Having your name appear in positive proximity to Ronald Reagan is considered a jewel in most conservative crowns. Donn Moomaw had the unique distinction of serving as Reagan’s pastor when he was an actor, governor of California and President of the United States. Their relationship and the insights it might provide to better understand Reagan’s Christian faith, has long been of interest to many. Moomaw’s grandson provides an unprecedented view by making public Reagan and Moomaw’s private correspondence.
Meet Phoenix Moomaw. He just graduated from high school on June 13, 2015. I tell you that because when you listen to this articulate, intellectually integrated, sophisticated, analytical thinking young man, it will be difficult for you to believe that he’s not yet in college. The incoming class (and professors) of Northeastern University might want to prepare themselves.
In his senior project for The Bear Creek School, the younger Moomaw analyzes a cache of correspondence discovered abandoned in the garage of his grandparents’ last home to discover the nature of Ronald Reagan’s faith.
Of particular interest to me as Presbyterian is the portion of the interview (at min. 25:35) where Phoenix reads aloud from a letter from Reagan to Moomaw discussing the failure of the Presbyterian Church to understand the nature of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
In the late seventies and throughout the eighties, the Presbyterian Church aligned itself with the Sandinistas. The denomination refused to believe any evidence contrary to their own pro-liberation theology narrative. They refused to believe that the Sandinista regime was abusive, repressive and murderous.
The correspondence revealed by Phoenix Moomaw makes clear that Donn Moomaw knew the truth, directly from Reagan.
Reading aloud from the content of one letter from Reagan to Moomaw, reporting by The Layman was confirmed.
I don’t mean to be-labor you but these two articles are very definitely confirmed by our own intelligence and on the spot observations. There is no question but that the Sandanistas have a very sophisticated disinformation network which seems to have taken over much of our news media. You’ll recall that I told you of meeting the clergyman whose ears had been cut off. His story is in the enclosed clipping. I also met with one whose face was a gargoyle mask the result of burns as part of his torture.
Well, enough already. Nancy sends her love. (25:35-26:18 on the podcast)
Phoenix explains that “There was a large period of time where the Presbyterian Church in America was not seeing much of the abuse that was going on in the Sandinista regime and the Reagan administration was maintaining a lot of their ‘no they’re Communists,’ ‘no they’re repressing their people,’ and all of this.”
This one letter is part of a larger exchange between Reagan and Moomaw seeking to establish whether or not the Sandinistas were oppressing people. Reagan kept affirming the intelligence in hand and pointing out that the Presbyterians were “falling prey to the misinformation campaigns.”
The Layman was the only news outlet working to counter the misinformation and propaganda being distributed by the denomination.
- Nicaraguan propaganda unmasked
- Nicaragua’s church is undergoing systematic destruction by Sandinistas
- Misunderstandings about Nicaragua
- Central America report approved
- Sandinistas repressive
- NCC defends aid to Sandinistas – rights violations in Nicaragua
The Presbyterian Church (USA) at its General Assembly meeting in 1983 created “the Presbyterian Advocates” which was a national network of 2600 people who would be signaled by the denomination’s Washington Office to call members of Congress when legislation to end American aid to the anti-Sandinista guerrillas was targeted. All this while Moomaw, the President’s pastor, had in his hands intelligence confirming the atrocities being committed by the Sandinistas.
The President clearly hoped that he had his own pastor’s ear and that Moomaw would use his considerable leadership equity as the pastor of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church to educate and mitigate his denomination. Moomaw’s grandson alludes to the fact that his grandfather saw things in precisely the reverse. While interviewing his grandfather for this project, Phoenix recalls that the elder Moomaw “didn’t think anything he ever said to Reagan ever convinced him to change his mind.”
That gets to the thesis of this Classical Christian high school senior project wherein Phoenix Moomaw seeks to uncover the answer to the question, “Was Reagan’s faith authentic?”
Researching Reagan’s faith
1st Q: was Reagan’s faith really authentic?
Phoenix “used a C.S. Lewis definition of Christian that requires not that you necessarily see change within a person but that you are actively seeking God.” From that perspective, Phoenix concludes that Reagan’s faith was “a devout Christian.”
For “insights beyond the documents, beyond the speeches, beyond the rhetoric,” the younger Moomaw interviewed his grandfather. The pastor told the researcher that on the fundamentals of “prayer, church, heaven and the authority of the Word of God,” Reagan had firm foundations and personal practices.
All this evidence comes not from public appearances but private conversations, consultations, and correspondence between pastor and parishioner. That, Phoenix affirms, confirmed the authenticity of Reagan’s faith and pursuit of God throughout his presidency.