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'Reagan Inside Out' by Bob Slosser
Spiritual Life

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Reagan Inside Out: The Call for Renewal

By Bob Slosser Senior Writer -- For years Reagan has been saying that the United States needs a spiritual revival if it is to overcome its problems. Such a call is woven through his speeches, letters, and conversations all the way back to his time as Governor of California. It was still being regularly proclaimed in the second half of his first term as president Indeed, on more recent occasions, his language was modified enough to suggest he perceived such revival to be underway.

At a Governor's Prayer Breakfast in 1972, for example, he said: "I think our nation and the world need a spiritual revival as it has never been needed before ... a simple answer ... a profound and complete solution to all the trouble we face."

To Christian educators, to youngsters, to the pope -- the message was the same: "The time has come to turn back to God and reassert our trust in Him for the healing of America. ''

What did he mean when he spoke of healing? In a letter to a narcotics control commissioner in Brooklyn, he described a conversation with Pope Paul VI. "I told him of the so-called Jesus Movement in America and how so many young people had simply turned from drugs to a faith in Jesus. As you can imagine, he was not surprised, nor should we be, for He promised that He was our salvation."

Regarding rampant sexual permissiveness, Reagan wrote: "I don't believe the answer rests with government. No one can legislate morality. What we need is a spiritual awakening and return to the morals of a Christian society."

He pursued a similar theme on hedonism and humanism, replying to a questioner with these words: "I am deeply concerned with the wave of hedonism-the humanist philosophy so prevalent today -- and believe this nation must have a spiritual rebirth, a rededication to the moral precepts which guided us for so much of our past, and we must have such a rebirth very soon."

In a television interview during his 1980 campaign, Reagan was asked if he saw cause for hope of a reversal of "moral pollution."

Bob Slosser interviews Ronald Reagan in the White House"Oh, yes," he replied, consistently the optimist. "It isn't too easy to see now, but I believe the tide has turned. I think that the hunger [for spiritual renewal] I mentioned earlier has become evident. I think the contrast of [the young people's] attitude today with a few years ago reveals this hunger. These problems won't be solved by some sudden sweeping over the land of a warning or something. It is going to come from within the people themselves. I think they are already feeling it."

In the same interview he spoke about insights he had picked up during the days and nights of criss-crossing the land seeking re-election. "There is one thing about campaigning," he said. "We talk about how hard it is, but when you go out across the country and meet the people, you can't help but pray and remind God of that passage in 2 Chronicles [about healing the land], because the people of this country are not beyond redemption. They are good people and I believe this nation has a destiny yet unfulfilled,"

Although his letters and conversation on spiritual renewal often dealt on an individual level, Reagan continually made clear that he was also speaking of the nation as a whole. He was especially pointed in a statement issued in connection with the nation's bicentennial celebration:

In this bicentennial year, we are daily reminded that our strength and our greatness grew from a national commitment to God and country. Those institutions of freedom which became famous worldwide were forged in the fires of spiritual belief; yet today many of these institutions are in jeopardy.

The time has come to turn back to God and reassert our trust in Him for the healing of America. This means that all of us who acknowledge a belief in our Judeo-Christian heritage must reaffirm that belief and join forces to reclaim those great principles embodied in that Judeo-Christian tradition and in ancient Scripture. Without such a joining of forces, the materialistic quantity of life in our country may increase for a time, but the quality of life will continue to decrease.

As a Christian, I commit myself to do my share in this joint venture.

Our country is in need of and ready for a spiritual renewal. Such a renewal is based on spiritual reconciliation -- man with God, and then man with man.
A bicentennial celebration is only important if we can learn from its history. One lesson should be that as a nation it's "In God We Trust."

America was ready, he felt. By early 1983, he was more and more using the present tense as his optimism rose. "There is, " he declared, "a great spiritual awakening in America-a renewal of the traditional values that have been the bedrock of America's goodness and greatness."

He reported that a survey by a Washington-based research group had concluded that Americans were "far more religious" than the people of other nations. "Ninety-five percent of those surveyed expressed a belief in God," he said, "and a huge majority believed the Ten Commandments had real meaning in their lives."

Another study, he asserted, had shown "overwhelming" majority disapproval of adultery, teen-age sex, pornography, abortion, and hard drugs and a simultaneous "deep reverence" for family ties and religious belief.

Most mass communicators virtually ignored Reagan's hopes for spiritual renewal. Those who gave it much notice frequently were sarcastic. Hugh Sidey of Time was typical: "In the distance the president could see that same 'great spiritual awakening in America' that has been coming as long as preachers have preached."

