If I may get personal for a moment, I want to explain some things to you, gentle reader, about the passion that the Lord has placed in my heart to bring black and white Christians in America together to the table of grace that Jesus Christ has lovingly prepared for us.
I truly love people and harbor no hate in my heart toward anyone, so I have a broad network of friends and acquaintances of varying races, classes, creeds, political persuasions, and more. If we can have a civil conversation and respect one another, I'm likely to invite you into my circle.
This has led, however, to some interesting reactions to the posts, images and articles I share on the volatile topic of race.
Some of you think I spend too much time focused on the issue of racial conflict in America. Conservatives are supposed to be "color-blind" and "merit-based", so talking about this difficult issue causes some to question my conservative bona fides.
Others think that, because I embrace conservatism as a philosophy -- not the "conservatism" of today's hyper-partisan politics, mind you, but the conservatism of Russell Kirk, just to be clear -- I lack the standing to speak with authority on race, even though I am a person of color.
Some think I am making mountains of molehills, particularly when compared to where we've been in the past and where other nations are at present. Still others believe I give those who dismiss the issue of race too much of a pass.
Yet others think that I'm giving aid and comfort to America's "enemies", or I'm being duped or manipulated by vast conspiratorial forces when I write or speak about how our nation has fallen short of achieving true and lasting racial peace.
What's a man who desires to glorify God with everything he does supposed to do? Well, I think listening for and responding to God's call is a good start - “We must obey God rather than human beings!" (Acts 5:29) - and that is what I am endeavoring to do.
I shared a story recently with a friend about my evolution on the topic of race in America because she said she had noticed a change in my perspective from when she first knew me. For the longest time, my perspective was governed by my own personal experiences, which had been largely positive and free of racial strife. I could count the instances of overt racism I had experienced on one hand and, if there were more subtle instances of racism in my life, I was ignorant of them and they didn't stop me from achieving professional and personal success. As a result, I attributed most cries of racism to either a hypersensitivity that perceived any slight, intended or otherwise, as racially motivated, or a cynical appeal to victimization to keep blacks in a constant state of grievance that could be exploited for purposes of gaining or maintaining power. To me, racism was an aberration and a fringe behavior that no decent citizen, regardless of race, would tolerate.
I didn't feel the need to be conscious of my race or ethnicity until I ran for public office in 2006, and it wasn't until I became a minor public figure through my blog, my book and my political activism that our nation's enduring racial divide became a topic of persistent presence in my daily life.
Despite this new awareness, however, I stood firm in my perceptions and it wasn't until I experienced a series of racist responses to a post I shared on my public Facebook page many years ago than the scales fell from my eyes and I saw for the first time that America is still not fully healed from the wounds of nearly 500 years of chattel slavery, institutionalized discrimination, domestic terror and racial animus.
I posted a Washington Times article in 2014 about how the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois, in the wake of the 2010 McDonald v. City of Chicago Supreme Court decision that the city's handgun ban was unconstitutional, had implemented cost and regulatory barriers to citizens obtaining concealed carry permits. These policies had a disparate impact on inner city black residents who couldn't afford the fees or comply with all the regulations - traveling long distances to train at a certified gun range, for example.
I thought my conservative followers would be outraged at this blatant attempt on the part of the state and city governments to circumvent the court ruling and deny these black citizens their 2nd Amendment rights. What actually transpired, however, shook me to my core and caused me to reevaluate what some of my black friends had told me through the years. Here's how I described it back in 2014:
Some suggested that if "they" didn't spend their money on "iPhones and Nikes", they wouldn't have a problem affording the permits, despite the fact that cost was just one of many barriers erected by the city and the state, both of which are behaving like petulant children after the Supreme Court threw out their gun ban as unconstitutional. Moreover, most of the citizens complaining about the restrictions were middle-aged or elderly, not likely to be excessive consumers of high-end electronics or athletic footwear.
Some suggested that they weren't applying for the permits because they had criminal records and wouldn't pass the background checks anyway. What a pernicious stereotype!
I am disturbed by the thought that had it been a working-class white community in which its law-abiding citizens were denied their 2nd Amendment rights due to the regulatory state, the comments would have been quite different.
Since then, I have set aside my pride and I have listened, not to the partisans, pundits and activists because they have agendas, but to everyday people, thoughtful commentators about faith, culture, and society, and Christians whose hearts are rent asunder like mine when they see people, especially fellow Christians, at each other's throats. I try to listen more and give people, regardless of where they're coming from, a chance to be heard and to describe their experiences. Just because God has granted me the favor of never really experiencing racism in its most aggressive and debilitating forms doesn't mean someone else hasn't.
