How to Talk About Religion the Ronald Reagan Way
It’s been said that religion and politics do not mix. It all depends on how religion and politics mix. One of the best examples of mixing religion and politics is the “Evil Empire” speech that Ronald Reagan gave to the National Association of Evangelicals on March 8, 1983 in Orlando, Florida.
Reagan warmed up the audience with references to prayer and got a laugh out of the audience. Then he told a joke about a clergyman and a politician who are in heaven. Again, they laughed. It was a great dig about politicians.
At the same time, he did not denigrate everybody serving in government. “So, I tell you there are a great many God-fearing, dedicated, noble men and women in public life, present company included. And, yes, we need your help to keep us ever mindful of the ideas and the principles that brought us into the public arena in the first place.” Masterful.
Then he got more serious.
The American experiment in democracy rests on this insight. Its discovery was the great triumph of our Founding Fathers, voiced by William Penn when he said: “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.” Explaining the inalienable rights of men, Jefferson said, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” And it was George Washington who said that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
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Did you see what he did? He quoted others to make his case for him. He even brought in Thomas Jefferson who liberals love to reference when they want to misread and misapply the First Amendment.
Here’s an adage that I’ve come up with when debating with someone: Don’t quote our guys; quote their guys. Let them choke on the facts from someone from their own hallowed camp. Reagan was a master at this.
He continued by talking to 90 percent of Americans:
I want you to know that 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.
Few people could object to these comments even though they might disagree on many theological issues. The majority of people still believe in these principles. If you’re a politician who holds deep religious convictions, then follow Reagan’s method.
Reagan’s comments on the abortion industry were direct and to the point. It would have been hard for anyone to disagree with them. He slammed an industry with style:
Is all of Judeo-Christian tradition wrong? Are we to believe that something so sacred can be looked upon as a purely physical thing with no potential for emotional and psychological harm? And isn’t it the parents’ right to give counsel and advice to keep their children from making mistakes that may affect their entire lives?
Many of us in government would like to know what parents think about this intrusion in their family by government. We’re going to fight in the courts. The right of parents and the rights of family take precedence over those of Washington-based bureaucrats and social engineers.
After a few more statements, Reagan when in for the kill, and it was devastating. He stated with clarity that “There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.” This next part is pure poetry and should be memorized by every young person:
It was C.S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable “Screwtape Letters,” wrote: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”
The entire speech is worth reading and rereading, especially if you’re a political candidate.