I wrote recently about how the Lord has been taking me through a season of change using a variety of events, both personal and external, to point me toward the conclusion that, while I thought I was placing Him first in my life, I was wrong and still had a distance to go. I shared how truly putting him first meant letting go of some idols to which I subconsciously still cleaved, and that doing so had liberated me to receive who I am in Christ and what He would have me do with the rest of my life. It's an exciting moment when you arrive at "the place God calls you to", to quote theologian Frederick Buechner, "the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." A friend at church who had read my book approached me unexpectedly a few months ago, excited to share with me a vision he had of me having an impact on the culture regarding the topic of race relations. He led me to the realization that my temperament, my spiritual gifts, my skills and abilities, my life experiences, and even the public platform I've built so meticulously over nearly a decade, ostensibly for political reasons, could be used as a bridge to bring blacks and whites in my home country together, beginning with the church, where He commands us to be one in Him, and radiating from there out into American society as a whole.
I felt revitalized because I was finally letting God lead me, rather than me running ahead of Him or lagging behind Him. Truth be told, He's always been there, patiently waiting for me, but I'm just now arriving at the point where I'm mature enough and submissive enough to accept what He has for me.
Before you read the rest of this article, please go back and read this one if you haven't already. It will give you the context for what follows.
I accepted this revelation from the Lord of my calling with the zeal of an old actor who, just as he's thinking his career is winding down, is handed the role of a lifetime. I rebranded my internet and social media properties to expand my ministry, and I began dreaming of the various ways in which I could carry out this mission. I gave a sermon series in my church on racial unity, started working on another book, envisioned ideas for converting the body of work I've done on the subject into a small group Bible study, and imagined an educational non-profit organization that would address racial issues from a Biblical worldview.
I even floated a couple of trial balloons out there to see how they would fly. In doing so, I made a disturbing discovery.
When it comes to race, neither side cares to listen to anything the other side has to say.
I'd encountered this phenomenon from one side of the political divide, but I was blind to it from the side I was on until I put Christ first, ahead of my allegiances to a particular ideology. I made a point about racial disparities that, with new eyes, makes perfect sense to me, and it was rejected by some almost wholesale.
Let me explain.
You see, the Lord has brought me to a place of repentance for assuming that everyone should be able to achieve in life as I had, and He opened my eyes to the fact that it was His grace, not anything I did, which contributed to my ability to assimilate successfully into the mainstream of the culture in which I live.
It was only by the grace of God that I was born to a mother and father who stayed together through better and worse, sickness and health, want and plenty – in fact, they just celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary this month. Statistics show that the longevity of my parents' marriage makes them exceptional in today's culture, especially in the black community.
It was only by the grace of God that I was born to a military man and his bride, ensuring that, thanks to Uncle Sam, I would always have a well-built roof over my head, food on the table and new clothes at the beginning of every school year.
It was only by the grace of God that I lived most of my life in integrated neighborhoods behind gates and chain link fences, with military police protection and a culture which demanded discipline and good order. I was spared a life of violence and daily risk to my well-being.
It was only by the grace of God that I primarily attended Department of Defense schools, where the level of instruction was high, where the children were raised in homes like I was so we were disciplined and generally well-behaved, where we were always safe, and where the teachers were able to focus their energies on helping us to learn rather than also trying to raise us.
It was only by the grace of God that my parents doled out generous helpings of love and esteem daily, giving me confidence that there was nothing out of my reach, and that all possibilities were open to me.
I see so many damaged young people out there doing bad things, and I know in my heart they got that way because they didn't have the advantages I had. Certainly, as self-aware beings, we all must take responsibility for our actions at some point in our lives. God gave us a mind, heart and soul so we could make choices, and that's a power we should never discount or surrender. Otherwise, we are nothing more than animals responding solely to impulse or emotion.
