Though I hate to admit it to my friends from Duke Divinity (where the name of Willow Creek can be almost anathema), I have enjoyed my experience of the last two years. Oh, there was plenty of things that made me cringe (Bill Hybels insistence that the substitutionary atonement theory is the ONLY message of the cross, his detailing of Willow’s problems about jets and huge staffs, etc.), but overall it has been a good experience. This year hasn’t held up so far, and Hybels first message (usually the better of his two) wasn’t on target. Still, there has been bright spots.
One of the best parts of the three years has been the session on social justice. I realise that some have said that Willow still blurs the line between ‘charity’ and ‘justice’, and I will admit that it’s true at times. But, evangelicals have come late to understanding the need of social justice, and like the mainline years ago, are growing up. I can’t criticise what they are trying to do here. Two years ago, Hybels interviewed U2’s Bono and last year it was Richard Curtis (the creator of The Vicar of Dibley and the film Four Weddings and a Funeral) – neither what we might call paid up, fully confessional Christians. Both brought to the summit issues that many evangelicals have likely shunned in the past in favour of ‘saving souls’ and defaulting to a ‘charity’ model that just wants to say, ‘God told us to help, so that’s what we are doing’ (an exaggeration, I know).
This year, Willow has chosen a different tack. The speaker is someone who confesses to be a Christian and works with a Christian ministry dedicated to social justice. This was worth the price of admission. Gary Haugen is a lawyer working with the International Justice Mission. He has been a part of a team that works to stand up to those who abuse their power in the worst forms. He told of three examples: a man imprisoned wrongly other than the police wanted to extort money; a rice plantation in India with slaves; and a young woman freed from kidnapping and prostitution. This is just a small portion of what goes on.
Haugen took the time to teach what is truly injustice, especially in culture (the US) where he has been taught to see himself as a victim everyday. I had to hang my head with shame as I remembered my previous post on being cut in line – he used a similar example to show how Americans can feel slighted at the smallest thing. He then says, this isn’t what he is talking about. He names injustice as a particular kind of sin – the abuse of power that takes away from the weak.
This form of injustice is what is close to God’s heart, what Jesus is interested in. Then he asks are our churches interested in what Jesus is? This certainly hit close. He didn’t allow us to say, ‘justice just isn’t our thing’. He said, this is what matters to Christ. We can lead and have people follow us, but it can all be done without actually doing what God wants us to be doing.
Haugen didn’t pretend any of this is easy. He gave us four choices we have to make: 1) the choice not be safe – Jesus didn’t come to make us ‘safe’; 2) the choice for a deep spiritual health – all of what we need to do requires connection to God; 3) the choice to pursue excellence – not mediocrity; and 4) the choice to seize the joy – especially in the face of overwhelming odds.
Check out the ministry if you get the chance.