Christmas 1981 — Ronald Reagan on the Christ child and the media.
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Tonight, in millions of American homes, the glow of the Christmas tree is a reflection of the love Jesus taught us. Like the shepherds and wise men of that first Christmas, we Americans have always tried to follow a higher light, a star, if you will. At lonely campfire vigils along the frontier, in the darkest days of the Great Depression, through war and peace, the twin beacons of faith and freedom have brightened the American sky. At times our footsteps may have faltered, but trusting in God’s help, we’ve never lost our way.
Isn’t that beautiful? It’s also so deliciously politically incorrect and anachronistic to modern eyes and ears. Reagan had invoked “the divinity of the Child born in Bethlehem,” the “helpless child” yet “promised Prince of Peace” who performed miracles — “a higher light, a star, if you will.” Americans needed to trust in God’s help and follow the “twin beacons of faith and freedom” that brighten our sky.
But, alas, that sentiment must have been dismissed as maudlin hogwash over at the Washington Post, where, the next day, those opening lines to Reagan’s speech were removed from the transcript printed in the newspaper. The Post opened with the fifth paragraph in the speech, a line about the Menorah and Hanukkah and the National Christmas Tree.
Yes, already, three decades ago, the elite media was carefully excising Christ from Christmas. Reagan had shared such a rich statement about the “child born in Bethlehem,” and the Washington Post expunged it.
Among those who noticed was the Rev. John Boyles, one of Reagan’s pastors at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington. Boyles sent a letter to the Post, protesting what he called an “anti-Christian bias.” In the letter, Boyles nicely underscored the odd similarity to the communist press in Poland, which had excised certain unwelcome lines from Pope John Paul II’s Christmas remarks on Poland.
Boyles wasn’t alone. In fact, the Post caught so much grief — or, as ombudsman Robert McCloskey put it, “caught hell” — that it eventually (a month later) publicly responded. The response, titled, “The Tyranny of Space,” lamely argued that the Post just simply didn’t have enough room for Reagan’s remarks about the Christ child at Christmas — which were about 100 words, among the probably 100,000 printed in the paper that day.
What did Ronald Reagan think of this?
Well, none of us knew — except for his pastor, John Boyles. And I’ve learned only recently, thanks to a Reagan letter shared with me by Boyles. (Boyles, for the record, will do our annual Ronald Reagan Lecture at Grove City College in February.) As usual, Reagan wasn’t mean or nasty or even slightly angry, and he also wasn’t surprised. He responded with his typical hope and optimism. The president wrote to Boyles:
The true spirit of Christmas is too often passed over in favor of materialism. Although the Washington Post chose not to reprint that portion of my speech in which I spoke of the Christ Child, the message was brought to millions via television. This is not the first time the editorial staff of The Post has marched to a different ideological drum!
I have a deep and abiding faith in this nation and its people. Whatever does or does not appear in the media will never be able to smother the love of God which burns so brightly in the hearts of most Americans.
Pure Reagan. Note the confidence in the American people, and in his ability to reach them regardless of the liberal media. And note, too, Reagan’s belief in the power of truth and our inherent yearning for God. The secular media cannot snuff out those forces.
That media is even worse today, far more antagonistic to religion, to Christianity, to Christmas, and to the Christ child at Christmas. Yet, regardless of what the media says or doesn’t say, prints or doesn’t print, it can never smother the love of God that burns in our hearts, especially at Christmas time.
A timely message from Ronald Reagan. Merry Christmas, everyone.