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Faith and the PresidencyFrom George Washington to George W. Bush$
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Gary Scott Smith

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195300604

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300604.001.0001

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 Ronald Reagan

 Ronald Reagan

Making America God's Shining City on a Hill

(p.325) Chapter Ten Ronald Reagan
Faith and the Presidency

Gary Scott Smith (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Ronald Reagan’s religious convictions were crucial to his understanding of the world and performance as president, but few scholars have provided substantive analysis of his faith and its impact on his policies during his tenure in the White House. Although the circumstances of Reagan’s life and the seeming inconsistencies between his beliefs and his practices make his faith difficult to explain, it appears to have been genuine, very meaningful to him, and essential to his political philosophy. Reagan firmly believed and often declared that God intended America to be a beacon of hope, faith, freedom, and democracy — “a city on the hill”. Reagan was deeply influenced by his godly mother, Nelle, and raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Reagan’s firm belief that God had a plan for his life was fortified by his survival of an assassination attempt in March 1981. In many addresses, proclamations, letters, and private conversations, Reagan stressed his faith in God and prayer, the inspiration of the Bible, and the divinity of Jesus. Numerous leaders of the religious right were troubled by his infrequent church attendance and his wife’s interest in astrology. Although historians debate the nature of Reagan’s personal faith, they concur that he used religious rhetoric, discussed religious themes, and spoke to religious groups more than any other 20th-century president. Religion played a very important role in Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign. Reagan’s personal life was not a paragon of evangelical piety, but his worldview was strongly shaped by his understanding of biblical teaching. His faith affected many of his policies, most notably his endeavors to curb abortion, pass a school prayer amendment, secure tuition tax credits, and oppose communism.

Keywords:   abortion, astrology, church attendance, communism, 1984 election, prayer, school prayer amendment, religious rhetoric, religious right, tuition tax credits

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