At the same time, I have also listened to my white friends and their frustration with being stereotyped or painted with a broad brush when it comes to racism, generally mirroring what they acknowledge white Americans did to black people for many years, and they wonder how these two wrongs can make a right. They decry being demonized, sometimes even when they're sympathetic to the cause, and I wonder how the more outspoken black American activists and those who purport to speak on their behalf expect to achieve unity if their default setting is accusatory and not conciliatory. Perhaps unity isn't their goal, in which case shaming is guaranteed to work.
I'm not claiming to be an expert in communications but, as my father used to say, "You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar." He grew up in the segregated South and I know he had to have experienced racism in its ugliest forms, even though he's never talked about it to me, but I have never known a man to be so loved by so many people across racial and ethnic lines, and I think he embodies Paul's instruction in Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."
The stories brought to light in recent years of the abject poverty, family breakdown, cultural dysfunction, self-medication and untimely death among the white poor and working class of America have broken my heart in much the same way as the same stories coming from America's black communities, and I wonder why the pain they share doesn't bring them together but seemingly drives them apart.
When these two views collide, it's like people are speaking a foreign language to one another, as I wrote about previously. I've looked at this issue from multiple perspectives, however, and I think I understand them enough to be able to translate between the disagreeing factions and help to bring about some understanding. That's a very difficult task under any circumstances, but my ministry is focused on those who proclaim themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ because they have more at stake than just reaching a political solution or achieving cultural harmony.
If they haven't already, all Christians should internalize the prayer Christ made to the Father just before He went to die on the cross for you and me, "that they may be one as we are one."
Do we understand that our Lord and Savior wants us to have the same communion with one another that He, the Father and the Holy Spirit have with each other? That is a goal to which all Christians should be fully dedicated. Political scientist and author S. Adam Seagraves believes, as I do, that the church can and should lead the nation toward racial reconciliation:
Christian churches—Baptist, Catholic, and nondenominational alike—need to preach racial reconciliation and the Gospel’s message of charity from the pulpit, pointing out the obstacles to these Christian goals that beset current American politics and inspiring congregations to care about overcoming them.
Only once white America and black America become a single America united on the common ground of humanity and natural rights can we hope to achieve meaningful and lasting progress in other areas of American society.
Indeed, I can think of no other institution better equipped or more highly called that the church to accomplish this noble purpose. Has the church failed in this endeavor? Without a doubt. Do man's failures abrogate Christ's prayer for unity, His command that his disciples love one another, or His admonition that we must deny ourselves and our puny gods of race, ethnicity and culture, pick up our crosses and follow Him? Absolutely not!
Bringing black and white Christians together in union with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in contravention of "the authorities," "the powers of this dark world," and "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12) is my heart's desire and the cause to which I've dedicated the remaining years the Lord has decided to grant me.
This is a hard road for me because I know that talk about race generates a visceral reaction from people on both sides of the issue, and I abhor the conflict and what we become when the subject arises. Friends and acquaintances I hold in high regard turn on each other, or on me for bringing it up. It would be so easy and much more comfortable for me to just post family news and pictures or share the wonderful things happening here at Liberty University, or a funny or interesting story or two. Yes, I would be much more comfortable doing that.
Jesus doesn't care about my comfort, however. When Jesus was preparing Peter for the difficult work ahead of him and Peter asked about the posture of another disciple, He responded, "...[W]hat is that to you? You follow me!” John Piper, the great pastor and teacher whose book, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, is a must-read for any Christian seeking to bring about racial harmony, spoke to the liberation of these words of Scripture:
"That word landed on me with great joy. Jesus will not judge me according to my superiority or inferiority over anybody. No preacher. No church. No ministry. These are not the standard. Jesus has a work for me to do (and a different one for you). It is not what he has given anyone else to do. There is a grace to do it. Will I trust him for that grace and do what he has given me to do? That is the question. O the liberty that comes when Jesus gets tough!"
You may have a different calling than mine, but that doesn't make mine any less compelling or God-honoring. Ephesians 2:10 reads, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
I envision God with a piece of paper, blank except with my name across the top, and He writes down my earthly to-do list from birth to death. He then designs me even before I'm conceived, embedding the abilities and temperament I will need, and determines in advance the times, places and events in my life in exactly the sequence necessary to equip me for the very tasks he's defined for me. When I became a Christian, my spiritual gifts were added to the mix, and He gives us His Word "so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17).
So that's why I do what I do. It's not going to appeal to everyone and not everyone will accept it. Jesus said in Matthew 10:14, "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet." Jesus didn't have time for the hard-hearted or the hard-headed and neither do I.
I have a lot of irons in the fire to try and do what the Lord would have me do. I covet your prayers and words of encouragement so I may do what's best and leave out the rest. Peace be with you.
Ron Miller of Lynchburg, Virginia is an associate dean and assistant professor of government at Liberty University, a commentator and author of the book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom's Porch. He serves the No Walls Ministry as a member of the board of directors and the director of No Walls University.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~ Galatians 3:28