Phoenix Moomaw on Ronald Reagan’s Faith (Our 250th Episode!)
Date: June 28th, 2015

For our annual Fourth of July show, and our 250th episode, we invite our very first freshly-minted high school graduate, Phoenix Moomaw of The Bear Creek School, to discuss his recently completed senior project investigating the faith of President Ronald Reagan.  Phoenix is well-positioned for this research project given that his grandfather — Donn Moomaw — was Ronald Reagan’s pastor at Bel Air Presbyterian Church from the time that Reagan was an actor, his tenure as governor of California, and during the White House years.  To add to this, Phoenix’s family discovered a set of letters written by Ronald Reagan that had previously gone undiscovered and uses this correspondence (dating form the governorship and presidency years) to build his thesis.

We begin the discussion talking about the nature of Mr. Moomaw’s senior project.  He provides his school’s rationale for requiring such a project and mentions a few of the other activities his classmates did.  He then talks about how he came about his project in particular.  The impetus for his investigation of Reagan’s faith was prompted by the discovery of several folders of letters in his grandfather’s garage that dated back to the 1960s and 1980s.  He takes time to give us a taste of these letters and reads one them related to the treatments of Presbyterians under the Sandinista regime.  Phoenix’s desire to scan these discovered documents to pass around to his family then became a project designed to determine how much of an influence religion played in Reagan’s life, and we walk through the steps of his research project discussing his three days spent in the archives at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.  It is also noted during the interview that Phoenix relied upon personal discussions with his grandfather about his recollections of Reagan, including a time when Reagan reached out to Rev. Moomaw regarding a decision whether or not to pardon a death row inmate.

Phoenix’s principal research question was to determine how authentic Reagan’s faith was and how this played out in actual policy decisions.  He uses as his basis for analysis C.S. Lewis’s theological test of true faith put forth in Mere Christianity, and Richard Neibuhr’s concept of “Christ above culture” in his book Christ and Culture.  He explains both of these concepts for listeners.  As for the former, Phoenix notes that Reagan did have an authentic faith as a “mere Christian.”   Reagan also saw a place for religion and politics and maintained a moral compass for the nation.  The analysis of whether Reagan was “Christ above culture” is more nuanced given that this concept holds up a standard that is separated from culture, but one that attempts to influence culture.  Phoenix notes how difficult it is for a president to live according to this standard.  Phoenix’s grandfather noted that Reagan did not want to talk theology much and did not believe he could influence culture much.  Phoenix concludes from this that Reagan entered into office with a strong religious background, but as time wore on his beliefs were shaped by his office and he lost sight of much of big picture that he entered the White House with, becoming mired in daily decisions.  Even though Reagan did pray over these difficult decisions, it was difficult to hold to the “Christ above culture” standard.  We reflect upon how difficult this is for all of us.  Recorded: June 24, 2015.



The Bear Creek School.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, CA.

Christ and Culture, by Richard Neibuhr (as mentioned in podcast).


Gary Scott Smith on Presidential Faith.

Douglas Baker on Dominionism, Michele Bachman, and Rick Perry.

Mark David Hall on Religious Minorities in the U.S. Founding.

Mark David Hall on Roger Sherman, Puritan Patriot.

Mark David Hall on Religion and the Founding Fathers.

Should Christians Have Fought the US War of Independence.

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