do not rally other nations to fight intolerance and to support peace and to defend freedom, and to help give all hope who suffer oppression, then our world will drift toward tragedy. The strong will do what they please. The weak will suffer most of all and inevitably, inevitably, sooner or later the threats of our world will strike once again at the very heart of our nation. So together, let us continue on our present course. Let us reaffirm our belief that in the words of Thomas Jefferson "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time."
Let us draw inspiration from impatient patriots in other lands who struggle onward only with their love of freedom and their faith in deliverance. And finally, more than anything, let us resolve to deal with the world as it is, but never to accept that we are powerless to make it better than it is. Not perfect, but better.
America will lead America will lead the cause of freedom in our world, not because we think ourselves perfect. To the contrary, we cherish democracy and champion its ideals because we know ourselves to be imperfect. With a long history of failures and false starts that testify to our own fallibility, after all, when our Founding Fathers said "We the people", they didn't mean me. My ancestors in Mr. Jefferson's Constitution were three-fifths of a man. And it's only in my lifetime that America has guaranteed the right to vote for all our citizens. But we have made progress and we are striving toward a more perfect union.
I'll tell you a little fact. If I served to the end of my time as Secretary of State, it will have been 12 years since a white man was Secretary of State of the United States of America. (Applause.) So as we strive -- as we strive to support the freedom of others, we must be patient with the pace of change, but also confident, confident in the power of our democratic ideals, confident that our faith will bolster us for the many challenges ahead and confident in something else.
Ladies and gentlemen, I receive hundreds of letters every month from people all across this country and around the world. A couple of weeks ago, I got a note from a man named Jeff England,* who is a member of the Centreville Baptist Church in Centreville, Virginia. Jeff informed me that his Sunday school class would be praying for me over this next coming month. Today I want to tell all the Southern Baptists in Centreville as well as all of you here in Greensboro, thank you for the prayers that you have offered on behalf of me and the President and others in these challenging days. I have felt your prayers, each and every one of them, and I am deeply grateful for the strengths that they have given me.
I'd like to thank you for having me here to talk with you today. I want to thank you for all the good works that you're doing. I want to thank you for your commitment, your dedication, your compassion and your faith. God bless you all and may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.) 2006/T16-1
Released on June 14, 2006