Reflections on Providence and July 4th, by Doug Stringer

Reflecting on this July 4th, I’m reminded of how much I have to be grateful for. I’m grateful for all the sacrifices made by so many for the liberties and freedoms we all enjoy today.

I’m also reminded by the words of our first President, George Washington. “We have God to thank for America’s Birthday.” He also said, “No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”

Many will greet one another with a “Happy 4th of July”, will display flags, have BBQ’s, picnics, attend parties and of course, watch the magnificent displays of fireworks. I wonder though, just how many will actually comprehend the history and price paid for the liberties we enjoy so much?

It seems we live in a land of paradoxes. We are all the beneficiaries of the foundations laid, through many a price paid and sacrifices made, by which we enjoy the Liberties and Freedoms in our nation. Yet, many forget the roots of those foundations. We are witnessing the inclination to casually disregard what previous generations have held to be of fundamental importance.

Let us not only greet one another with a “Happy 4th” or “Independence Day”, but may we have a deep gratitude and appreciation for those who sacrificed for us to have them. May we also be keenly aware of just how volatile our liberties and freedoms are. They must not be taken for granted, but stewarded with respect and a sense of responsibility…lest we find ourselves losing the very things we have so cherished.

President Ronald Reagan once said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Our founding fathers understood that freedom naturally decays as societies expand unless people of principle defend it. That tendency has been true at every point in human history and always will be. The government has the necessary role of defending our liberty, free speech, the right to property, but virtue can become a vice when it attempts too much. We must be watchful to ensure that the government’s good intentions don’t become the overreach that becomes tyranny.

In our freedoms and liberties, we may not always agree on every issue, but may we remember to always have respect and show civility in our public discourse, even in our disagreements.

Let us remember and reflect upon the fundamental values that our nation was founded on. The Declaration of Independence signed on July 4th, 1776 is as providential and powerful today, as it was then:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I find the words of Paul in Galatians 5:1 fitting for us today: “Stand fast therefore in the Liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

Blessings and Happy Fourth of July!

Doug Stringer
Founder and President
Somebody Cares America
Somebody Cares International

Q&A with Brad Atkins about Pastoring & the Public Square

In 2006, Brad Atkins left an associate pastor position at a church with 800 in attendance to lead a church that had about 80 members present to vote him in as pastor. Though only three decades old, the church had already walked through a lifetime of highs, lows, and drama. Its founding pastor had run off with the church secretary. And in the years immediately prior to Atkins’ coming to First Baptist of Powdersville, South Carolina, church attendance had plummeted from 300 down to 30.

“They were about to fold,” Atkins said. “They were in talks with a neighboring church about just signing over the property–26 acres, buildings, and all.”

Instead, they called Atkins as pastor–for one year.

Why just one year? Because chances were good that the church would be broke in a year.

“The committee told me, ‘Look we figure we have enough in the bank to pay your salary for a year. If it doesn’t work, we’ll just go our separate ways,'” Atkins recalled. “I told them that they really knew how to sweet talk a guy.”

Things got a bit worse before they got better. But with the blessing of God and one month at a time of faithful ministry by Atkins–things began to turn around. Eleven years later, Atkins and his wife know that they’ve witnessed something special happen at Powdersville. And the church that was once about to close has been just about the only church his now nearly-grown kids have ever known.

“You never know what you’re coming into,” Atkins said. “I could talk to you for hours–God just does a work. I mean it’s been like a modern day Lazarus project. The church was dead and about to be pulled off of life support. Now, the church is debt free. Our services are full. We’ve done multiple projects, bought transportation vehicles, remodeled. I tell everybody it was almost like God called me to a church plant, but it was a church plant with facilities.”


You are a pastor who is active in the public square. How did that come about? Has this always been the case?

No, I was brought up believing in the separation of church and state–as currently talked about by people and pastors. The idea that you can’t preach anything about political issues or get involved with policy issues.

In January 2008, doctors found a cyst at the base of my brain–about the size of a baseball. The first thing I thought was that I had a tumorous cancer–but it was just a cyst that I needed surgery to take out. The surgery went fine, but when I was in the hospital, I contracted spinal meningitis and spent the whole month of February in the hospital.

