Ezra Taft Benson, Ronald Reagan, and the Undying Russian Religious Spirit
In the Fall of 1959, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, along with family and staff members, toured the Soviet Union. From the moment he arrived, Secretary Benson requested to be able to visit any Christian church in Moscow, all the while fearing that his KGB handlers would never allow such a thing to happen.
As his entourage left for the airport to depart the country, Benson asked one more time for permission to visit one of the churches. To his surprise, he and his group were allowed to make a quick visit to one of them. The church was filled to overflowing. An American newsman that accompanied them said
Every face in the old sanctuary gaped incredulously as our obviously American group was led down the aisle. . . . Their wrinkled old faces looked at us pleadingly. They reached out to touch us almost as one would reach out for the last final caress of one's most-beloved just before the casket is lowered. . . . They gripped our hands like frightened children.
Even more to Secretary Benson's surprise, the church minister invited him to speak. Here is what unfolded:
"Our Heavenly Father is not far away," [Benson told them]. He is our Father. Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the World, watches over this earth. . . . Be unafraid, keep His commandments, love one another, pray for peace, and all will be well."
People openly wept. They nodded their heads in agreement. "This life is only a span of eternity, " he continued. "We lived before we came here. . . . We will live again after we leave this life. . . ." Though he was very careful, he could not resist revealing his personal testimony. He said, "I believe very firmly in prayer. I know it is possible to reach out and tap that Unseen Power which gives us strength and [is] such an anchor in time of need. . . . I leave you my witness as a church servant for many years that the truth will endure. Time is on the side of truth. God bless you and keep you all the days of your life."
In 1982, one of Ronald Reagan's first priorities as President of the United States was to encourage the people behind the Iron Curtain to throw off the chains of their slavery. Reagan signed the secret National Security Decision Directive 32 that encouraged a wide range of US assistance to the people in the Warsaw Pact countries in securing their God-given rights and liberties. Three years before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the Reagan Administration's reaching out began to have a definite, though covert, effect on the citizenry of such countries as the Soviet Union, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.
In her book, Hand of Providence, Mary Beth Brown describes what began to happen.
In a 1983 speech...Reagan commented on the resurgence of Christianity in the Soviet Union. "Think of it," he boldly stated. "The most awesome military machine in history, but it is no match for that one, single man, [a] hero, [the] strong yet tender, Prince of Peace. His name alone, Jesus, can lift our hearts, soothe our sorrows, heal our wounds, and drive away our fears..."
In that same year
...a group of Youth With a Mission daredevils unfolded a banner on Easter Sunday morning in Red Square: 'Christ is Risen!' it read in Russian. Some older Russians fell to their knees and wept. Soldiers soon surrounded the hymn-singing troublemakers, tore up their banner, and hustled them off to jail. Less than a decade after that act of civil disobedience, all over Red Square on Easter Sunday people were greeting each other in the traditional way, 'Christ is risen!...He is risen indeed!' Being jailed for one's faith was a thing of the past.
In a 1994 letter, Reagan wrote in a letter to Margaret Thatcher that he felt that "the Lord brought us together for a profound purpose."
Those not attuned to the spirit of God have a much more difficult time seeing how much religion--and not just politics--influenced Ronald Reagan's life.
Ezra Taft Benson had the same qualities. Both statesmen were--and have since been--reviled for those qualities. Curmudgeons like George W. Bush have unsuccessfully pretended to emulate those qualities.
Ronald Reagan and Ezra Taft Benson saw the same thing in the Russian people--that no one else could extinguish--their undying devotion to God. In one of those not-so-surprising quirks of history, Ezra Taft Benson was the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when President Ronald Reagan asked Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall".
When the Berlin Wall fell, one of the greatest shocks to Communist leaders behind the former Iron Curtain was the realization that millions of their former subjects still not only believed in God, but now openly worshiped him. But to those who were paying attention--people such as Ronald Reagan and Ezra Taft Benson--it was no surprise at all.