A Christian who has witnessed and participated in the remarkable renewal of the last twenty years in many countries, including the United States, bristles at such remarks. Yet he really shouldn't, For this very real revival, as widespread as it has been, has not made the kind of public impact that would be noticed by the average journalist. It has operated largely at an individual level, touching a number of groups and mainline denominations, but not overtly altering the course of society.

While acknowledging that, however, one must hasten to add that had it not been for the renewal, the condition of the country and the world would almost certainly be much worse than it is. It's impossible to prove, of course. The same holds true for the renewal of the late forties. Most of us who were unbelievers at that time were not aware that any such 'thing took place. This again forces us to remember Saint Paul's teaching that the unspiritual do not even recognize spiritual things. But that renewal may have held the country together in a difficult postwar period, for the Holy Scripture says that in Christ "all things hold together."

It is obvious in Reagan's speeches and conversations that he is speaking of a revival that will penetrate society at a deeper level than what we've experienced in this century. He's looking for a move of God that will affect morality, poverty, education, defense, arms control, commerce, everything. For he has come to recognize during the long and ongoing evolution of his Christian faith that man is helpless to help himself beyond a certain point. Should God withdraw from the world -- which He will not -- the planet would be doomed to deterioration and destruction despite man's best-intentioned activities.

No, Reagan is not looking for something "churchy." He's looking for something life-changing, something that touches the marketplace, the halls of government, the places where men crunch against one another. Although he speaks from a different and more optimistic perspective, he's actually closely aligned with the views of Aleksander I. Solzhenitsyn, who in Reagan's third year once again rattled the cages of his exile.

"The entire twentieth century is being sucked into the vortex of atheism and self-destruction," the Russian author declared in a widely covered address in London. "We can only reach with determination for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently pushed away. ...There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide."

Solzhenitsyn, whose soaring cries of anguish for the nations often prove so unsettling to Western political leaders, has seemed little able to alter the course of the steady slide into secular humanism that he deplores so vehemently. But his words seem momentarily to sting those lands still calling themselves Christian. One almost senses a brief hush of embarrassment when he speaks out, which is infrequently. His sufferings at the hands of the Soviets, as reflected in his best-selling books, seem to have elevated him to the level of guardian of the world conscience. Thus, significant numbers heard him once again warn of the secularism that he believed had been gaining force in the Western world since the Middle Ages with its "gradual sapping of strength from within."

They also heard him parallel a frequent statement 'by Reagan as to ultimate victory by God. "No matter how formidably communism bristles with 'tanks and rockets," he declared, "no matter what successes it attains in seizing the planet, it is doomed never to vanquish Christianity."

His appeal was for strength and courage -- renewal -- in the face of worldwide communism. That, too, is the caliber of spiritual revival sought by the President of the United States.

Is Reagan whistling in the dark with his perceptions of spiritual renewal?

I asked Pat Boone, who travels throughout the country regularly, if he thought the revival the president speaks of is actually happening. He minced no words: "Yep."

Shirley, his wife, elaborated. "I believe we're seeing the glory of God," she said. "I've spoken at the leadership conferences for women in the Washington for Jesus Rally in 1980 ...and I'll never forget when we stood out on that mall and prayed and tore the strongholds down, and I know that was a turning point. When all of us went there and really started seeking God for our nation, and taking it seriously, look what happened. And I know it's not going to stop with what happened out on the mall. "

She was speaking of the gathering in Washington in 1980 of half a million Christian people from allover the country for the biggest rally of its kind ever held in the United States. There was speechmaking, preaching, singing, fasting, and prayer -- a mass intercession of people with God in behalf of the nation. It was perceived by reporters and others as a conservative political rally, although its leadership firmly denied it and no partisan politicking was evident. There were exhortations for individual and national repentance. And there were long and loud prayers for God to direct the nation, to provide the political and social leaders of His choice. All of this was especially impressive at the height of the gathering when hundreds of thousands joined together in mass prayers and supplications. Even many churchmen who had been most skeptical about the propriety of such a rally were moved by the unity of those hours.

Mrs. Boone, reflecting on the fact that the rally had not sought the election of particular candidates but had instead asked that God prevail, concluded: "We prayed them into those positions, and I'm convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that we're going to see miracles."

She was not alone in her view of the 1980 rally and related events as a milestone in modern American history. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade, Demos Shakarian of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship, Adrian Rogers of the Southern Baptist Church, Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, and numerous pastors have voiced similar views. They speak not so much of numbers in an evangelistic sense as they do about the visible and invisible ramifications of having that many people united in reaching out to God for help.

With variations, they have spoken like Robertson: "We touched God that day -- 500,000 people -- and we have seen many things change or begin to change since then. " They speak particularly of the heightened awareness of and mounting opposition to abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and all symptoms of godlessness. They speak further of progress in the steady drive to allow children to pray in schools.