It was my “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” moment in my life. I went in at 240 pounds and came out at 198. And it is amazing how close you get to Jesus when you come close to meeting Jesus.

Fast forward to November of that year. I attended the annual meeting of our Baptist state convention–something I rarely did prior to that. I was pastoring my church, just doing my thing. The pastor at the meeting preached a sermon that just impacted me like you wouldn’t believe. I really got convicted that if I was going to be a pastor of a Southern Baptist church, I needed to know what’s going on in the Southern Baptist Convention.

So I got active. Fast forward to 2010, I served as second vice-president for the South Carolina convention. In 2011, I was first vice-president. Then in 2012, I got elected president.

Now, when it’s a U.S. presidential election year, because of South Carolina’s part in the flow of events, South Carolina became a very hot topic. Newt Gingrich and all the different candidates were coming in. I started getting on the media and being exposed to all these different things.

And that’s when Gary Miller [of Talk Less, Pray More ministries] came into my life– through the Pastors and Pews events of the American Renewal Project. Then I started meeting all these different people–like David and Cindy Lane, Chad and Dana Connelly. God just started bringing them into my life while I was in that position of being nobody–but everybody thinking I was somebody. I was the president of this Convention, though half the people in the convention didn’t know who I am.

In the sovereignty of providence, God put me in that position. And then through just having a heart for what the Renewal Project was trying to do, Gary and David asked me to serve as a state chairman–and I’ve done it ever since.

In what ways did these new involvements with the public square enter into your ministry in the church?

Previously, I had never encouraged people to vote, let alone had voter registration Sundays.

For example, one of the joys of being here for so long is that I’ve had children and youth that have grown up under my ministry–now I’m doing their weddings. And when they graduate high school, I have them do their voter registration. 

We’ve also got people in their fifties and sixties that have never registered to vote–but now they go out and vote biblical values.

People can register to vote at our welcome center every Sunday. And I’m not afraid to give a biblical message on a moral or political issue, because I know what separation of church and state is– and what it isn’t. Through the American Renewal Project, David Barton, and others, I’ve come to find out that my calling to pastor a congregation is not just to call them here into the church building, but to call them into the public marketplace of ideas. To get out there and actually be a voice of truth and to bring biblical values to the marketplace.

Eight years ago I was very apathetic. But now, I’m very passionate.

Yet still, a lot of pastors I talk to have been scared into silence. I’ve told them, “You need to understand that you’re a pastor but you’re also a citizen. You’ve got skin in the game. What happens in our elections affects my family and my church family.”

If the body of Christ would ever truly unite and say, “We’re taking back the marketplace of ideas with biblical truth,” it would change our country.”

We’ve seen a little bit of the paradigm shift in the past election, but the Titanic has been heading in the wrong direction for so long that one Presidential election is not going to change the course of our nation.

How do you make discerning decisions about candidates?

You have to take each candidate individually–what they say and what they’ve done.

The Bible says “As a man thinks in his heart so he is.” Which means that you can take all the rhetoric that you hear on a campaign trail and set that over to the side. Instead, look at who this person is, man or woman, whatever the position is they’re going for, and look at their track record. Look at their core beliefs because that’s what’s going to rule.

Examine how, for example, the last time they ran they said they believed this and they got elected. But then in office, they did something this. Well, that pretty much tells you, whichever way the wind blows of public opinion, that’s how they’re going to go.

So, for me, you’ve got to look at each candidate, look at yes what the platform is of their party, but then what have they done as an individual.

Any final word for pastors who are considering being more engaged in the public square?

Remember the old saying, knowledge is power. Ten years ago I was uninformed, ignorant about what I can and can’t do as a pastor.

Of course, young pastors must understand that, yes there are some things you can’t do. I mean I can’t send a check from my church to a campaign. You can’t make endorsements from the pulpit. 

