Magazine article The Christian Century

Reagan Political Years Paralleled Right's Rise

Magazine article The Christian Century

Reagan Political Years Paralleled Right's Rise

Article excerpt

Ronald Reagan's influence on Christian politics in this country will be felt for years to come. The 40th president, who died June 5 at 93 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's disease, used his acting experience in communicating optimism to the public and also introduced many conservative Christians to real political power.

Reagan was present--and uttered one of his most famous lines--at the meeting that many credit as the birth of the Religious Right, which molded evangelical Protestant conservatism into a cohesive political movement.

At the Religious Roundtable's National Affairs Briefing in 1980, after being introduced by a Southern Baptist evangelist as "God's man," Reagan--then a presidential candidate--told the conservative Christian luminaries, "I know you can't endorse me, but I endorse you." Reagan's quip sparked a long relationship with conservative Christians.

As president, Reagan was also remembered for calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire" in addressing the National Association of Evangelicals meeting in Orlando.

Reagan is credited with bringing the Religious Right fully into the COP fold. "I will remember Mr. Reagan primarily for his relationship with the evangelical Christian community in our nation," Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell recalled in 2002, in a column on the Web site WorldNetDaily.com. Baptist Falwell said of the president's 1980 election: "We bad long been shut out of the White House when Mr. Reagan took office."

Falwell noted that Reagan introduced ideas to the Republican platform that were important to conservative evangelicals--such as opposition to abortion and homosexuality, and unwavering support for Israel. Evangelicals helped elect Reagan--for years a nominal Presbyterian who supported the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in honor of his mother--over born-again Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter.

Nonetheless, Carter praised Reagan's abilities. "This is a sad day for our country," Carter said June 6, prior to teaching his Sunday school class in Plains, Georgia. "I probably know as well as anybody what a formidable communicator and campaigner President Reagan was," Carter said, according to the Associated Press. "It was because of him that I was retired from my last job."

Reagan focused much of his presidential energy on fighting communism, strengthening national defense and promoting conservative economic policies. Despite promising to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion and to pass a constitutional amendment allowing government-sanctioned prayer in public schools, Reagan ended up devoting little political capital to those causes. …

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