Willow, Weeping

Last Thursday and Friday I attended a simulcast of Willow Creek Community Church's Leadership Summit 2008. It turns out that Holley's hospital encouraged some of their leaders to attend the conference, and my adjunct faculty position earned me a substantial discount. So we had a two-day date. On "work days". Scandalous.

I came into the conference a bit skeptical, mostly because of what typically qualifies for leadership discussion in evangelical circles (read: "morally curious corporate structures"). Three of the guests were non-church leaders, and three were church or parachurch oriented leaders. I knew what to expect, ideas of mission/vision/people-management with a twist of Jesus-ness to top it off nicely.

However, I kept hearing the word "justice" throughout the conference.

For inmates who'll be paroled with little chance of a life.

For students in impoverished inner-city schools who needed decent teachers.

And of course there were the typical American/Evangelical standard-bearers, Chuck Colson for one, and his talk rang like a missed fret on an otherwise beautiful piece for classical guitar. If you had removed the word "God" from his talk, you may have thought he was actually running for office. He did not speak for long, and considering the man I mention below had already spoken, that was most definitely a good thing.

But above all, there was Gary Haugen. He talked about justice from the perspective of someone who is

Haugen is the founder and CEO of International Justice Mission

convinced that it must be the heart and soul of every follower of Jesus and that to do less would be to ignore the very will of God. He put into a very portable package the idea from N.T. Wright's Paul in Fresh Perspective that the "Creator was dealing with the problems in creation through creation itself." Haugen issued the same call, saying that the answer to the question of "Why isn't God doing anything about oppression and injustice?" is very simply, "We are the answer. There is no plan B." I picked up his book called Just Courage which does a very good job of putting the question of justice into an understandable and portable format.

For the record, Willow is Willow. Things are changing (a constant emphasis throughout the conference on those who were working with AIDS, global poverty, etc.) but they are still a large, attractional church model. The large platform for injustice was a great opportunity for evangelicals (a few of whom I knew were in attendance) that needed to have their lenses adjusted beyond just programs and strategic facilities management in the church. They are still the big church, there is still no overtly "missional" or "community" language coming out of their mouthpieces. But then again, "Whoever is not against you is for you." I think I heard that somewhere... 

The question still remains though: is this just a trend-seeking/trend-setting organization picking up the latest in Christian fashion--the question of justice? I don't think Gary Haugen is in that camp, because he's been there and seen it (he was UN council for the trials of those who carried out the Rwandan genocide). I recommend him highly and his book if you are looking for a way to introduce the question of justice to staunch evangelicals. It is not difficult, a quick read, but it presses the serious questions.

A serious question for you: Is there a difference between "dumbing-down" and "translating" an idea or thought?