But once I step outside that pulpit, and we’re in the parking lot or they’re at my house or we’re talking on the phone or we’re texting or emailing–then as a citizen of the United States I have the freedom to speak what I believe. And to tell them, “Look, this is what I’m going to do. Now if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we’re going to serve the Lord.”

And the way we’re going to serve him is by not sitting at home when it’s time to get out and be a voice and go vote. Not only are we going to go vote, we’re going to be informed. We’re going to be intelligent and we’re going to vote for the candidate that most closely aligns to what we’ve professed that we believe.

Then, we must encourage other people to do the same.

I believe that guys that want to lead but don’t have anybody following them–they’re not leading. They’re just walking. Guys that truly lead set the example and say, “Look. You can do this. You can be a voice. You can take a stand.” And it won’t always be the most popular thing to do.

I love Churchill’s quote, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

I’m not called for everybody to like me, because if everybody likes me I must be doing something wrong.

Gotti Justice

Twenty-five years ago today in a Federal courthouse in Brooklyn, former mob boss John Gotti received his sentencing for a laundry list of crimes he had committed.

Gotti, the head of the Gambino crime family and the inspiration for many mob characters played on TV and in movies, would spend the remainder of his life in prison. No chance for parole.

The New York Times reported his response: “Still defiant, John Gotti stood up and smiled, saying nothing, as he was sentenced yesterday to spend the rest of his life in prison.”

Frank Locascio, Gotti’s accomplice–his “underboss”–received the same sentence. Locascio was more loquacious in his final words to the court:

“First, I would like to say emphatically that I am innocent,” Mr. Locascio declared in loud, firm voice, denying each charge against him. “I am guilty though,” he added, “I am guilty of being a good friend of John Gotti. And if there were more men like John Gotti on this earth, we would have a better country.”

Needless to say, the judicial process did not humble these men.

In 2002, Gotti died of throat cancer while incarcerated in Missouri. Locascio remains in Federal prison in Massachusetts.

Gotti once said, “I never lie …because I don’t fear anyone. You only lie when you’re afraid.”

Such haughty confidence and brash boldness may roll off the tongue in this world, but in eternity all our tongues will be properly chaste. Human judges can only do so much in the dispensation of justice. But thank God, literally, that human justice is never the final verdict.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “But For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Even when people escape the arm of the law here on earth, never paying any penalty for their crimes, one day they will take their final breath and wake up in eternity.

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)

Now, the amazing thing about these verses and about “the gospel” (the good news) is that even mobsters can find grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. These verses speak of both judgment and the grace of forgiveness.

Such forgiveness requires faith in Christ and repentance from sin–a turning away in sorrow from the sin.

There’s no evidence that Gotti turned to God while in prison. Nor Locascio, as of yet.

Unlike a human judge, God can change the heart of a murderous mobster. Which is to remind us that God can even change the rebellious hearts of respectable, non-incarcerated sinners like the majority of us walking around today.

Many paths lead to hell, but only Christ makes us right with God.

Doug Campbell

When we talk about Christians being involved in the public square, a major and recurring point we emphasize is that such civic activity can have great impact when people think local. As one political activist said to me, “We need City Council people. Everyone wants to be a Congressman.”

Last week, I wrote about Richard Watson, a Texas pharmacist and pastor who ran for and sat on the State Board of Education.

That interview jogged my memory of another story I had planned on coming back around to. You may recall a story we published in January about Karen Campbell, a woman from Mason City, Iowa who spearheaded a successful effort to have the entire Bible read outside her County’s Courthouse (“Iowans read the entire Bible at the courthouses of all 99 counties“).

Like Watson in Texas, Karen’s husband Doug was also a pharmacist. And, like Watson, he is fulfilling a Christian call to make an impact in the public square by means of serving on his local Board of Education.

Campbell has been in the community since 1979 and had a lot of face recognition with the community due to this job. As such, he knew some of the school administrators, including the superintendent. “Whenever I saw her and her stated accomplishments in the school system, I thought, ‘Wow, she must be doing a great job.”

It would take actually being on the school board for Campbell to begin forming a different opinion about the current local education administration. But Campbell wasn’t necessarily the school board type–or so he thought.

