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Reagan jokes about bombing Russia: A reminder of the power of our words

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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President Ronald Reagan shakes hands with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev
In this 1986 file photo, President Ronald Reagan shakes hands with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

The president of the United States, trying to make a joke amidst a group of reporters, came perilously close to setting off an international incident.

No, this is not a sentence about Donald Trump, or even any of the four presidents before him. Rather, it describes Ronald Reagan and a mic check gone awry thirty-six years ago today.

While preparing to deliver a scheduled radio address in 1984, Reagan said “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

And though the press and aides in attendance found the remark humorous, Democratic opposition leaders—many of whom were already a bit nervous as a result of Reagan’s rhetoric about the USSR—were less amused when word of the incident leaked.

As far as the Soviet response, it is unknown what their leaders thought of the joke, though, interestingly, they performed underground nuclear tests on the same day.

My point in mentioning this story today is not to decry Reagan’s humor in the midst of tense times or draw any comparisons to political leaders today (on either side of the aisle). Rather, it’s to simply remind us that we should never underestimate the power of our words.

The power of your words

Granted, few of us can unnerve nations with a single sentence to the same degree as the President of the United States. Still, every word we speak in the company of others has an impact on how they see us and, by extension, our Lord.

That doesn’t mean we need to go around as humorless monoliths who never joke, laugh, or give each other a hard time, but it does mean that we need to do our best to weigh our words in light of the impact they might have on others.

The best way to do that is to ask the Holy Spirit to help you guard your tongue and be aware of your circumstances. And if those circumstances happen to be in an online forum like Facebook or Twitter, know that you’re never really just talking to a single person.

Every word you post, you post to the world.

So the next time you log onto social media or call up a friend, take a second to pray first and ask God to help your words advance his kingdom.

It really can make a big difference.

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