Doug Miller: 1941-2017In Memoriam | Wed Sep 20, 2017 | 5:29pm
There is a quote, likely wrongly attributed to
Gandhi — “I like your Christ. It is your Christians I do not like” — that holds significant truth when we think of the life work of Doug Miller. As a seminary professor, pastor, and person of faith, Doug Miller spent his life wrestling with the implications of what it means to truly follow Jesus and live as he would call his followers to do. Anyone who claims to like Jesus would certainly appreciate the life of Doug Miller.
Doug was my professor of Christian social ethics at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (now Palmer Theological Seminary) from 1975 to 1978. Upon moving to Goleta in 2002, I discovered that he and his spouse, Sandie Miller, lived here, and he became my friend and, more recently, a member of the congregation I serve in Goleta — Cambridge Drive Community Church. As my teacher, Doug played a critical role in my formation as a person of faith and as a pastor. As a friend and then a congregant, Doug continued to challenge and inspire me.
For 20-plus years, students found their lives impacted by Doug’s teaching and mentoring at Eastern, this during a time when the issues of gender, sexuality, care of the earth, race, economics, and the role of faith in shaping public policies were being addressed in defining ways by the Church. He was on the front line of all of those issues, calling his students to a more authentic faith in their future roles as leaders in the community of faith.
The first real wave of female students responding to a call to full ministry in the Church arrived at seminary during Doug’s tenure, only to run into the brick wall of sexism, bolstered by a narrow theology that said women cannot be leaders. Doug stood as a strong advocate and ally, all the while challenging his female students to embrace and fulfill their call to ministry, sharpening and using all of their gifts.
Questions around sexuality and gender identity were just beginning to make themselves heard during those years in seminary. Many if not most of the students entering seminary had no inkling of the struggles faced by LGBTQ folk or the battles the Mainline Church would fight in the next few decades regarding sexual identity or expression. Doug forced his students to wrestle with questions of what it means to be human beings in relationship to other human beings in all of the beauty and brokenness we experience in our bodies. We learned from Doug to look beyond stereotypes and preconceived notions to see real people, hungering to love and to be loved.
Doug consistently held up the challenge to be good stewards of all of God’s gifts, including the environment that surrounds us. As the environmental movement grew, there was a strong push back among many more conservative Christians. They argued that human beings are to be in dominion over the earth. Doug forcefully argued for a much less arrogant stance, calling us to live in partnership with the earth and to use our gifts and abilities as stewards of God’s creation called “very good” in the earliest chapters of the Bible.
In a time that exemplified the statement from Martin Luther King Jr. that “11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours … in Christian America,” Eastern Seminary was surprisingly diverse racially. During his classes and in the less formal times, Doug worked to break down the walls of division that kept people apart.
In an ethics class, Doug once said, “It is not possible to be both Republican and Christian.” Remember, this was in the mid – ’70s. The implications were clear then and are even more so now. He taught that the role of government and of the faith community overlap in the responsibility to care for those living on the margins of life. He would never have identified his faith with any single party platform, but to the degree that a party’s platform was out of sync with the call to equality, equal opportunity, and justice for all, it stood in contrast to his view of Christianity. Indeed, Doug liked to replace the biblical phrase “Kingdom of God” with “Good government.”
For Doug, these concerns were never merely academic. When he and his family left Philadelphia and moved to Santa Barbara, Doug sought ways to live out the faith he imprinted on his students at Eastern. His new roles and responsibilities both allowed and required him to become more active in concrete ways in all of those issues that he found important.
As he built his home (another of his talents — Doug built a total of five homes), he and his wife, Sandie, committed themselves to providing affordable housing on their property, anticipating a need that would only grow more desperate as the years would pass. His concern for our houseless neighbors would inspire him to work with Common Ground and Habitat for Humanity, and to help found HEAL (Hope, Empowerment, and Love) and Showers of Blessing, which work to provide housing and other critical services to those in need, bringing dignity and hope.
Doug’s leadership in the faith community continued in Santa Barbara as well. He was pastor at the First Baptist Church for six years, served as an interim pastor for congregations in San Luis Obispo and Camarillo, and preached in numerous churches and other settings, challenging Christians to become more authentic followers of Jesus. He also worked in a number of interfaith settings, including serving on the boards of the Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara, the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, and ECOFaith. In those settings, Doug was an example of one who could hold his own faith deeply and passionately while still respecting the traditions of others.
Speaking on behalf of the Santa Barbara Clergy Association and the Interfaith Initiative, Doug often brought the religious values of freedom of religion, justice for all, compassion, and the meeting of basic human needs before government bodies in the City of Santa Barbara, the County of Santa Barbara, and the City of Goleta.
In recent years, Doug felt the need to share his scholarship and his understanding of what it means to follow Jesus on a wider level and authored many Los Angeles Times editorials, numerous journal articles, and two books. The first book — Jesus Goes to Washington: His Progressive Politics for a Sustainable Future, in which he examined Jesus’s ministry as presenting an alternative political system to the Roman Empire — speaks volumes to our society today. His soon-to-be-released book, Your Jesus Is Too Small: The Collapse of Christian Character, seeks to show how many of the common pictures of Jesus serve only to underscore cultural ideas that stand in contrast to the teachings and actions of the real Jesus of Nazareth and result in individual Christians living their lives in ways that fall short of his radical call to discipleship.
Doug is survived by his wife, Sandie; two children, Jeff and Christine; three grandchildren, Roxanne, Bella, and Ryan; and multiple students, congregants, friends, and even enemies whose lives have all been shaped by his sharp mind, deeply held commitments, loving nature, and yearning for God’s Good Government, come on Earth.