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Ronald Reagan made one last effort to convert dying father-in-law

Joseph Sohm
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Newly discovered letter to atheist father of Nancy Reagan may have had some effect

A newly-uncovered letter penned by President Ronald Reagan offers a glimpse into the 40th president religious faith.

The letter was dashed off to Reagan’s father-in-law, Loyal Davis, as the professed atheist Davis lay on his deathbed.

According to the former First Lady, Davis called for a hospital chaplain before his death, a few days after Reagan’s letter arrived.

“Nancy Reagan, who was with Loyal Davis when he died, and who saved the letter he received from his son-in-law, would later claim that her father did turn to God at the end of his life,” wrote Karen Tumulty, who came across the letter in a box of Nancy Reagan’s personal effects and wrote about her find in the Washington Post Friday. “Two days before his death on Aug. 19, 1982, Davis sought out a hospital chaplain, and prayed with him, Nancy said. ‘I noticed he was calmer and not as frightened.'”

Tumulty is a Washington Post columnist covering national politics.

Reagan, who signed the missive “Love, Ronnie,” acknowledged his father-in-law’s skepticism, even as he presented arguments for the truth of the Christian faith:

Loyal I know of your feeling — your doubt but could I just impose on you a little longer? Some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ the ancient Jewish prophets predicted the coming of a Messiah. They said he would be born in a lowly place, would proclaim himself the Son of God and would be put to death for saying that.

All in all there were a total of one hundred and twenty three specific prophesys [sic] about his life all of which came true. Crucifixion was unknown in those times, yet it was foretold that he would be nailed to a cross of wood. And one of the predictions was that he would be born of a Virgin.

Now I know that is probably the hardest for you as a Dr. to accept. The only answer that can be given is — a miracle. But Loyal I don’t find that as great a miracle as the actual history of his life. Either he was who he said he was or he was the greatest faker & charlatan who ever lived. But would a liar & faker suffer the death he did when all he had to do to save himself was admit he’d been lying?

And yet, Reagan argued, Christ would change history.

We have been promised that all we have to do is ask God in Jesus name to help when we have done all we can — when we’ve come to the end of our strength and abilities and we’ll have that help. We only have to trust and have faith in his infinite goodness and mercy.

Loyal, you and Edith have known a great love — more than many have been permitted to know. That love will not end with the end of this life. We’ve been promised this is only a part of life and that a greater life, a greater glory awaits us. It awaits you together one day and all that is required is that you believe and tell God you put yourself in his hands.

With all the worries that world events threw his way, Reagan still considered it important to give it one last try to help a dying man turn to God.

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