Still, I realize now that so much of the success I've had in life had nothing to do with me, and that if you took that same little boy out of the Miller household in 1959 and placed him in public housing in the inner city with a single mother, drugs and guns in the streets, and schools where the greatest concern was not whether you'd learned enough to pass that test, but whether you'd get home unscathed, his life would have turned out a lot differently.
I know there are great stories of people overcoming such dire circumstances, and these stories get wide airplay and circulation. One of the current candidates for President, Ben Carson, and his brother, rose above circumstances very similar to the ones I just described, and Dr. Carson became the world's foremost pediatric neurosurgeon, and his brother an engineer. Sadly, these stories are the exception, not the rule.
Armed with this conviction, I made a related point in a recent article about the differences in how whites and blacks, collectively speaking, came to America, with the former mostly arriving as immigrants willing to take risks to either escape something or seize opportunity, while the latter were forcibly ripped from their homelands, transported like cargo to a land to which they never sought to come, and subjected first to chattel slavery, then institutionalized discrimination, accentuated by domestic terrorism in which their lives could be taken in horrific fashion in a flash of mob anger.
When President Obama was criticized for remarks at this year's National Prayer Breakfast, in which he compared the burning death of a caged Jordanian prisoner of war at the hands of ISIS terrorists in the Middle East to the lynchings of blacks in the South during the 20th century, one of my favorite conservative writers, Rod Dreher, a native of my home state of Louisiana, made some sobering observations:
There was news today that brought to mind something that has been on my mind ever since the savages of ISIS burned that Jordanian pilot. That deed rightly horrified and disgusted us, just as the beheadings have done. But here's the thing: ISIS is doing nothing that wasn't widely done in the United States to black people until well within living memory.
The New York Times wrote today on a new research report by an organization that has been studying lynching, and has documented almost 4,000 acts of extrajudicial murder by white mobs from the years 1877-1950. Most, but not all, of the deeds took place in the South. Five of the top 10 counties for lynching are in my home state, Louisiana.
I personally am aware of two such lynchings — one based on a fear of interracial sex, and the other based on a minor social transgression — that happened in my area in the first half of the 20th century, involving people (long dead) that I know. When you realize that people you know, men who were respected in their community during their lifetime, are actually murderers — well, this gets real, real fast.
ISIS filmed that poor Jordanian pilot burning to death as an act of revenge and terror. We call those Islamist fanatics animals. But white people did this often, and sometimes even made a public spectacle of it. 'The white men, women, and children present watched the horrific murders while enjoying deviled eggs, lemonade, and whiskey in a picnic-like atmosphere.'
These weren't Crusaders sacking Constantinople. These were our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, doing it to the fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers of our black neighbors. Attention must be paid. That may be the only atonement available now, but it's better than what we have had, which is nothing.
No, the American South (and other parts of America where racial terrorists ran rampant) was never run by fanatical theocrats who used grotesque public murders as a tool of terror. But if you were a black in the years 1877-1950, this was a distinction without much meaningful difference.
To bolster my point, in a recent article I contrasted the experiences of indigenous blacks in America to black immigrants who, like their white counterparts, willingly came to America to seek opportunity or to escape oppression, and were risk-takers who thought themselves "the equal of any man," to quote Dr. John C. Walter, and capable of making it in the new world on their own merits. Their measurable achievements in education and personal economics compared to "homegrown" American blacks seem to lend credence to the notion that, collectively speaking, nurture had an impact on nature over an extended period of time.
Certainly, we seem to understand and accept that a child raised in an abusive home is much more likely than not to grow up into an abusive adult, and that treatment is essential to overcoming that environmental disadvantage. One would think that it's a logical extrapolation to look at the environmental disadvantages of the black community, recognize that for some it has become so ingrained that nurture has become nature, and that we need to have sympathy in our approach to confronting the problem and encouraging human flourishing. After all, we are all made in the image of God, even the unloved and unlovable, to quote a phrase my pastor in Maryland is fond of using, and they have a mind, heart and soul just as we do. As the famous Wedgewood medallion adopted by the abolitionist movement in Great Britain declared, "Am I not a man and a brother?"
