Remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Religious Broadcasters Association

 

February 1, 1988

 

Thank you all very much, and thank you for recognizing the greatest blessing that God has bestowed on me. Thank you, Dr. Robert Cook, Dr. Ben Armstrong, Dr. Thomas Zimmerman, Dr. Sam Hart. And by the way, Dr. Hart, I wish I could have delivered my greetings in person at the Grand Old Gospel Fellowship celebration at the Constitution's bicentennial. I understand it was a great event.

 

It was in 1921 that the healing words of the Gospel first flew like angels over America's airwaves. Since then, religious broadcasting has been a pillar of radio and television in our nation. This programming has helped God's message of salvation enter into millions of lives not just in the United States but in virtually every country of the globe.

 

Of course, it hasn't always been easy. In the past year your critics -- and I can't help noticing how often they're my critics, too -- [laughter] -- your critics have delighted in taking the actions of an isolated few and portraying all broadcast preachers in that light. It won't work.

 

Long before the revelations about one ministry, you were busy assembling a board of ethics and a code of conduct for your entire field. And you have shown that integrity is a cornerstone of your ministries and are preparing so that in the year 2033 your successors, and maybe many of you, will meet to mark another 45 years of service with accountability to God and man. And I'll tell you what. You make that celebration, and I'll try to make it, too. [Laughter] I've already lived some 23 years beyond my life expectancy when I was born -- that's a source of annoyance to a great many people in this town. [Laughter]

 

Today America is in the midst of a spiritual revival. From the growth of your radio and television stations to the polls of George Gallup, we see the signs of Americans returning to God. On our campuses the political activism of the sixties has been replaced with the religious commitment of the eighties. Organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Youth for Christ have grown in popularity. And why not, your message is rooted in one sure guide for life, the guide for our Founding Fathers and every generation of Americans as much as for ourselves, the infallible wellspring of our national goodness: the Bible, the inspired word of God.

 

How ironic that even as America returns to its spiritual roots, our courts lag behind. They talk of our constitutional guarantee of religious liberty as if it meant freedom from religion, freedom from -- actually a prohibition on -- all values rooted in religion. Well, yes, the Constitution does say that ``Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.'' But then it adds: ``or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.''

 

The first amendment protects the rights of Americans to freely exercise their religious beliefs in an atmosphere of toleration and accommodation. As I have noted in the past, certain court decisions have, in my view, wrongly interpreted the first amendment so as to restrict, rather than protect, individual rights of conscience. What greater legacy could we leave our children than a new birth of religious freedom in this one nation under God? Now, I hear the smart money in this town say we haven't got a prayer, but somehow I believe the man upstairs is listening and that He'll show us how to return to America's schoolchildren the right that every member of Congress has: to begin each day with a simple, voluntary prayer.

 

At the heart of our Judeo-Christian ethic is a reverence for life. From the Ten Commandments to the Sermon on the Mount, the mission of faith is to cherish and magnify life -- and through it God's holy name. Yet since the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, there have been 20 million abortions in America. And as the Bloomington baby case showed, this callousness for life can spill over into other areas, leading to decisions on who is good enough to live and who is not.

 

All we know about the human spirit contradicts this mechanistic, materialistic view of man. Perhaps you saw in the papers recently the story of a young Irish author, Christy Nolan, who has received one of Britain's most coveted literary awards, the Whitbread Book of the Year award. Some say he's the new James Joyce. Little, except talent, is extraordinary here -- talent and the terrible fact that complications at birth left Christy Nolan totally paralyzed. He cannot walk, talk, or control his limbs. He writes using what he calls a unicorn stick attached to his forehead, pecking out the words on a typewriter, a page a day. In his message accepting the award, Christy Nolan wrote: ``Imagine what I would have missed if the doctors had not revived me on that September day long ago.''

