News of First Lady Nancy Reagan’s dabbling with astrology dominated the headlines this spring after the publication of former White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan’s new book. Yet both the First Lady and President Reagan testified to a more traditional source of inspiration in separate appearances at this summer’s Youth for Christ’s [YFC] DC ‘88 Student Congress on Evangelism.

The Reagans have seldom spoken together at the same function, leading some observers to suggest their appearance was intended to deflect criticism from the Religious Right about the astrology issue. And some youth workers at the convention questioned YFC’s judgment in giving the Reagans such a pulpit. Nevertheless, few critics could be found among the 8,000 students who attended.

From The Heart

Mrs. Reagan, an intensely private person, chose the Washington gathering to speak for the first time publicly about her father’s spiritual experience near the time of his death. The First Lady told the young delegates how her father, as a boy, had unfairly lost a Sunday school contest to a minister’s child. “Feeling wronged and disillusioned, [he] allowed no place for faith in his life for the next 80 years,” she said.

However, at the end of his life, Mrs. Reagan said her father was “terribly frightened,” reluctant even to go to sleep “for fear he wouldn’t awake.”

“My husband wrote him two long letters explaining the encompassing comfort he’d receive if he’d just put himself in the Lord’s hands,” she said.

Mrs. Reagan said that two days before he died, her father asked to see the hospital chaplain. Moved to tears, the First Lady said, “I don’t know what the chaplain did or what he said, but whatever it was, it was the right thing, and it gave my father comfort.… When he died … he was at peace, finally.

“The reason I tell you this story is because you … are so fortunate that you’ve found a strong faith at an early age.”

Youth for Christ gave the First Lady an award for her battle against drug abuse. She enlisted the help of the group in her fight. “You are the role models for others,” she said.

Fatherly Advice

President Reagan made his appearance the following day and was greeted enthusiastically. Speaking about the importance of “moral and religious values,” Reagan said that while “in recent years America did seem to lose some of her religious and moral bearings,” he believes that is now changing for the better.

Proclaiming that his administration has “worked hard to reflect this return to basic values,” the President listed several executive efforts, including opposition to abortion, legislation against pornography, the as-yet unsuccessful push for school prayer, and the passage of the Equal Access Act of 1984, which allows voluntary religious groups to meet at schools on the same basis as other groups. This was especially well received because Youth for Christ’s Campus Life clubs meet at local high schools.

In a personal note, the President advised the young people to avoid premarital sex. “It’s so important for you not to pay any attention to all those who say that promiscuity is somehow stylish or rewarding,” Reagan said. “You can start being true to that special person [you will marry] right now.”

Organizers said the 8,000 delegates attending the conference came from all 50 states and nine foreign countries. Spokesman Jim Patterson said DC ‘88 was designed to encourage young people to mature in their own faith and share their beliefs with friends.

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