The Faith Journey of Luther Strange
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. -- Proverbs 19:21
I am an Episcopalian. I was baptized, confirmed and married in the Episcopal Church, steeped in its beautiful liturgy, hymns and traditions. Our family attended All Saints Episcopal, a small church in Homewood, Ala., co-founded by my grandparents.
I was confirmed there by the well-known Episcopal bishop, Charles Carpenter, one of the recipients of the Rev. Martin Luther King's “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” In that letter, Dr. King chastised leaders of Birmingham’s mainline Christian and Jewish denominations for not being more active in their support of civil rights. I attended my first two years of elementary school at All Saints. I had every reason to have a firm foundation in my family’s faith tradition.
By the time I got to high school, I’d become an Eagle Scout and our basketball team won a state championship. I was reasonably popular and had lots of friends. But as I grew older, I started to develop the feeling that something was missing spiritually.
I started to ask myself the eternal questions about the existence of God, the meaning of life, and how to give my life meaning. About the time I was grappling with these issues, I was introduced to a youth ministry called Young Life and a young leader named Jerry Leachman.
Jerry was just a few years older than I was and we really hit it off. He had played football for Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama before his playing career was cut short with injuries. I had worked at Camp Bear Bryant and was being recruited to play basketball in Tuscaloosa. The sports connection resonated. He was a person of great faith and I was immediately drawn to his testimony and his special way of relating to young men, especially athletes.
I spent countless hours with Jerry discussing and debating the big questions in life and what the Bible had to say on all subjects. I already believed I was a Christian, but my time in Young Life led me much deeper into the Bible in a way that spoke directly to the issues I had been dealing with. With Jerry’s guidance, I made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior.
High school came to an end, I went off to college and Jerry moved on in his ministry. We lost touch for the next 30 years. But in God’s time and according to his purpose, we reconnected in Washington, D.C., through our mutual friend Fred Barnes and picked up our friendship right where we left off. Jerry was chaplain of Washington’s pro football team and had a thriving ministry in the nation’s capital. The city is full of rich and powerful people who appear on the outside to have it all but are suffering spiritually on the inside. Jerry’s ministry was to those in D.C., including those on Capitol Hill, who needed to hear the Gospel the most.
I remember my first televised debate against Jim Folsom Jr. in my first run for political office, in 2006. About 20 minutes before we were to go on the air and before an auditorium full of people, I walked outside alone to gather my thoughts. I was nervous and called Jerry, not knowing if he’d even be available to answer. I was relieved to hear his voice when he did! I asked him, as my spiritual coach, for some help and reassurance. Through the Biblical story of Daniel and a prayer I was reassured of God's presence in that moment. Not that God was on my side in the debate but that His will would be done.
Our church, St. Mary's on-the-Highlands in Birmingham, had been our spiritual home since my wife and I were married there in 1981. We’ve both served on the vestry and Melissa has been especially involved in the many outreach ministries of the church. In 2003, she and I attended Cursillo, a three-day spiritual retreat at Camp McDowell, located in Winston County. Our weekend gave me a chance to quietly reflect on God’s purpose for my life. As wonderful and successful as my life was at the time, I could not shake this feeling that I might be called to serve a purpose larger than just myself.
I left Cursillo spiritually recharged and committed to finding God’s purpose for my life. The following Lent, I decided to read Rick Warren's hugely popular bestseller, “The Purpose Driven Life.” Every day for the next 40 days I’d read and reflect on a chapter of the book. Several things Pastor Warren wrote seemed to speak directly to me.
“God wants to use you to make a difference in the world.”
“In what way could I see myself passionately serving others and loving it?”