Warning in a Wayward World
July 1, 2005 - Outspoken. Colorful. Insightful. Controversial. Zell Miller, former Democratic governor of Georgia and former U.S. senator, is all of these. He has spoken out boldly—on the Senate floor and in many other venues—about the moral decay in the United States. His latest book, “A Deficit of Decency,” tackles that issue in depth. Most important, Zell Miller is a committed follower of Jesus Christ. Decision spoke with Miller recently at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, where Miller was a plenary speaker at the Christian Executive Leadership Forum. Miller now serves as a senior policy advisor in the national Government Affairs practice of McKenna Long & Aldridge in Atlanta. He and his wife, Shirley, live in the same house he grew up in.
by Bob Paulson
Q: How would you describe your upbringing, in terms of spiritual things?
A: My father died when I was two weeks old, so my sister and I were raised by my mother, a very strong woman. Every Sunday we would go to Sunday school and church at the Methodist church in Young Harris, Ga. All of my friends who lived around us were Baptists; on Sunday night I would go with them to the Baptist church. And I would go with them on Wednesday to the prayer meeting. That was what I did up until I was almost ready to go to college, going to both those churches in that sort of weekly ritual.
Q: When would you say that you were born again?
A: When I was 17, we had a revival. Our minister’s name was Dow Kirkpatrick, who later became a famous Methodist missionary and pastor. I remember the message; I remember the music. I decided to give my life to Christ. I joined the church and became a faithful church attender. But there’s a difference in sitting in that pew every Sunday and really having a relationship like I have now.
Q: What caused you to finally get serious about Christ?
A: I’ve always been a churchgoer and a daily prayer. I was the lay leader of my church, and I served on the board of stewards for years and years. But as I look back on it, I was a “Sunday morning Christian.” I had enough religion to feel comfortable and safe, but not enough to really be the dedicated person that I have become—that I always wanted to be.
My son Matt has been a juvenile diabetic since he was 5 years old. Several years ago, he went completely blind—he went from being able to read without glasses to total darkness in two weeks’ time. What made it worse was that his wife got very sick about the same time. That experience drove me to my knees. We prayed and prayed and prayed, and prayed some more.
I will never forget the comforting feeling that I had as I prayed and asked God to help restore the sight of this wonderful son of mine. Our prayers were answered; Matt now has sight in one eye. I know very well that there may be unanswered prayers in the future. But God’s rod and staff were there to comfort me when I needed it the most, and I can never forget that.
Q: You’ve served as a Christian in the political realm. How do politics and religion intersect?
A: They run head-on with each other often. We have laws made by politicians that say you must put up no-smoking signs around gas pumps. And yet now we also have laws saying that you can’t put up signs of the Ten Commandments in public places. The law requires us to put up a sign to warn of the danger of smoking around a gas pump, but we can’t put up a sign to warn of the danger of bad behavior. We see it in so many ways with the same-sex marriage controversy that’s going on now, where the sacred institution of marriage is being questioned by judges who are appointed by politicians and confirmed by politicians. We’ve seen it for years with the question of abortion-on-demand. Politics and religion often run into each other head-on. That’s when a politician is called upon to do what he knows deep within his inner self is God’s will—regardless of what the polls may show or what the focus groups may tell you.
Q: That seems to be some of the reason for your new book “A Deficit of Decency.”
A: Yes. I had no intention of writing another book anytime soon. What got me to writing this book was a speech that I made almost off the cuff. I started by talking about the half-time show at the Super Bowl in 2004, and then I got into other areas where I thought there was a deficit of decency. I remembered that Paul wrote to the Romans, “Let us behave decently” (Romans 13:13, NIV). In so many areas that I know something about because of my political career, we are not behaving decently. I wanted to try to give my feelings on that. So I did, on the Senate floor. I got such a tremendous response from it that I decided that maybe I could make this into a book and go into the issue a little more deeply.
Q: Ultimately, where will this deficit of decency take us if we don’t change?
A: I'd like to say that I see this book as kind of a warning sign. We’ve got time to change. We can change our ways. If we don’t, it’s like a bridge out ahead as far as our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren are concerned. I worry about the kind of world that we're going to leave them. Sometimes I think that parents, especially in recent years, have tried to give their children the material things that they may not have had when they were growing up. But they fail to give them the spiritual things that they did have. I want people to think about that more.
Q: You have quoted Benjamin Rush, one of this country’s founding fathers, as saying, “He alone who created and redeemed man is qualified to govern him.” In light of that, what needs to happen in the United States today?
A: We must have God more in our daily lives and not be, as He was with me for so long, someone to thump up a prayer to every now and then—especially when we need Him. He should be our Guiding Light every minute of our life.
Q: Who are some of the people who have helped influence you in your spiritual life?
A: I guess I got something from all those preachers as I sat on the hard benches in Sharp Memorial Methodist Church and Old Union Baptist Church—and certainly from my mother, who was a godly woman. My wife has always been devout, throughout our 51 years of marriage. Every night she reads the Bible. I’ve watched her so many times. It was almost as if she was waiting for me to come on in and finally catch up with her on this important part of life. I think her daily actions touched me more than any sermon. Also, I was a baseball coach for a while in college. My best player was the catcher, Don Harp. He hit cleanup. He was a devout young man who is now the pastor of one of the largest churches in Atlanta. He was an inspiration to me even though he was younger than I. His life was just a wonderful sermon.
Q: What do you do these days to keep your faith strong and fresh?
A: I have become a daily Bible reader along with my wife. Several years ago I came to the conclusion that if you say you believe every word of the Bible, then you ought to read every word of the Bible. So I’ve done that. I pray a lot, thanking God for the blessings that He’s given me, and I belong to a speaker’s bureau where I am often called on to make speeches. I try to mix in a number of speeches where I talk about my faith and about where I think we are as a nation. That keeps me in communication with God above.