“Whatever happens now, I owe my life to God and will try to serve him in every way I can.”
in his diary after his
A reporter approached Ronald Reagan in 1984 and asked him to explain his use of faith in a recent speech. “It just doesn’t seem like you in the past, and that’s why I’m asking,” the reporter said. President Reagan responded, “Maybe others haven’t listened to me before.”
Mary Beth Brown’s new book, Hand of Providence: The Strong and Quiet Faith of Ronald Reagan, gives readers their chance to listen to the words of our 40th President regarding his faith and to see, through her analysis, the remarkable extent of its influence in his life. She begins the inspiring story of Reagan’s journey of faith in his youth in Dixon, Ill.
Reagan’s parents, Jack and Nelle Reagan, were very different in how they approached God. Jack was an Irish Catholic, but a heavy drinker, which caused the family many problems over the years.
Nelle was a born-again Christian and a devoted mother, and it was from her that faith took root in her second son. “My mother gave me a great deal,” Ronald Reagan recalled, “but nothing she gave me was more important than that. She was my inspiration and provided me with a very real and deep faith.”
“Dutch,” the name Jack gave his son, became involved in Nelle’s church at an early age and decided to be baptized there when he was 11 years old. Almost immediately the young man’s emergent faith began to manifest in his thought. As a teenager he composed a poem for school in which he wrote:
When our fellow passes on?
He’s just exchanged life’s dreary dirge
For an eternal life of song.”
Brown admits that there was more to Jack’s influence on his son than she covers in the book, but Nelle clearly remained a strong influence in her younger son’s life throughout his career as an actor, through the pain of his divorce, and into the beginning of his career in politics.
“Growing up in a family of both Catholics and Evangelicals,” she explains, “he understood the common purpose these two groups shared. He understood the orthodoxy of both the American Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.”
The experience of the Reagan household helped Ronald Reagan the candidate straddle America’s faith spectrum during his run for governor in California, and later when he galvanized the religious conservative base in this country, turning traditionally Democratic Catholics into Reagan Democrats.
His faith remained his guiding light through his two terms in office. It influenced his fight for school prayer, his opposition to abortion and, perhaps most dramatically, his crusade against the Soviet Union, against which he was uncompromising in his words and actions, unlike many politicians at the time. “They have no respect for human life, for the dignity of the individual,” he once said. “The Communist Party has substituted Karl Marx for God.”
Part of Reagan’s plan to combat the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism was a revolutionary measure of sorts. He opened diplomatic relations with the Vatican for the first time in our nation’s history and the result was a decade-long alliance with Pope John Paul II against the Soviet bloc.
“The story of their collaboration demonstrates a miraculous combination of creativity and intelligence,” the author writes, “as well as strength that could only come from the guiding power of the Lord. Both men understood the power of God and were willing to be servants to His will, allowing them to accomplish things beyond the pale of Man.”
Brown points out that the two men shared a lot in common. Among the more striking similarities is that both survived assassination attempts, and both believed strongly that God had spared them for a reason. But whereas the Pope’s forgiveness of his assassin was well publicized, this book reveals that Reagan, too, was able to practice one of the highest forms of Christian charity.
“I didn’t feel I could ask God’s help to heal Jim [Brady], the others, and myself, and at the same time feel hatred for the man who had shot us, so I silently asked God to help him deal with whatever demons had led him to shoot us . . . That day, I asked the Lord to heal him, and to this day, I still do.”
Reagan’s faith was strong and quiet, as the author demonstrates, and he could articulate that faith with simplicity and depth.
The reporter, who in 1984 persisted in questioning Reagan regarding his use of faith in a speech, told the president, “I wonder if preaching the gospel of Christ isn’t a bit divisive and whether it might not be wise.” Reagan patiently responded, “I was criticized for speaking about school prayer in the House Chamber at the State of the Union address. But am I not correct that above my head, engraved in the wall . . . was ‘one nation under God?'”
Reagan has been lauded for his courageous stance against Communism, his bold economic policies, and his ability to communicate effectively to a broad swath of the American public. Perhaps it’s time, Brown concludes, that the foundation of this man’s life be given its due.
To purchase Hand of Providence, click here.
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