“In college, I’d see people who sat on elected boards and operated by Robert’s Rules of Order. They seemed like silly, self-important people. I sort of rejected that whole idea early on in life–not my calling. I wasn’t interested in participating.”

But forty-five years later, in retirement and with extra time on his hands, Campbell began to notice problems within the school system.

“My wife and I had become politically involved both at the national and state level,” he said. “I heard that there were some rumblings and troubles on the school board. Two people on the previous board had just got up and resigned. So I figured, that I would step up and do my duty.”

Campbell’s first inclination was to support the current superintendent and strengthen her position. But he began to realize that some things were amiss.

“I got sworn in and started reading policy. I don’t know whether it’s me personally, or whether its because I’m a pharmacist by trade–attention to detail. But my personality leads me to go to the foundation. So, I went to the Iowa Code to see what our policy and procedural manuals said about the job.” 

Campbell noticed right away that the superintendent ran the meetings. At first he thought she was just helping out, as the board had four new members and so there was a learning curve at first.

“Very quickly, however, I realized that she wasn’t helping us out–she was controlling us completely,” Campbell said. “Turns out that in her contract and in policy, she had it written in from previous board and from her attorney that she was Chief Executive Officer of the Board, which means she had no fiduciary or legal responsibility to the board except what Code said–the fact that the board had to exist.”

Campbell and other board members began to poke into the details of the finances and the workings of the school administration and they came to the conclusion that the local community was not being served well by the current leaders.

So, they ended up buying out the contract of that superintendent. The next one served only one year, and now a new one will begin this fall–only he is coming in from outside the County. A fresh face.

“The man’s brilliant. And he is honest,” Campbell said. “He’s going to set our schools in the right direction.”

Campbell estimates that less than one of ten people are keeping up with issues within their local school board.

His own interest in civic engagement has been a gradually increasing thing, as he attended events sponsored by the American Renewal Project. Also, national Christian pastors and authors, like Lance Wallnau, stirred him to think about the seven mountains of cultural influence–education being one of the seven.

In the end, Campbell says it is about being called to servant leadership. “There’s no glory, there’s just hard work–and you have to have a heart,” Campbell said. “And humility! Like Gideon, who said, ‘I’m the least of the tribe, and I’m the least of my tribe. Why are you talking to me?’ That is a key component of a Christian being involved in the public square.”

Should a homeschooling parent be elected to a state board of education?

Often, when we talk about Christians entering the public square and running for office, someone will challenge that idea along these lines: “With those core beliefs and worldview, how could they ever expect to get elected?”

The assumption being that only conservatives with shallow convictions can raise support or win elections.

Another myth worth challenging is that lawyers are most qualified to serve as legislators. Or likewise, that former teachers and school administrators make the best public school board members.

If you tend to believe any of the above, then here’s a story that may change your mind. It’s about a pharmacist who was also a pastor and a homeschool father. But here’s the kicker. He also won elected office and served as a member of the Texas Board of Education.

Richard Watson, a pharmacist by trade, has faithfully pastored the same congregation in Gorman, Texas since 1978.  As a result, he knows both his congregation and his community well.

Early on, Watson became active politically on a local basis, with party politics and state conventions. But in 1983, a conservative on the Texas State Board of Education approached Watson and asked him to consider running for a seat on the Board.

“I laughed out loud at that idea,” Watson said. “I told him that I didn’t think I would be electable. The man challenged me on that, asking me why I thought that way. I said, “Well, I’m a homeschool Dad. How is a homeschool dad going to get elected to the State Board of Education?”

But Watson took the matter to his family. They prayed and talked about the idea. They weighed into their decision-making “all the flack we were probably going to get.”

Watson ran. First, he had a challenger in the primary (which he won), and that enabled him to get his campaign organized early. Then, in the fall’s general election, he ran against a retired school superintendent.

Now, just so you understand what this seat represented, Texas divides itself into fifteen districts for the education board. Each district covers the area of about two U.S. Congressional districts. And, of course, they do everything big in Texas. So, the winner of this seat on the Board would cover a district comprised of 56, mostly rural counties. That meant a total of 210 local school districts.