And many frankly point to the election of a Christian president who takes the lead in such matters. They report a sense of relief and optimism in many sections of the country, especially those areas so often overlooked by opinion leaders, areas not dominated by New York and Los Angeles. They speak of traces of a freshening spirit, sometimes almost imperceptible, stirring among the people.

Billy Graham was also optimistic about widespread revival in the United States and around the world. As he prepared for his crusade in Sacramento in the early autumn of 1983, he spoke in his hotel room of the duality of spiritual experience in the world.

"I always think of what the Lord said in His parable of the wheat and the tares," he explained, "that they both are growing at the same time. And it seems that we see an outburst of evil throughout the world on a scale that perhaps we've never known -- through the drug culture, pornography, and all the other things that are happening, crime, and all the things we read in our headlines. But at the same time there's something else that doesn't make the headlines so much and that is the work and the power of the Holy Spirit, in which thousands of people throughout the world are turning to Christ."

But he suggested that even greater renewal was ahead and pointed to three major keys for bringing it forth-repentance, prayer, and obedience. "We must repent of our sins," he said, obviously speaking both individually and nationally, "and when we repent, God is going to hear our prayers."

A few moments later, he returned to the theme: "I think prayer the key, and if we can get people burdened to pray -- and obey -- I think we have to bring that in, that we're going to have to obey. "

Evangelical pastors across the country, seemingly without exception to responses to Graham's and Robertson's words, agreed the expectation for unprecedented renewal.

Donn Moomaw, who is capable of speaking about deeply religious matters in quite unreligious language -- much like the president -- offered a good, hard-nosed opinion about the prospects for revival in America.

First, he pointed to the rapid rise of modern technology. " As it grows," he said, "it exceeds its ability to answer questions that are arising." As a result, he felt that people generally, and especially those involved in modern technology, were "by the process of elimination" turning elsewhere for more meaningful answers to their questions and their problems.

"This is good," he said, "because it can ultimately lead to a search for God." And, as any good pastor knows, anyone who honestly and sincerely searches for God will find Him.

Moomaw noted that people, particularly many in Southern California, "seek money and they get money, but they don't have answers to life's problems." And that raises questions of "what now, what do we do now?" They're still faced with deep issues, the ones that eventually confront everyone -- death, eternity, forgiveness of sins.

"Technology, which we're so very much swept up in, doesn't give answers to those questions," he said.

So the Presbyterian pastor believes a lot of people are saying, "Give us your best shot, church." The response to that, he said, "must be gutsy, it must be real, and it must be biblical, not philosophical." People don't need more philosophy; they need something that works.

"No one has discovered better answers than those given by Jesus of Nazareth," he declared.

Moomaw's great hope in all of this was that Christian people, those who have experienced God in their lives, "would demonstrate it in their businesses and in government and in their whole lives, not only in their talk."

He agreed with the president that there is evidence of a revival of sorts -- "but what we must do is live as people of faith, not naively, but we must live out what we believe."

"People are itching," he said, "but they don't know where to scratch and they're looking for somebody to help them." The truths of the church are ancient, he pointed out, and they must be shown to be viable in a modern world.

With that, he concluded, the opportunities for revival are tremendous.

A forceful Christian scholar, Francis A. Schaeffer, agrees with Moomaw's call for changed lives among believers if a changed nation is to result. "We must not be satisfied with mere words," he said. "With the window open [for Christian action] we must try to roll back the results of the total world view which considers material-energy, shaped by chance, as they live under Scripture, must not only take the necessary legal and political stands, but must practice all the possible Christian alternatives simultaneously with taking stands politically and legally … Christians must not only speak and fight against these things, but must show there are Christian alternatives. … This is so, and especially so, even when it is extremely costly in money, time, and energy."

Views such as Moomaw's and Schaeffer's -- the call for living out one's faith in all aspects of life even at great cost and peril -- are not new to the history of revivals. But they often are submerged in our day as we ebb and flow in a sort of super-spirituality that tends to ignore action to match faith. The Wesleyan Revival of the eighteenth century brought forth widespread social reforms in England, which we will focus on in the next chapter. The same thing occurred in the mid-nineteenth century, both in England and America.

However, with a few exceptions, the Christian renewal in this country in the last twenty or more years has not had the spillover into medical, hospital, prison, and ghetto matters to match those of previous centuries. It should be noted, though, that the current renewal appears to some to be poised for such breakthroughs, perhaps even into government.

Seven hundred years before the time of Christ, Isaiah the prophet was declaring that such breakthroughs go hand-in-hand with renewal.

