Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft addressed an annual religious patriotic rally at Des Moines' largest church Sunday, describing how the first Cabinet meeting he attended opened with a prayer and praising President Bush as a leader who welcomed prayer.
Ashcroft, the son of a minister, delivered a half-hour speech laced with scripture, jokes and anecdotes to the Honor America program, an annual event sponsored by four Des Moines evangelical churches and held at First Federated Church, the city's largest.
After a rendition of "God Bless America" and the unfurling of a large American flag from the ceiling of the auditorium, Ashcroft stood in the pulpit before nearly 4,000 Iowans and offered a brief glimpse of how Christianity is practiced now in the White House.
"Frankly, the president, during the first opportunity I had to be in a Cabinet meeting, before we started the meeting, he said, 'Folks, before we begin this meeting, I'm going to call on Gen. Ashcroft and ask him [to] invite the wisdom and presence of God in what we do.'
"And I thought to myself how ashamed I'd been that so many times in my life I had entered upon great important tasks and I had cheated myself and those that I had served of a blessing," the attorney general said.
Ashcroft also said he recently shepherded a good friend into an Oval Office ceremony, and the friend "grabbed the president's arm . . . and he said, 'My 90-year-old mother prays for you every day.' The president looked him right in the eye and said, 'Tell her it's working, and tell her not to stop.'
"I appreciate a president who welcomes the prayers," Ashcroft added over the crowd's applause.
After a few jokes to warm up his Midwestern audience, many of whom were fanning themselves with the evening's program, Ashcroft thanked the crowd for praying for him and for the president.
"The Bible tells us that we should pray for each other," Ashcroft said, citing biblical passages that called upon Christians to pray for "kings and for all who are in authority." He said it showed a "special awareness, even 2000 years ago, that even politicians needed special prayer."
The crowd honored a few hundred veterans and active military men and women in the audience before Ashcroft's speech, giving them a standing ovation as huge balloons spilled like confetti from the ceiling of the auditorium. The crowd also pledged allegiance to the American and Christian flags.
The event ended with the crowd singing "The Star Spangled Banner."