This week America celebrates Martin Luther King Day while also marking the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand. These events signify the two great civil rights battles of the modern era-the battle to win equal justice for black Americans, and for unborn Americans.
At root, these are the same struggle, ultimately winnable by the same means. If any American political leader understood this clearly it was Ronald Reagan.
In fact, Reagan attributed his approach to civil rights, pro-life and defeating Soviet Communism to a single moral vision he described in one of his most eloquent speeches.
Not long after the 10th anniversary of Roe, Reagan spoke to the National Evangelical Association. It was here that Reagan declared the Soviet Union an Evil Empire.
Yet, most of the speech was not about malignant forces abroad. It was about malignant forces at home.
Reagan made it clear that he viewed evil here-and over there-through a single lens.
“I have always maintained that the struggle going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might,” said Reagan. “The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, a test of moral will and faith.”
He then cited Witness, the classic book by one-time-Soviet-spy-turned-Christian Whittaker Chambers, in affirming that “the crisis of the Western world exists in the degree in which the West is indifferent to God, the degree to which it collaborates with communisms attempt to make man stand alone without God.”
Reagan declared his commitment to a faith-based America, and a faith-based politics. “I want you to know this administration is motivated by a political philosophy that sees the greatness of America in you, her people, and in your families, churches, neighborhoods, communities-the institutions that foster and nourish values like concern for others and respect for the rule of law under God,” he said.
“Now I dont have to tell you,” he said, “that this puts us in opposition to, or at least out of step with, a prevailing attitude of many people who have turned to a modern day secularism, discarding the tried and time-tested values upon which our very civilization is based.”
“If we will not be governed by God,” said Reagan, quoting William Penn, “we will be governed by tyrants.”
Children of God
This worldview compelled Reagan to fight not only communism, but also racism and abortion.
“The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past,” he said. “For example, the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war, is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.”
Of the pro-life cause, he said: “More than a decade ago, a Supreme Court decision literally wiped off the books of 50 states statutes protecting the rights of unborn children. Abortion on demand now takes the lives of up to one and a half million unborn children a year. Human life legislation ending this tragedy will someday pass the Congress-and you and I must never rest until it does.”
So what does this have to do with Martin Luther King?
King explained the civil rights cause the same way Reagan explained both it and the pro-life cause. It was an effort to make mans law conform to Gods law. And in Kings view, as in Reagans, this quest was in keeping with Americas deepest traditions.
“A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God,” wrote King from the Birmingham jail, after he had been arrested for protesting segregation. “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”
“We will win our freedom,” wrote King, “because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”
“One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream, and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
The same Supreme Court liberals who declared it a constitutional right to kill unborn babies also held that it was unconstitutional to teach children in public schools that the basic philosophy of Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan-and the Founding Fathers-is true.
Still, it is a philosophy that in our time defeated segregation here and Soviet communism everywhere.
And, as Reagan predicted, it will defeat abortion, too.