Our own Pam Glass interviewed Randy at the CBA conference Summer of 2004
CBP: Tell me about you. How did you come to Christ? I know you have an interesting background; you’re an attorney now into fiction writing. How did all that come about?
Randy: Well. I came to Christ when I was sixteen, and I think it’s the story that no person comes to Christ until they have to. And so I hit rock bottom as a teenager; I sort of came to Christ out of desperation and fear, really. And then He started changing my life. I went to Hope College, met my wife, Rhonda at college and I taught for five years after college at a Christian school, taught and coached, but I always felt that God was calling me into the practice of law.
I loved law, I wanted to go to law school, but during this five-year period of time He was teaching me some things as a teacher first. And so I went to William and Mary Law School, graduated second in my class (God knew my ego couldn’t take first), and then after law school it was one of those times, if you’ve ever read John Grisham’s book The Firm, that’s what it was like when I graduated from law school. All these firms, there’s a hiring season for these firms, they needed bodies, if you were a warm body that did pretty well at a known school you could pick any firm you wanted to in the country. So that was a key time for Rhonda and myself to decide where we were going to live, where we wanted to invest our lives.
We went to the Tidewater area of Virginia, the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area, and I went to the second-largest firm there and started the practice of law. And God just really blessed. I was trying cases that I had no business trying as a young associate, you know, six-month trials, and His hand was just all over it. And so for fifteen years I tried cases. I tried media cases: I represented The Weather Channel, Family Channel, NBC, ABC, CBS. I did airplane crash cases; I prosecuted criminals, just all kinds of different things. And I was loving it.
But fifteen years after I started practicing, I was head of our litigation section at the sixty-person firm, and God showed me that I had become Randy Singer the trial lawyer instead of Randy Singer, saved by grace. And what He had intended for good I had turned into an idol. And so I repented of that and said, “God, if You want me to give up the practice of law, I’ll do whatever You want me to do.”
It was on a weekend at a Promise Keeper’s event in Charlotte, North Carolina, Charlotte Motor Speedways. It was about 100 degrees outside, so on the speedway it must have been 110. But the speaker was talking about, "What are you not willing to give up for Christ?" And it was like he was putting his finger on my life and my career. So I brought my accountability partners around and said, “This is what I believe God’s telling me: just be ready to walk away from practicing law, the active practice of law." And my wife, the same weekend, was receiving the same word from the Lord. And so we did. We decided we would just put this on the altar, and then about a year of this waiting period, it’s incredible, you know it teaches you so much while you’re waiting.
About a year and a half later I was called to the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention to be the Executive Vice President, which is the number two guy at that mission board, and it was because we have a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week television network, Familynet, and there’s a lot of other areas that my experience would come in handy. And so I started working with the mission board, loving what I was doing, and I decided, I was a former lawyer, I’m now working at the mission board, we’re big on evangelism, I ought to write something on apologetics.
I was street preaching at the time, God was calling me to a new phase, and I felt like He was telling me to write something. So I started writing a book on apologetics. Well, what I discovered was everything I had to say about apologetics had already been said by people smarter than me and better than me. You know, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, all these guys are writing beautiful stuff on apologetics, and my thoughts were just kind of re-canned, more of the same. So I said I would be publishing this just to be published. I was preaching a sermon at that time called “Proof of the Resurrection” and that was meeting a lot of needs, but I realized that I was doing this book for me, not really for Christ.
But I was sitting next to somebody on a plane, and instead of talking to me, they would whip out a novel and be reading that novel, and God started to show me that they’re going to spend forty hours of their life absorbing information in the context of a story while their guards are down. And then I discovered the way Christ taught in the New Testament was through parables and mysteries and stories, great storytelling. And I said, “God if You want me to write a novel, You give it to me and I’ll write it down.”
Now this is probably in 2000 that I started. And God gave me the story about two missionaries in Saudi Arabia that were church planters, Christian missionaries, and they were caught by the Saudi Arabian religious police. The husband is tortured and killed and the wife comes back to the United States and files a civil rights action with this kind of secular, ambulance-chasing attorney, who takes up her case in the international court against Saudi Arabia. So before 9/11 ever happened this book addressed the issues of religious liberty, persecution in a Muslim country, torture under international law, all the issues that are going to become major issues in the next couple of years are in this book that I didn’t know were coming yet.
