The President’s Faith

Ronald Reagan believed politics, morality and religion are inseparable. His Christian upbringing carried on to his Presidentship where he strove for a tolerant society, encouraging all religions.

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President Reagan addresses the Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast at Reunion Arena in Dallas Texas with George Bush and Ken Cooper looking on.
President Reagan addresses the Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast at Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas, 23-Aug-1984.

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) – Hollywood Actor, American President

Ronald Reagan started his career as a radio sportscaster before turning his attention to acting, as he crunched out a handful of movies. Later he ran for the governorship and got elected to the office, and finally, became President of the United States of America. At 69 years of age, he was the oldest President to serve the country for two terms. Known as ‘The Great Communicator’ for his ability to connect with the people genuinely and ordinarily, he is often remembered for his contribution to economic growth and involvement in the fall of the Soviet Union, and it’s easy for people to overlook the one thing he held very dear to him: his faith.

Born to Jack and Nelle Reagan, Ronald came from a family that was very religious. His Catholic father and Christian mother both strongly believed that it was crucial for Ronald, and his older brother, Neil, to develop strong religious morals and brought them up to be regular churchgoers.

“If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”

Ronald Reagan

Regarding his upbringing, Ronald recalls how his father contributed to his beliefs in the unlikeliest of ways. Since the family wasn’t exactly financially stable, Jack Reagan would continually bring his family with him wherever there was work and would look for apartments they could afford. With this kind of setup, Ronald had next to no friends. He became an introvert and would often be seen walking to school alone. He was a constant target of bullying on campus because of his newcomer status, but eventually learned to stand up for himself. And just as he was beginning to make a few friends and getting used to his surroundings, the cycle of swapping the abode would repeat.

Though he frequently felt lonely and empty, according to his own account, Ronald started realizing that he could always trust God not to leave him, unlike the friends he had left behind. Ronald decided he would make the Lord his one true friend and would find comfort in his company. Young Ronald knew that his father meant well for the family, but Jack Reagan never filled the void of a father’s love that the kid so craved, who in turn, sought solace in the omnipresence of the Heavenly Father instead.

“Those who created our country, the founding fathers and mothers, understood that there is a divine order which transcends the human order. They saw the state, in fact, as a form of moral order and felt that the bedrock of moral order is religion.”

Ronald Reagan

Young though he was, Ronald is believed to have always felt that God had a special plan for him. In another instance, one of the apartments they lived in, young Ronald discovered a glass box full of preserved insects’ collection. He marveled at the sight of it and appreciated God’s greatness expressed through the minute details exhibited by the group of vermin. It is also little surprise that another incident involving Jack Reagan strengthened Ronald’s desire to become a devout Christian.

On a snowy night in February 1922, after his eleventh birthday, Ronald saw Jack Reagan lying on the snow, freezing, just outside their apartment. He discovered that his father was too intoxicated to make it to the door, and Ronald had to help him in and change his clothes. The feeling of sympathy that washed over him, rather than anger at the sight of his alcoholic father somehow strengthened his faith in God even more.

If his father’s contribution to his Christian faith was unintentional, Ronald’s mother’s involvement was the complete opposite. Nelle Reagan had a steadfast conviction in the Christian faith, and it was her that Ronald owed his acceptance of Christian principles to. Helping others through tough times, even though her own family was in a situation far worse than them was a habit that made Nelle Reagan stand out as a person. Nelle was a member of the Disciples of Christ, a Born-Again Christian denomination, and would continuously bring Ronald and Neil, to the worship services.

Young Ronald would usually see his mother leading the congregation in singing and giving lessons at the Bible study group. Ronald observed that his mother had schedules of visiting prisoners in jails and helping the staff in hospitals and mental institutions. Ronald recounts how one time his mother spoke to a couple of the prisoners with such conviction that they reformed and were released to her custody. The prisoners were African Americans, and were housed by the Reagan family. Undoubtedly, this event played a major role in Ronald adopting the concept of ‘racial tolerance’, which was a constant theme during his political career. Ronald followed suit in the stead of his mother when he came home one day, accompanied by two fellow visiting basketball players who didn’t have a place to stay because the team hotel had declined to house people of color; a sign that Nelle Reagan’s Christian spirit had found a home in her son.

President Reagan shakes hands with Bishop Desmond Tutu
President meeting with Bishop Desmond Tutu of Anglican Church of South Africa in oval office, 7-Dec-1894.

When Ronald recounted the story of his baptization, he stated that the Bible was his favorite book where he found guidance no matter what the circumstances. Another book which played a massive role in shaping his career was That Printer of Udell’s: A Story of the Middle West. He believed that this book left a lasting impression on him as a young boy. In the book, Dick, the main character, suffered a miserable life at the hands his Christian mother’s alcoholic husband. The young child escapes from home and wanders into a church, which as his mother taught him, was a safe place of refuge. Dick was eventually found by a man named George Udell who hired him as a printer. Dick later realizes as he matures that, a practical Christian was the one who helps people as opposed to those who are phony frauds.

Ronald saw an image of himself in the minister-cum-author, Harold Bell Wright, who as a child, also experienced the endless relocating from one place to another owing to a drunkard of a father, and as an adult, moved to California where he became a minister of the Disciples of Christ. Ronald is believed to be in awe of the book’s protagonist and adopted a similar way of living. Ronald Reagan then identified himself as a practical Christian. This novel, said to have an evangelical background, was quite a heavy read for the nimble of an eleven-year-old, but somehow, he managed to understand and internalize all of it. He later remembered that the book emphasizes prayer and Christian precepts. He also loved how the book spoke firmly, but lovingly of the Christian truths and how the good triumphs over evil, a principle he always followed during his Presidency. Looking at the moral of the story, Dick becomes a converted practical Christian, who had a heart for helping those who are in need. Dick, as with Ronald, held to the notion that it is much better to teach people the way to catch fish, rather than handing them the catch itself!

President Ronald Reagan addressing the convention, banner behind displays - "change your world, 41st Annual Convention, National Association of Evangelicals"
President Reagan addressing the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals( “Evil Empire” speech).

Fast forward several years to the term of his Presidency, Ronald Reagan strove to make the world a better place by staying true to his beliefs. It was reported in political circles that Reagan was quiet about his faith, but let his actions do the talking. One of the biggest contributions he made towards his country was, bringing down the communist regime. He believed that God had chosen him to take the necessary actions against the Soviets and their communist stand. Reagan was clear of his views of the Soviet Union being evil and immoral, publicly addressing it in his ‘evil empire’ speech. He continued fighting for his cause until the fall of the Soviet Russia in the December of 1991.

In his presidential debates, he stated that leading the country required a stable prayer life, and otherwise, he would easily fail the responsibilities. Having won the Presidency, he made it clear that prayer be included in all events that took place in the White House. His stance on this topic was publicly expressed when the news of 241 U.S. Marines killed in Lebanon broke in October 1983. Reagan met the families of the fallen and after expressing his condolences, asked them to join him in prayer. His lobbying efforts to force the practice of prayer in schools is still remembered widely, albeit less popularly these days. He insisted that the children should be free to pray in schools. Famous for his use of humor, he jokingly remarked, ‘As long as there are final exams, there will be prayers in schools’.

Man as he was, he too had his fair share of regrets. His biggest being the passage of a bill on Therapeutic Abortion Act during his governorship days. He went on to say that, as a Christian, he was bound to fight abortion and that no person should reject this God’s blessing bestowed in the shape of a child. Until his dying moments, his Christian principles were clearly evident in his personality, as was his humor alive and fresh despite his age.

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