During the campaign, Watson heard some strong opinions against his candidacy.

“I went to one of the school districts and spoke to a teacher’s group,” Watson said. “One school principal stood in front of everybody and said, ‘Just the very fact that you’re running is a slap in the face to every teacher in this room.’ She was opposed to my running on account of my being a homeschool father.”

Watson learned quickly to appeal more directly to the voters and the Republican organizations. “Just let the school folks do and think what they wanted,” became his strategy. “I never would have made it otherwise.”

Watson is no longer in elected office, but he is still active in political party activities–including the local Tea Party meetings, along with county and state conventions. He also served for two decades on the Board for the nonprofit group Wallbuilders. Over the years, he has attended many conservative political and Christian conferences put on by groups like Wallbuilders and the American Renewal Project.

One final myth that deserves being challenged is that pastors should avoid politics at all costs. It should come as no surprise that Watson has a definite and formed opinion on that subject.

“The fact that pastors and the church have not been involved is one of the major reasons for the mess we’re in,” Watson said. “I guess one thing that’s really helped me realize that is my association with David Barton’s WallBuilders and having a grasp on the real history of our country–learning about the influence of pastors in the Revolutionary Period and before. They set the tone and prepared people for what was coming. We’ve forgotten that history.”

As for the charge that a conservative pastor who addresses political issues will simply be a voicebox for the GOP, Watson disagrees. “I just deal with issues and what’s right and wrong with this issue. Just show where this candidate stands or what this platform states–and compare it to the other platform. Deal with the principles.” 

So, can a full-time pharmacist be a faithful shepherd of a flock? Yes.

Can (or should) a pastor run for an elected office? Yes, if the Lord leads in the direction. The Scripture certainly does not prohibit it, and even can be understood to encourage such leadership.

Finally, can a homeschooling father get elected and competently serve on a school board consisting of huge geographical boundaries?

Richard Watson did.

Pharmacist. Pastor. Home Educator. Elected Official. Phew!

Watson’s golf game and trophy fishing mounts might not stack up to other men in East Texas–but he has certainly done more than his share to lead and improve his local community.

To paraphrase Pastor Rob McCoy, Richard Watson has been “Taking care of his bean patch!

Where pro-life, pro-family, hard-working people hang out

What follows is a condensed excerpt from a fascinating interview I held recently with Becca Keating, an author and Christian political activist from California.

Tell us about your experiences taking Jesus into the Public Square. Where did that begin?

Tell us about your experiences taking Jesus into the Public Square. Where did that begin? I would say it began after living under Sharia law while living in Saudi Arabia. I was married to a professor at the University of Arizona who taught international students. So after returning from a year in the Middle East, I was immensely thankful for religious freedom and every other kind of freedom for women. (By the way, when women in the U.S. start complaining, I would gladly invite them to move to the Middle East. I believe they would become thankful to be American.)

While in Saudi Arabia, I started home-schooling my children and continued after our return to the States. It was then I became aware of laws that were beginning to challenge the rights of parents to teach their children and even discipline their children, just to mention a few. So I started to get involved politically at that point.

I ran for what was called Precinct Committee Person. After collecting signatures on my petition to run for this office, my name was placed on the ballot at the next election. Winning that election gave many opportunities to attend political meetings locally and at our capital in Phoenix. Also at that time, I had the opportunity to speak in the high schools in Tucson for the Crisis Pregnancy Centers supporting life.

I later moved to California when my daughters were nearly finished with college and grad school. At that point, I got involved with the Republican Women which helped me to see more of the policy making process. I helped at the headquarters and began going to a lot of the Central Committee meetings to stay abreast of what was going on in our area and state. At one point I even ran a Congressional campaign for a man, a Gold Star Father, who was running against the incumbent who didn’t seem to be addressing the issues of local constituents.

