June 12, 2004
"God and Ronald Reagan"
Last night a reader e-mailed, "Do you know if President
Reagan was a
Frankly, I've had doubts since I began writing this
column in 1981, the
first year of his Presidency.
From those early years, men I respected were persuaded
his faith was
genuine. One with no doubts was Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. He
praised Reagan as "the first President to step out boldly to protect the
unborn child. Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford were both pro-abortion."
However, Reagan attended church only once in his eight
years of presidency.
Can a man who does not worship God be called Christian?
When asked about his lack of church attendance during
the 1984 presidential
debate with former Vice President Walter Mondale, Reagan said he feared endangering his own life and those of others: "I pose a threat to several
hundred people if I got to church. I know all the threats that are made
Two months after his Inauguration, President Reagan was
shot and the bullet
came within an inch of his heart. Fear was understandable. Why then,
did he not invite
clergy to conduct services within the White House? However, as an
ex-President he did return to church.
A new book by Paul Kengor, "God and Ronald Reagan," has
persuaded me that
his faith was not only profound, but his driving energy and the key to
effectiveness in restoring hope to America and in his strategy toward the
symbolized by his challenge in Berlin: "Tear down this wall, Mr. Gobachev."
Nelle Reagan, his mother, was deeply
religious. She not only led the
largest Disciples of Christ Sunday School class and prayed so fervently
people were healed, but she dedicated her life to the "poor and helpless,"
such as weekly visits to a TB hospital and the local jail where she came
with apples, cookies and the Bible. Her faith and character inspired young
By contrast, his father, Jack Reagan, was an alcoholic
who an 11-year-old Ron found lying in the snow, drunk. Ron dragged him
inside to his bed.
If his father was unreliable, Ron learned his heavenly
Father was always
reliable. Months later, Ron asked to be baptized. As he arose from
immersion, the pastor said, "Arise and walk in newness of faith." Ron said he felt "called" at that moment when "I invited Christ into my
It was in church that Ron began acting. At 13 he
"convulsed the audience by
his one act dramatic reading," said a local newspaper. At 15 he began
teaching Sunday School which he did weekly until he went to college. In
Hollywood the young actor joined a Disciples church.
He loved Matthew's quote of Jesus: "You are the light
of the world. A city
on a hill cannot be hid." By the 1950's he was speaking of America as "A
Shining City Upon a Hill."
Reagan's pastor urged him to consider the threat of
Godless communism. As
president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan discovered there were 300
Communist Party members in Hollywood. Standing up to them sparked so
many physical threats, he packed a revolver.
Russian communists closed thousands of churches and
sent clergy and millions of believers to their deaths. One Harvard
study estimates communists killed 100 million of their own residents, ten
times the number dying in World War II.
No wonder President Reagan called the Soviet Union an
As he recovered from an assassin's bullet, New York's
Cardinal Cooke said,
"The hand of God was upon you." Reagan replied, "I know. I have
decided that whatever time I have left is for Him." Within weeks when no one
thought a Soviet collapse was possible, he stunningly forecast at Notre
Dame, "The West won't contain communism, it will transcend Communism....It
will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages
are even now being written."
In 1982 he met with Pope John Paul II, who'd also
escaped an assassination
attempt. Both felt they had been spared for a mission to defeat communism. They agreed to aid the Solidarity movement in Poland "as a wedge that could
potentially split the USSR's empire in Eastern Europe...the splinter to
crack the Iron Curtain," Kengor wrote.
The Pope supported Reagan's military build up and his
Initiative, despite strong objections by his bishops.
Gorbachev later conceded that when Poland held free
elections in June 1989,
the Soviet bloc was doomed. The Berlin Wall fell that fall.
Reagan's faith kept him humble but gave him the vision
and courage which
changed the world.
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