If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters fail not.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

In Isaiah's understanding, as in Moomaw's and Schaeffer's, the people's faith in God was to produce action. And that action was to include a proper observance of the Sabbath, an honoring of the day of the Lord, without neglecting justice and mercy. Then, and only then, would God make that marvelous nation "ride upon the heights of the earth."

The point is: If renewal is to come to America, then faith in God is going to have to break out of the confines of the churches and into the marketplace. Reagan believes he sees that happening. A number of Christian leaders agree with him.

Pat Robertson, as the Reagan administration wound through its third year, was pointing his large and influential constituency toward the writings of the prophet Joel, probably dating to 800 B.C. or earlier. He believed he saw there a significant pattern for national revival.

Joel uses a monstrous locust invasion to set the stage for calling Judah and Jerusalem to repentance. Then he tells the leaders to call a fast, a solemn assembly, a gathering of the people. There is to be repentance and crying out to the Lord. Robertson believes this may have occurred in this country at the Washington for Jesus Rally discussed by Shirley Boone.

Joel then foresees the Lord responding by sending prosperity upon the people -- "grain, wine, and oil" -- and driving away the invaders. Robertson sees a certain fulfillment of this in recent days, especially among the believers who have been faithful even during hard times in giving themselves and their goods to the Lord's work.

This, according to the pattern, is to be followed and accompanied by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit -- great revival and great power -- before the age moves into its final stages, including Armageddon, the return of the Lord Jesus, judgment, and the millennium. In Roberton's view, we are on the brink of that huge work of the Holy Spirit and indeed may have moved into its fringes.

Another noted Christian leader, who has a good record for perceiving church renewal, is Ralph Mahoney, founder of World MAP (Missionary Assistance Plan). Because of his credibility, especially in world Pentecostal circles, his writings about the imminence of revival in North America drew considerable attention in 1982 and 1983.

"There is a sense in my spirit that we are on the verge of a new visitation of God right here in North America that is going to not only affect our continent, but others as well," he said.

Supporting his thesis with the Bible and events, Mahoney believed the most reliable "signboards" pointing to God's major acts in history are His people -- Israel and the church -- and the leadership of the two. They seem to parallel one another. First, he noted the recent conflicts in the Middle East and Israel's expansion of its effectual borders northward. He believed this was a prelude to "a fresh and new thing in the church," an expansion flowing into a major revival.

As for leadership changes, there were numerous possibilities. For example, Israel's top political leadership was aging -- Prime Minister Menachem Begin had already resigned -- and new figures were likely to rise quickly. Paralleling this in the church, particularly in the United States, several outstanding new leaders had moved into position in the last decade and could emerge as successors to those, like Billy Graham, for one, who had been so dominant for many years.

Such developments, which Mahoney indicated might already be happening, would in his view portend a move by God.

Pointing out that revival often doesn't look like revival in its first months and years, Mahoney believed that "the signs of the times" referred to by Jesus were visible and that spiritual renewal, as desired by President Reagan, was just over the horizon.

"If what we anticipate happens, we are going to see a revival that brings so many converts into the churches they won't be able to cope with the explosive growth," he declared.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, who are exposed to a wide cross-section of Middle America, Christian and not, both felt the opportunities for national revival were excellent. "God is going to honor the people who are trying, and trying to do good, and trying to improve," Roy said.

"Yes," I responded, "but are you optimistic that people will start turning to the Lord?"

He didn't hesitate. "If we keep getting leaders of a high caliber who are not afraid to stand up there and talk about it." He made it clear that he believed President Reagan was of sufficiently high caliber and was indeed standing up and talking about commitment to the Lord and national renewal. "If they'll just give him another four years," he said, "I think he'll get our country back together."

Dale was equally optimistic. "This Christian heritage is the thing that Ronald Reagan is trying to make us remember, that our source of greatness in this country is God. It's not really weapons; it's not really science; it is God who gives it all."

She was correct. It seemed perfectly clear that any expectation for significant change in the very powerful "political nation" holding sway in the United States would depend on an act of God. Spiritual renewal, if widespread enough, could do it.

The grip of humanism and antigodliness is strong, but it can be broken -- and rather quickly -- by God. Large numbers of us who are Christians today were humanists first; many of us were anti-God. But the Holy Spirit can renew a mind. He can illuminate even the darkest corners.

We can, as a nation, return to the faith of our fathers. And as Schaeffer declared: "They knew they were building on the Supreme Being who was the Creator, the final reality. And they knew that without that foundation everything in the Declaration of Independence and all that followed would be sheer unadulterated nonsense. These were brilliant men who understood exactly what was involved. "

In the meantime, is Roy Rogers right? Can Reagan, while we wait upon God, hold the country together?

Also from Bob Slosser's Reagan Inside Out:

The Prophecy

The President

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