 

Imagine what so many deemed unworthy of life have missed. Imagine what the rest of us have missed for their absence. Life and the human spirit are absolutes, indivisible. Isn't it time we returned the right to life to the core of our national values, our national customs, and our national laws? [Applause]

 

Our administration is issuing regulations to deny title X family planning money for the support of abortion counseling, abortion promotion, and abortion services. Now, there's going to be a big fight on this, so let me ask you: Can I count on your help to make the regulations stick? [Applause] Well, that's what I thought you'd say. [Laughter]

 

There's something else I need your help on, and that's getting Congress to stand by its commitment to the cause of freedom and against the consolidation of a Communist regime in Nicaragua. In approving $100 million in aid to the freedom fighters in 1986, Congress laid down certain preconditions for renewing aid this year, including remindments [requirements] that the freedom fighters demonstrate that they are a proficient fighting force and that they show they have popular backing. Well, in truth, many who voted for those conditions believed there was no way the freedom fighters could meet them, not in the short time they had. They thought they'd found an easy way to get out of further support without taking blame. But the freedom fighters met those conditions.

 

Now we hear that further aid will jeopardize the peace process. By that reasoning, deploying the Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe should have led to the end of the intermediate nuclear force talks, and in fact, many who now oppose aid to the freedom fighters said it would. But the Senate is now debating ratification of that first agreement ever to eliminate an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons. The principle is the same. Peace doesn't come through the weakness of America and its democratic allies: Peace and freedom come through strength.

 

We're told that the Sandinistas have at last made hopeful confessions -- concessions, I should say -- [laughter] -- they could well make some confessions -- [laughter] -- so more aid would be counterproductive. The problem here is what we've seen over and over again: that the Sandinistas stick to their word only if it's convenient or they're threatened. In 1979, when the Sandinistas came to power with American help, they pledged to President Carter that they would install a pluralistic, democratic government. But even as they were making that promise, they were drafting a blueprint for rule -- what is now called the 72-hour document because it came out of a secret 3-day meeting. In it they said that the broad coalition government was only a front to, in their words, ``neutralize Yankee intervention.''

 

In other words, the coalition and the promises about democracy the Sandinistas made to the Organization of American States and to us were falsehoods, lies. And we swallowed them. We gave the Sandinistas $118 million over the next 18 months, even as they brought in Soviet and Cuban advisers, began supplying Communist guerrillas in El Salvador and elsewhere, and started to install Communist tyranny in Nicaragua.

 

The falsehoods have continued. Just over a week ago, I received a letter from Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega in which he said that Nicaragua allows ``the full and unrestricted exercise of freedom of speech, debate, and association.'' Well, just about the time that letter arrived at the White House, in Nicaragua, Sandinista thugs attacked a meeting of mothers of political prisoners.

 

In October I raised this issue of promises broken when I addressed the Organization of American States. I was particularly concerned about the promises made in 1979 to bring democracy to Nicaragua. A month later, from the same platform, Daniel Ortega replied to me. He said that the pledges of democracy, of individual liberty, of a mixed economy, of freedom of press and religion were -- here's his word: ``inexistent.'' Why? Because a political pledge did not have -- again from his speech to the OAS -- ``the force of a legal commitment.'' Well, he should have been a Hollywood producer. No, so one question must be answered: Sandinista promises of the past have been broken; can we believe them now?

 

The Sandinista steps toward peace and democratization can be reversed once the pressure from the freedom fighters is removed. The five democratic Presidents of Central America affirmed just weeks ago that the Sandinistas have failed to comply with the regional peace plan. Indeed, the Sandinistas haven't made one concession on their own without a threat hanging over them. And again and again the Sandinistas have shown themselves students of what Lenin said: that ``telling the truth is a bourgeois prejudice.'' It's just this simple: The way to democracy and peace in Nicaragua is to keep the pressure on the Sandinistas taking irreversible steps to comply with the regional peace plan, and giving aid to the freedom fighters now.

 

You know, the more objections I hear from our critics about aid to the freedom fighters, the more I think of the story of that fellow who went into the Army. I bet you were wondering when I would get to a story. [Laughter] The fellow spent hours in boot camp on the firing range learning to shoot. And when he was done with boot camp, they gave him one of those medals that says Marksman on it. He went home -- very proud -- on leave, and near the edge of town he saw somebody's homemade firing range -- a wall, and on the wall lots of chalked bull's-eyes, and in the middle of every bull's-eye a bullet hole. Well, he wanted to see who could shoot like that, and finally he tracked him down -- a 7-year-old boy. And he asked the boy, ``How did you do that?'' The boy answered, ``I take my gun; I line up my sights; and I pull the trigger. Then I take my chalk, and I draw a circle around the hole.'' [Laughter]