Pam, I researched it, I talked to missionaries, but when the book came out I had a former missionary from Saudi Arabia come to me and say, “This is my story. How did you know my story?” Because it was so realistic, based on what he’s gone through, as far as his persecution was concerned. So I was blessed to win a Christy award for that book for best suspense novel last year, 2003.
And then God gave me two other stories, about cloning and stem cell research, which was the second book. And then the third book, Dying Declaration, is about parents who refuse to get medical help for their child and the baby dies. So that kind of brings you up to how I got around to where I’m at.
Just as a great example of how this works: I was on a plane ride going to Boston the other day, and the guy sitting next to me worked for the NBC station up there. And so, like everyone else, he was reading a novel called The Naked, which I’d never heard of before. But when the plane takes off he puts his novel down on the floor, and it slid back behind him, you know. So he turns to the guy behind him and says, “Can you find my novel?” And the guy said “No.” And he turns to the guy behind him; well, nobody can find this guy’s novel. So I said, “Do you like novels?” And he said “Sure.” And I said, “Well, I’ve got a couple in my briefcase.”
I pulled out my book, Dying Declaration. I was also reading a book by Dan Brown, not DaVinci Code but his other book, Angels and Demons. So I show him these two books, and of course he picks Dan Brown’s book. I don’t even understand why I did that! So I put my book back in my briefcase and a few minutes later he said, “So what do you do for a living?” And I said, “Well, I write books. I’m an author,” And he said, “Hey that’s great! What do you write?” I said, “That book you just rejected!” He said, “You know, that actually looked pretty good!” You know, he’s backpedaling. “I think I’d like to read that one instead of this one!” So we traded books, I gave him Dying Declaration, he started reading it, and after awhile he started asking questions about it. It gave me a great chance to talk about Christ and what He’s done in my life and what He could do in his life. And I thought, in just a snapshot of one short plane trip God showed my why He’s called me to write novels. You know, the people who would otherwise be reading The Naked or Angels and Demons might pick up a copy of this book and be exposed to the love and grace of Christ.
CBP: Well that was my next question: Why novels? Why fiction?
Randy: Well, I’ve found that if it’s non-fiction, we have this wall of defense mechanisms we throw up because we know the author’s got an agenda, the author’s trying to make a point. So storytelling just drags those walls down and we kind of live it with the characters. And the other reason I do fiction is, Charles Arnold, for example, the street preacher in the story, he’s a real-life street preacher.
CBP: That was another one of my questions: Where did you draw your characters from?
Randy: He’s my buddy. He dragged me out to the street to preach with him and got me into street preaching. You know, you go down to the streets of Atlanta on a weekend or a weeknight you may well find him there. And he had trouble with the police. I mean all that is just true to life. So what I find is, you can take real life incidents, that people might otherwise dismiss, and put them in the context of a novel, and they’ll not just appreciate it they’ll live it. And then the third reason is, for the younger generation, you know the twenty-something on down, they learn through storytelling. This is a storytelling generation. And so I felt that if there was anything that would reach that next generation it was probably going to have to be in the form of storytelling.
CBP: Did you have a background of storytelling when you were growing up?
Randy: Not really, but you know, a lawyer is a storyteller. I found in my cases, when I tried cases, if you go up in front of the jury and you just start arguing a bunch of stuff they’ll do the same thing everybody else does, they cross their arms and get defensive. But if you just tell them a story, “This is the case about a family that had a baby and believed that God would heal that baby,” and you just tell them the story of the case, that’s what draws people in. And so, as a lawyer giving an opening statement or a closing argument I was a storyteller.
CBP: Is that a real case?
Randy: It’s not a real case, but what I try to do is say, "What is in today’s headlines that Christians need to focus on?" And so it’s an example of this kind of case that comes up a lot. Like, after I wrote the book, there’s a case in Florida that’s very similar to this. Now the deal is, the courts have been very clear, if parents believe in faith healing and not getting medical help for a child, they have a right to refuse medical help themselves, but the courts have said, you can make a martyr of yourself but you cannot make a martyr of your child before the child turns adult age.
