Two memories of Ronald Reagan stand out for me.
The first was my meeting with him at age 21 when, as a College Republican leader, I had my picture taken with the California Governor at the 1967 Young Republican National Convention in Omaha. I remember how gracious he was, asking us about ourselves and showing us respect as fellow citizens.
But I remember most the metaphor he used several times throughout his career, referring to America as that “bright, shining city on a hill.”
He did not originate the metaphor. It comes, first, from Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount”:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
And John Winthrop also employed the metaphor in a 1630 address to the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts, probably delivered while they were still aboard the Arabella:
“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses . . .”
This metaphor, capsulized from Scripture and from America’s past, captures who Reagan really was, and how he viewed America. To Ronald Reagan, America was not just another nation. America, with all her strengths and all her weaknesses, was a special nation in God’s sovereign plan for the world, a nation that brought forth minimal constitutional government and maximized individual freedom, which, suffused with a Christian ethic, made America into the freest, strongest, most just, most generous, most virtuous, and most prosperous nation in the history of the world, a nation that toppled tyrants at home and abroad, and a nation that has been a beacon of light and liberty for the rest of the world. That was Reagan’s vision of America. That was the America Reagan worked so hard to preserve.
I remember Reagan’s death in 2004; I remember viewing his funeral on television in an airport; I remember standing at attention while the band played Kipling’s “Recessional,” not caring whether anyone else thought it odd. It seemed to me that, so long as Reagen lived, that vision of America still lived.
Is Reagan’s America gone forever? Can that vision still live? Reagan couldn’t save America all by himself. That’s why a few conservative Christians were unhappy with Reagan; they expected more from him than any one person could give.
But Reagan did accomplish a lot. He, and those who worked with him, and those he inspired, arrested America’s decline into (in his words) “a thousand years of darkness,” and he bought America time to repent and to return to our foundations. And he clearly told us what those foundations were, and are, not in original thoughts, but in words that communicated indelibly.
As he said, you and I have a “rendezvous with destiny.” As we commemorate Reagan’s 100th birthday, may we be inspired to redouble our efforts to restore America to its constitutional foundations and to the Biblical principles that underlie those foundations. And with God’s help, we will succeed!
Happy Birthday, Ronald Reagan!