 

Well, that's how on target the criticisms of aid to the freedom fighters are. It's time for us to face why, even as the five Central American countries search for peace, the Soviet-bloc continues to pour billions in tanks, bullets, and other assistance into Nicaragua. To quote one of our leading national strategists, Zbigniew Brzezinski: ``Potentially at stake in Central America is America's capacity to defend Western interests throughout the world.'' And he adds: ``If the Soviet-Cuban presence in Nicaragua destabilizes the entire region, the United States will inevitably pull back'' from Europe and the Pacific to defend our border. Our choice is whether to remove U.S. assistance to the freedom fighters, but is there any discussion about removing Soviet assistance to the Sandinista regime?

 

But there's something more than security at stake: freedom. Religious persecution under the Communist Sandinistas has been persistent and often brutal -- Jews, Catholics, evangelical Christians, and others -- all have suffered. Perhaps you know the story of Prudencio Baltodano, a father, a farmer, and an evangelical man of God. Sandinista soldiers tied him to a tree, struck him in the forehead with a rifle butt, stabbed him in the neck with a bayonet, and then cut off his ears. ``See if your God will save you,'' they jeered as they left him for dead. Well, God did save Prudencio Baltodano. He found his way to Costa Rica and then to the United States. Recently his wife and children were located in a refugee camp in Costa Rica, and through the efforts of the church located here in the Washington area, the family was reunited here in the United States. And Prudencio Baltodano is with us today. Senor Baltodano.

 

Let me tell you one other story of Sandinista religious repression. I mentioned Campus Crusade for Christ earlier. In late 1985 the Crusade's national director for Nicaragua, Jimmy Hassan, was arrested. For hours, he was harassed, questioned, and put in a tiny cell, questioned again, placed in a cold room, questioned yet again, and had a gun put to his head and the trigger pulled. Thank goodness the gun was empty. The reason for all this: He had been preaching the Gospel to young people. But that's not why I'm telling you his story. No, I thought you'd want to hear his account of what he said to one of his captors when, after hours of interrogation and humiliation, he was released: ``I said to him I wanted to leave it clear that as a Christian I loved him, and I wanted him to know Christ.''

 

Is there any force on Earth more powerful than that love? Is there any truth that gives more strength than knowing that God has a special plan for each one of us? Yes, man is sinful, separated from God. But there is God's promise of salvation, even for the least likely of us.

 

A few weeks ago I received a letter from a family in Wisconsin. The woman who wrote the letter is a widow, her husband was killed in World War II. They enclosed with the letter this prayer:

 

Hear me, Oh God; never in the whole of my lifetime have I spoken to You, but just now I feel like sending You my greetings.

 

You know, from childhood on, they've always told me You are not. I, like a fool, believed them.

 

I've never contemplated your creation, and yet tonight, gazing up out of my shell hole, I marveled at the shimmering stars above me and suddenly knew the cruelty of the lie.

 

Will You, my God, reach your hand out to me, I wonder? But I will tell You, and You will understand. Is it not strange that light should come upon me and I see You amid this night of hell?

 

And there is nothing else I have to say. This, though: I'm glad that I've learned to know You.

 

At midnight we are scheduled to attack. But You are looking on, and I am not afraid.

 

The signal. Well, I guess I must be going. I've been happy with You.

 

This more I want to say: As You well know, the fighting will be cruel, and even tonight I may come knocking at your door. Although I have not been a friend to You before, still, will You let me enter now, when I do come?

 

Why, I am crying, O God, my Lord. You see what happens to me: Tonight my eyes were opened.

 

Farewell, my God. I'm going and not likely to come back. Strange, is it not, but death I fear no longer.

 

That young man did die in that attack, and that prayer was found on the body of a young Soviet soldier who was killed in that combat in 1944.

 

Thank you all so very much. Usually speaking to an audience I add a God bless you, but I know God already has blessed all of you. Thank you very much.

 

Note: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. in the main ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to Robert A. Cook and Ben Armstrong, president and executive director of the National Religious Broadcasters, respectively; Thomas A. Zimmerman, president of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization; and B. Sam Hart, president of the Grand Old Gospel Fellowship. Prior to the President's remarks, Mrs. Reagan was given the Foster Grandparents Award.