By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) delivered an emotional homily yesterday on the need for greater humility in public servants, declaring himself a sinner before a largely Christian audience and warning that pride has brought down leaders throughout history.
"Just think of what we could accomplish if we checked our pride at the door, if collectively we all spent less time taking credit and more time deserving it," DeLay told the 54th annual National Day of Prayer gathering on Capitol Hill. "If we spent less time ducking responsibility and more time welcoming it. If we spent less time on our soapboxes and more time on our knees."
DeLay drew appreciative smiles when he added, "For in God, all things are possible, ladies and gentlemen. And even greatness from lowly sinners like you and me -- especially me."
Appearing before TV cameras and 300 people in the ornate Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building, DeLay said: "No matter what your faith, no matter what your political persuasion, your prayers for our increased humility, for our ever-humbler service to God and neighbor are needed and wanted."
DeLay, a Baptist, spoke at a time when the House ethics committee is considering an investigation of the financing of his overseas travel with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who faces criminal and congressional investigations. Most of DeLay's speeches these days appear aimed at shoring up his support among national conservative groups and constituents in his suburban Houston district.
"Throughout human history, all evil, all sin and indeed all suffering is ultimately a product of human pride and self-conceit," DeLay said. "At the same time, all heroism, all virtue, all true progress is ultimately a product of humility and self-sacrifice, from the obedience of Abraham and Moses, to the courage of Jesus on the cross."
The National Day of Prayer events here began with a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, where President Bush, a Methodist, acknowledged that "our plans are not always God's plans."
"We pray to give thanks for our freedom," Bush said. "Freedom is our birthright because the Creator wrote it into our common human nature. No government can ever take a gift from God away. And in our great country, among the freedoms we celebrate is the freedom to pray as you wish, or not at all."
Before DeLay spoke at the afternoon event on Capitol Hill, attendees knelt as a prayer was said for each Cabinet member. The opening prayer was offered by James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family. His wife, Shirley Dobson, is the chairman of the National Day of Prayer. She began working on the event 14 years ago, when it had a $6,000 budget and one volunteer, and she now runs a year-round enterprise with a $1.5 million budget and 40,000 volunteers who held an estimated 50,000 events yesterday.
Shirley Dobson said in an interview that a purpose of the day was to acknowledge grace at a time when "in many ways, our nation has made decisions on right and wrong that don't really line up with biblical truth, and yet God continues to pour out his blessings on us."
Dobson said the charges against DeLay seem vague, and said she believes he is a man of faith and good character. "If there's something there, let's bring it out and deal with it," she said. "Otherwise, let's leave him alone."
He smiled as he hustled past reporters. A television correspondent asked DeLay how he had chosen his topic, and the lawmaker replied, "Humility is something I work on every day." Stepping into an elevator, he said he found the audience's response "very heartwarming."
Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this report.