After that, I was invited back to Arizona to consult a congressional campaign late in the election cycle. At that point, one of the first things to find out is the ratio between registered voters (Rep./Dem.). As it turned out it was 2 Dem. to 1 Rep. which was fatal. The woman running on the Rep. ticket was Hispanic, a legal citizen from Mexico, and beautiful. She was the best candidate ever. My counsel for her was that she must attract the Hispanic/Democrat vote by being pro-family, pro-jobs, pro-life–all of which she was already. But she did not spend adequate time early on registering  Republican voters. Those who could have contributed financially to her race chose not to because they knew she would lose. And sadly, she ended up losing.

And now you are writing books. Tell me about this series, titled Impact Your World, particularly the forthcoming book, soon to release.

The Lord laid it on my heart to start writing books. At first, I thought, “You’re kidding me. I don’t know how to write a book.” But, I just started that process, and within six months, my first book was published. Since then I have written 3 more books emphasizing the importance of each person, and the impact one has in their family, their state, their country. My most recent book: Impact Your World: Powerful Communication and the Value of Free Speech is a call to Christian conservatives to practice dialogue. The left has a tendency to shut down any discussion to resolve issues and policies which would benefit our country. It is up to conservatives/Christians to open the dialogue–to not only be good listeners but to communicate effectively.

The book goes into a variety of communication skills with a Biblical emphasis. It also exposes the Free Speech “evolution” from the signing of the Constitutional to our present day dilemma. This book develops the original intent of the Constitution and compares it to today’s, “I need my safe space. You offended me. I’m taking you to court” culture. It’s just out of control. So, we’ve got to wake up. We’ve got to engage. We can’t back down, and we can’t be quiet. We must be salt and light in this dark world.

All of my books are packed full of Scripture. The one on the Constitution has a lot of quotes from our founding fathers–who were amazingly Biblically based. On that note, I attended a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Valencia, California where the speaker was Missourian William Federer who talked on U.S. History–and especially on the religious history of our nation. I helped at his book table after the event. We began chatting back and forth, and I told him how I had just written a book on the Constitution.

Bill got the drift that I was in a ministry that was atypical–bridging the gap between the church and the political arena. He told David Lane and the folks at the American Renewal Project to send me an invitation to their next event in Southern California. I wound up attending one in Riverside where Rafael Cruz, Dennis Prager, and Rob McCoy were some of the speakers–a really great event. Even though there are a lot of strong churches here in California, as Rob McCoy talked about, there’s a disconnect between those who profess to be Christian and those we send to Sacramento to represent our values. Why are there all of these radical Democrats up in Sacramento including the  Governor?

When speaking on the subjects of my books, my response is to encourage involvement and engagement in our policy-making and representation. California was once “Reagan Red”. With a renewed conservative commitment, we can turn this state back to Reagan red. Being strategic is key.

I’ve been talking to the head of the central committee here in Orange County, who has a committee for registering voters, and I said to him, “Do you know where a lot of people hang out who are pro-life, pro-family, hard working, and business oriented?

He asked, “Where?”

I said, “At the churches. I would like to challenge your committee to reach out to the churches to have at least one time a month to register voters. You don’t have to tell them ‘Register Republican.’ You can just lay out the party platforms.” The more registered voters we have, the better chance we have of electing God-fearing people to political office.

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Steve Chealander remembers “Tear Down This Wall” (June 12, 1987)

Today marks the 30th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech delivered in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Colonel Steven Chealander served as a Military Aide to President Reagan from 1986-1988, including numerous historic trips abroad. He was in Berlin with Reagan on that historic day.

But even more special for Chealander was that his own parents were in Berlin too, as special guests of the White House.

You see, his father helped save the city as a pilot during the Berlin Airlift. Forty years later, Reagan stood in the same Berlin airport that the elder Chealander had once flown into, and gave a speech to honor and commemorate the pilots of the Airlift.

Reagan signed and gave his speech cards to Colonel Chealander to give to his father. Two years later, Chealander’s father died. And two years after that, the Berlin Wall came down.

Colonel Chealander, now retired, is writing his White House memoirs.

I had the privilege of working with Mr. Chealander on the production of some documentary films about his experiences in the White House. Here, in commemoration with today’s anniversary of the speech, is the film about that day in Berlin.