Over the weekend and throughout the week, Americans have paid tribute to the former president Ronald Reagan by lowering all American flags to half-staff, visiting his casket at the presidential library in Simi Valley, California and offering countless prayers in his memory. Meanwhile, dozens of evangelical leaders expressed a deep admiration for the past president as they offered eulogies more befitting a pastor than a politician.
"President Reagan was a gracious friend who demonstrated his own reverence for the Word of God by designating 1983 as the Year of the Bible," said Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
"President Reagan was a colorful, decisive, humble, principle-driven statesman who was as little affected by Beltway politics as any president we have ever had. We will miss him profoundly," Patterson said.
During his speech to the National Religious Broadcasters in 1983, three days before his proclamation about the Year of the Bible, Reagan stressed his faith in the Good Book.
“We're blessed to have its words of strength, comfort and truth. I'm accused of being simplistic at times with some of the problems that confront us. But I've often wondered: Within the covers of that single book are all the answers to all the problems that face us today, if we'd only look there,” said Reagan.
Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, described this president as “an extraordinarily gifted and patriotic American and a great president. He had a profound understanding of the difference in right and wrong, justice and injustice, strength and weakness, and civility and incivility. His moral compass kept him on course in leading his beloved country. ... His faith sustained him in tough times."
In a statement to the SBC’s newsgroup Baptist Press, Chapman recalled the closing words of Reagan’s speech during the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster.
“Reagan said America would never forget the astronauts as they waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,”” said Chapman.
"In times like these he demonstrated the resolve of a president, the caring nature of a pastor and the love of a father," Chapman continued.
Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, recalled a different event at which Reagan’s faith shone through in his speech.
“Reagan said America needs God more than God needs America,” said Reccord as he reminisced on Reagan’s 1984 address at the ecumenical prayer breakfast in Dallas. “If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under."
"I am so thankful for how he courageously corrected those who for so long have misrepresented the principle of separation of church and state," Reccord said in a statement to Baptist Press. "In 1982 he told the Alabama legislature, 'To those who cite the First Amendment as a reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions and everyday life, may I just say: The First Amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny.'
"That kind of clarity, born in a personal and vital faith, made me thankful Ronald Reagan was my president, but more importantly, a fellow Christ-follower," Reccord said. "As he now enters the heavenly Shining City, I pray Christ's comfort for Mrs. Reagan and the family."
Biographer Paul Kengor noted Reagan’s faith was what guided him until his last breadth.
Reagan believed in a “God-given” optimism, even when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 10 years ago, Kengor said.
“Reagan believed that Alzheimer’s is what God had chosen for him,” said Kengor, a political science professor at Grove City College in western Pennsylvania who released a book earlier this year entitled, “God and Ronald Reagan, a Spiritual Life.”
“It was God’s plan for how Reagan would die, and he believed that we have no reason to question God. Reagan truly believed that even something that negative could be part of God’s plan,” Kengor said.
In one of his latest speeches to America, Reagan wrote about his faith in God in the midst of his diagnosis.
“When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future,” he wrote.
“I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.
“Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.”
Reagan, who passed away on June 5, was the 40th president of the United States. President Bush ordered the American flag be lowered to half-staff on all buildings, grounds and naval vessels of the United States for 30 days in honor of Reagan, and also declared June 11 a National Day of Mourning and ordered all non-essential government buildings closed on that day.