Wednesday, March 11, 2009

President Reagan Witnessed to Gorbachev

On Saturday, I took my son to the library to check out some videos and let him hang out in the children’s area. To occupy my time, I picked up a copy of Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal and came across an article entitled “Did Reagan Try to Convert Gorbachev?” Well, I don’t know if he converted Gorbachev, but he certainly witnessed to him. Can you imagine the outrage if this had hit the press at the time, or if he was President today and it made the news. How dare he. What about the separation between church and state. My take, way to go Mr. President.

The Journal’s article is very lengthy, but this excerpt provides the heart of the witness encounter:

"The President asked Gorbachev what if he ruled that religious freedom was part of the people's rights, that people of any religion -- whether Islam with its mosque, the Jewish faith, Protestants or the Ukrainian Church -- could go to the church of their choice."

Gorbachev deflected this question . . . .

Reagan then ventured further, taking a step that quite a few Americans would have found objectionable. The president switched from seeking to persuade Gorbachev of the value of religious tolerance to promoting a belief in God. Reagan did so by telling one of his trademark stories.

According to the notes of their meeting:

The president said he had a letter from the widow of a young World War II soldier. He was lying in a shell hole at midnight, awaiting an order to attack. He had never been a believer, because he had been told God did not exist. But as he looked up at the stars he voiced a prayer hoping that, if he died in battle, God would accept him. That piece of paper was found on the body of a young Russian soldier who was killed in that battle.

Gorbachev tried to switch the subject. Perhaps the United States and the Soviet Union might open the way for greater cooperation in space, he told the president. But the president wasn't to be diverted. According to the transcript, Reagan told Gorbachev that space was in the direction of heaven, but not as close to heaven as some other things that they had been discussing.

As the meeting ended, Reagan became even more direct and personal. He noted that his own son Ron did not believe in God either. "The President concluded that there was one thing he had long yearned to do for his atheist son. He wanted to serve his son the perfect gourmet dinner, to have him enjoy the meal, and then to ask him if he believed there was a cook."

Of the two American notetakers who were present for this extraordinary conversation, one took Reagan's effort at face value. "Reagan thought he could convert Gorbachev, or make him see the light," said Rudolf Perina, who was then the director of Soviet affairs on the National Security Council in a 2005 interview.

Whether this approach was effective is debatable. Maybe President Reagan moved Gorbachev from being an atheist to becoming an agnostic. Too bad he did not receive training from Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron and the others at Way of the Master.

Gorbachev: President Reagan, we’ve made a lot of progress over the years, but you really need to tone down your “Star Wars” plan. My comrades at the Kremlin aren’t happy.

President Reagan: Mick, since, you mentioned “Star Wars,” do you think Heaven is real.

Gorbachev: You know I am the leader of the Communist Party, as Atheists we don’t believe in Heaven.

Reagan: If Heaven were real, are you good enough to go there.

Gorbachev: Of course, I am. Glasnost and Perestroika were all my ideas. I most certainly am a good person.

Reagan: Mick – you don’t mind me calling you Mick - have you ever told a lie.

Gorbachev: No.

Reagan: Are you sure about that. What about that speech three months ago.

Gorbachev: Oh yeah, I forgot about that. You got me.

Reagan: What does that make you.

Gorbachev: A liar.

Reagan: Have you stolen anything, no matter how small.

And President Reagan could have gone on from there. Maybe one day the archives will reveal that President Bush or even President Obama engaged in a similar conversation with Mr. Putin.

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