Boy, was I ever wrong. The reaction in some corners was swift and unyielding. Some highlighted the struggles other ethnic groups endured and overcame – a fruitless exercise, in my opinion, since every historical atrocity of man against man is unique in time, place, extent and application, and should be evaluated as such – and demanded to know why blacks shouldn't be expected to do the same thing. Others suggested I was aiding and abetting Marxists, socialists and race baiters by buying into that kind of thinking.
It didn't matter that, in the end, I still believe it is within the power of every human being to overcome their circumstances, and that even when considering the environment, we must never disavow agency for, in doing so, we disavow the very thing that makes us different from the animals, the divine imprint that makes us capable of exceeding our upbringing and our nature. The fact I even acknowledged that those who highlight racial disadvantages might have a point was enough to send some people into severe finger-wagging mode. And frankly, it disillusioned me to the point where I started to question if I even wanted to enter this arena.
I'm a sensitive person by nature, and I abhor conflict. If I had a life motto, it would be Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." It was that desire to keep the peace that led me to censor myself on some issues, and it took an unexpected backlash from a report I posted about the disparate impact of Illinois gun laws on blacks in Southside Chicago to make me realize I was wrong. While my sensitive nature means I have a deep reservoir of grace and compassion, essential to being a bridge between the races, it is also a liability when I come under fire. I get depressed and my instinct is to withdraw and lick my wounds. It took a book by a former Liberty University colleague to set me straight.
A book I just finished, "What Am I Supposed to Do with My Life?", by former Liberty University campus pastor Johnnie Moore, talks in part about how the Apostle Paul was not only uniquely designed for the work he did on behalf of the Kingdom, but the world in which he carried out his calling was uniquely designed for his work as well. It was a concept that was awe-inspiring and convicting at the same time:
As for God's glory, it is most clearly seen in the big picture. It's seen more clearly from thirty thousand feet up than from standing with two feet on the ground. And when you see God's will in this way, it really does look remarkable. He's not just involved in your life; he's building the world around it. He's been moving the chess pieces for centuries with you in mind.
In the case of Paul, God's glory is seen in the way God prepared the world for Paul's message, and – get this – he had been preparing it for centuries. Historians have made the point that the Roman Empire itself was custom designed for the explosion of Christianity, and they're right.
Moore goes on to explain the convergence of historical events which created the perfect conditions for a man with Paul's unique gifts and temperament to spread his message. Moore writes, "God had been working his will for centuries, preparing the world, preparing Paul, and preparing the hearts of millions for the arrival of the gospel."
This is a mind-bending notion, that the God of the universe is moving time and space, and setting the table so that, when the time is right, we can do what He made us to do. Acts 17:26 says "he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands", and in Ephesians 2:10, Paul tells us that we are "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." We are who we are, where we are, in the time in which we live, by God's design.
I don't want it to sound self-centered, though, because it's really not about us – it's about Him and His plan. If, for whatever reason, we choose not to be obedient to His calling, His plan isn't thwarted, because I'm sure He's always got a "Plan B". I've concluded that His will won't be denied, and the Bible confirms this time and again. People and empires throughout history have tried to rid themselves of Him, and He continues to move and work among us just as He's always done. Despite the world's most egregious and evil acts, God will not die. Even if we who claim His name run away in fear, or publicly rebuke Him to seek the favor of mankind, His power in the world will not be diminished. He doesn't need us to complete his redemptive work in the world, but He gives us the opportunity to take part in it and, if we accept His offer, there is no other work we can do that is more fulfilling and meaningful.
Yes, this is going to be harder than I thought. But I want to be part of God's plan, and as I survey the society in which I'm living, I know the time is right for me to do it. I'm going to regroup, put new shielding around my heart, and I'm going to get back to work. I'm done being a peacekeeper; after all, Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers."