Following up on last week’s photo of two Brethren in Christ leaders with a familiar evangelist, this week’s Photo Friday installment shows Arthur Climenhaga — former bishop of the Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) and fifth president of Messiah College — shaking hands with Ronald Reagan at a gathering of the National Association of Evangelicals on March 8, 1983.
Those of you up on your recent U.S. history may recognize that date: it’s when Reagan delivered his infamous “Evil Empire” speech, a controversial jeremiad on the decline of American morality in the face of secularism, communism, and civilian docility.
Today, reading Reagan’s speech, my mind naturally turned toward the Brethren in Christ leader in the audience. I don’t know much about Climenhaga’s perspective on the church’s peace position, though I’m tempted to believe he “towed the company line,” so to speak. What must have been going through his mind as he listened to the Commander in Chief promote “find[ing] peace through [military] strength”? How did he respond to this point in Reagan’s speech, when the President conflated the quest for peace with a John Wayne approach to international diplomacy:
I intend to do everything I can to persuade them of our peaceful intent, to remind them that it was the West that refused to use its nuclear monopoly in the forties and fifties for territorial gain and which now proposes 50-percent cut in strategic ballistic missiles and the elimination of an entire class of land-based, intermediate-range nuclear missiles.
At the same time, however, they must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards. We will never give away our freedom. We will never abandon our belief in God. And we will never stop searching for a genuine peace. But we can assure none of these things America stands for through the so-called nuclear freeze . . . (emphasis mine)
Read the entirety of Reagan’s speech here, or watch the video below. (You can catch a quick glimpse of Climenhaga seated with other NAE officials on the stage behind Reagan about :49/:50 in.)