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Revisiting a 'shining city on a hill'

By Associated Press
Published June 12, 2004

WASHINGTON - Drawing from Ronald Reagan's famous vision of America as a "shining city on a hill," the Rev. John C. Danforth reassured Americans that light will prevail over darkness even in these uncertain times.

Delivering the homily at the late president's funeral, the former Missouri senator read from the New Testament's "Sermon on the Mount," Reagan's favorite Biblical theme.

The Gospel of Matthew, 5:14-16, reads, "You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hid," a passage that Reagan often quoted in his speeches to project his view of America as a beacon of freedom and hope in the world.

"If ever we have known a child of light, it was Ronald Reagan," Danforth said. "He had no dark side, no scary hidden agenda."

Seeking to reassure a nation in mourning, Danforth said, people can learn from the late president's example, even amid the new uncertainties of terrorism and war that he could not foresee:

"Darkness is real, and it can be terrifying, sometimes it seems to be everywhere . . . The question for us is what do we do when darkness surrounds us. Saint Paul answered that question. He said we must walk as children of light."

"President Reagan taught us that this is our mission both as individuals and as a nation," he said.


Former President Ronald Reagan also was inspired by a 1630 sermon of John Winthrop's, which was based on the same "city upon a hill" scripture from Matthew 5:14. At Reagan's request years ago, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor read from Winthrop's sermon Friday. This is an excerpt: "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world." In 1629, Winthrop was chosen governor of a proposed English colony at Massachusetts Bay in America. He arrived in 1630 at Salem and led hundreds of colonists to what would later become Boston. A fervent Puritan, Winthrop's imagery of the model Christian society as a city on a hill became an American literary and political motif.

- Sources: Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989), Columbia Encyclopedia, Christian History Institute, Associated Press.

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