The longtime Illinois pastor led the National Association of Evangelicals and World Relief around the fall of the Soviet Union.

Arthur Gay, an evangelical leader who oversaw the National Association of Evangelicals when President Reagan gave his historic “evil empire” speech, has died at the age of 86.

Gay was president of the association from 1982 to 1984 and held the same role at World Relief, its humanitarian arm, from 1991 to 1996.

Though his leadership began decades ago, Gay’s influence endured through the present day, leaders of the organizations said in announcing his death.

“Art Gay was one of the most gracious leaders I have ever known. He was a great encourager, always curious and wanting to learn more,” said Galen Carey, the NAE’s vice president of government relations, in a statement. “Art was an example of generous orthodoxy, speaking the truth in love.”

Gay led the NAE during a time when Reagan was seeking the continuing support of US evangelicals. The late president first spoke at the association’s 1983 convention.

“The National Association of Evangelicals community, from coast to coast in our great land, deeply appreciates and values his love for the truth of the Bible and his commitment to its great moral values,” Gay said in his introduction.

In the speech, Reagan criticized leaders of the then-Soviet Union and the “so-called nuclear freeze solutions proposed by some.” He opposed such proposals as counter to American “principles and standards,” including a belief in God.

“In your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil …

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