When my father Ronald Reagan was born one-hundred years ago, his father Jack nicknamed him "Dutch." As Dad explained it, Jack said, "For such a little fat Dutchman, he sure makes a lot of noise!"
Dad's mother Nelle raised him in the Christian faith. She taught Dutch and his older brother Neil that everything that happens in our lives is part of God's plan. The Lord, she said, uses setbacks in our lives to make us stronger.
When Dutch was eleven, he read a book called That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright. My father identified with the novel's protagonist, Dick Falkner. There were many similarities between Dick's life and Dutch Reagan's life. For example, both had alcoholic fathers and saintly Christian mothers.
Dick Falkner marries a brown-eyed girl named Amy and is elected to Congress. On the final page, Dick and Amy kneel in prayer, trusting that "Dick will soon leave his present position to enter a field of wider usefulness at the National Capitol." It's almost as if That Printer of Udell's was a blueprint my father followed, deliberately or not, all the way to Washington, D.C.
Dad once recalled that the book "had an impact I shall always remember... I went to my mother and told her I wanted to declare my faith and be baptized." He also recalled, "I had a personal experience when I invited Christ into my life." So, on July 21, 1922, eleven-year-old Dutch Reagan and his brother Neil were baptized. Dad later said that when he came up out of the water, he felt called by God.
Flash forward to Thanksgiving 1985, as the Reagan family gathered around the dinner table at Rancho del Cielo, the Reagan ranch. As everyone knows, if you want a peaceful holiday dinner, never discuss politics or religion. Problem was, the two favorite subjects in the Reagan family were—you guessed it—politics and religion. Patti got things going, talking about her Buddhist beliefs. Then my brother Ron chimed in, talking about his atheist views.
I had been attending church with Colleen since 1978, but it was only earlier in 1985 that I had committed my life to Christ. As the discussion continued, I found it interesting to listen. I noticed that Dad, too, eased back in his chair and listened without entering in. Finally, he leaned over to me and said, "Michael, I wish your brother Ron would accept Christ and become a Christian like you and me."
Now, it's interesting that he was concerned about Ron but didn't mention Patti. Maybe, because Patti at least acknowledged a spiritual side to life, he hoped she'd eventually come back to the faith in which he and Nancy had raised her. But Ron, as an atheist, seemed to worry Dad more.
"Dad," I said, "I have an idea."
"Billy Graham is going to hold an evangelistic campaign in Washington, D.C. around Eastertime. Why don't you invite the whole family back to Washington, and we can all go to hear Billy Graham?"
"Son, I'd love to. But that's Billy Graham's event. You know how it is—when I show up someplace, I tend to detract from what's going on. So, as much as I'd love to have the family hear Billy Graham, I don't want to take away from what he's trying to do for so many people."
Dad worried about the spiritual state of his children, and he prayed for us all. I often think of that conversation and pray for Ron and Patti.
Two and a half years later, during Easter weekend 1988, I flew with Dad from Washington to California aboard Air Force One. I had been to CNN in Washington to promote my first book and had spent the night at the White House. As we descended toward the airbase at Point Mugu, Dad was counting on his fingers. " ...November ...December ...January," he said. "Nine more months."
"What are you doing, Dad?"
"I'm counting the months until I can go to church again."
"Why can't you go to church?"
"Ever since I was shot," he said, "I've felt I shouldn't attend church. When they threw me in the car and I looked out the window and saw those men on the pavement, it really shook me up. I don't want to have an incident like that in church. When I leave Washington in January, I can start attending church again. I'm looking forward to spending Sunday mornings with our Lord."
I said, "Why don't you go this Sunday? I think you should."
"Well," he said, "I'll think about that."
In fact, Dad did go to church that Sunday, attending an Easter service at Santa Ynez Presbyterian Church near Rancho del Cielo. Nine months later, after he left office, he went back to church and never missed a Sunday until he became too ill to attend.
My father's faith was inseparable from his political beliefs. He hated Communism not only because it oppressed people economically and politically, but also oppressed them spiritually. In his "Evil Empire" speech in 1983, he said: "I've always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one."
In 1922, an eleven-year-old boy was baptized, and when he came up out of the water, he answered God's call. He took his faith from Dixon, Illinois, to Hollywood, to Washington, to Berlin, to Moscow. He waged spiritual warfare against an Evil Empire, and by God's grace, he won. The Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War ended.
As Dad said in his farewell address to the nation, "All in all, not bad, not bad at all." Amen and amen.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan and a political consultant. He is the founder and chairman of The Reagan Group and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his website at www.reagan.com. Portions of this column are adapted from his book The New Reagan Revolution (St. Martin's Press). Copyright © 2011 Michael Reagan. Used with permission.
Publication date: February 3, 2011