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Photo Friday: A Tale of Two Presidents

Brethren in Christ church leader Arthur Climenhaga (right) shakes hands with Ronald Reagan during a National Association of Evangelicals convention in 1983. (Courtesy of the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

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.)


3 responses to “Photo Friday: A Tale of Two Presidents

  1. Devin–thanks for this post. I am Donna (Climenhaga) Wenger–and Arthur was my uncle. I did not realize Reagan delivered his “famous” Evil Empire speech at an NAE event.

    You wondered what Arthur might have thought. I suspect (but don’t know) that he would not necessarily have seen a conflict between the BIC peace position and Reagan’s articulation of “peace through military strength” doctrine.

    1. Donna: Thanks for your comment, and for introducing yourself. I had the privilege of meeting your father, David Climenhaga, recently; I interviewed him and his wife, Verna Mae, as part of my research for an upcoming article on the BIC attitude toward film. (He actually shared with me a piece from your blog on film-watching… a piece that may just make its way into my final product!)

      I’m glad to have you as a reader of “the search for piety and obedience”!

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