But what makes this case different in the book is, they just didn’t refuse medical help, they waited three days. So that puts it right on the line where a jury is going to have to decide, "Is that faith too radical? Is it too far outside the pale of what we consider to be acceptable faith in America to wait three days and pray for faith and pray for healing before you take your child to the hospital? Or is that something that is encompassed in the freedom of religion clause?" And that’s something that I wanted Christians to wrestle with because I knew that 99% of the people reading this book would say that baby should have been in there on day one. I would have had my baby in there. I mean, my first child, if they had a fever of 98.9 they’re in the hospital! That’s a parent’s instinct.
But my point that I’m trying to make through story is that if the Freedom Of Religion clause only means that people are protected when they do things we agree with, then there is no freedom of religion. It has to protect things that are more radical than what we would do. So that’s why I’m trying to pose this question of is this too radical? Is this something, faith, which can be protected in the U.S.? What I see coming is a day of persecution in the U.S. for those people of radical faith.
CBP: Would it have made a difference legally in this hypothetical case or one like it if the parents had not gone to the hospital? If they had said, “This is our faith. We believe that God will heal our son without medical intervention” and the child had died at home on the fourth or fifth day. They have stayed true to their convictions.
Randy: That would have made all the difference because there’s a balance in any exercise of religion problem. There’s a balance between the rights of the individual for free exercise of religion, but when that exercise of religion impacts others, especially children, then the state has an interest in protecting those children. And the courts are pretty clear that if you refuse medical help totally for a life-threatening situation, the court can come in and require that the child get medical help. And the state can prosecute you for failure to get medical help. So what made the difference here is they delayed, they didn’t refuse.
CBP: How is this book different from others that are, perhaps, like it?
Randy: I think this book differs in a couple of ways. Number one, this book addresses critical issues, worldview issues in our society. And I’ve got three purposes for the book: one, I want you to be able to give it to a non-Christian and let him feel comfortable reading it; two, I want the Gospel to be presented as something that changes lives; three, I want to address the issues that no one else dares address--cloning, stem cell research, persecution of Christians in Muslim countries, and in this latest one, what happens when God doesn’t answer prayer. What faith is too radical for us to tolerate in America? Those are questions that I want to try and address. So it differs because I’m taking on the hardest cultural issues we face today. And you know, even in this book, I do deal with abortion and right to life that are involved in the case of a federal court judge. So I won’t run from any issue, that’s my promise to my readers.
But the second thing is, I want this to feel not so much like a Christian novel as it does like a secular novel with the Gospel seamlessly woven into it. Because a lot of times, if we’re not careful, in Christian novels we can present kind of the “perfect world,” you know, that none of us really live in. I want this to feel realistic. And I want someone who’s used to reading a secular writer to feel like they can read this book and not get preached at, but they are getting shown what God’s grace and help can do. Without question, if a novel is not a good, entertaining read, then none of the other things happen. The first and foremost thing has got to be, does it engage people? And I think no kind of religious purpose can make up for shoddy writing.
CBP: If you have shoddy writing you’re going to lose them before the third chapter anyway.
Randy: And don’t you know, there are some people you would like to say, “I know you’re a Christian, but don’t tell anybody?” There are probably some books that you’d like to say, “I know it’s supposed to be a Christian book, but don’t tell anybody!” Because every time we hold up the cause of Christ we need to hold it up with excellence.
CBP: What are you working on now?
Randy: I’m working on book four, which is called Self Incrimination, and the theme for this book is, in my first book, the main character was a female law school student who ended up in this huge trial, she was in way over her head. The fourth book is written from her perspective after she graduated from law school. She’s defending a sixteen-year-old girl who is accused of murdering her abusive father in cold blood. Because, Pam, I always get asked the question, “As a Christian attorney, how could you represent someone you know is guilty?” Are there any circumstances that would justify this sort of thing? And so we’re going to find the answer to that. That book will be out next May (2005). And then that same year, next Christmas, I’ve got a book coming out, The Judge Who Stole Christmas. And the little boy that’s one of the featured characters in Dying Declaration is in that book. And also the mean judge from my first book comes back. And the issue is, the judge doesn’t allow a living crèche to be displayed in the public square. But the little boy’s parents, who are Mary and Joseph in this manger scene, refuse to leave the square. So they have to put them in jail at Christmas time. So The Judge Who Stole Christmas is coming out next Christmas.