Yesterday, our pastor (Bill Hybels of Willowcreek Community Church) preached for week three of Willow's annual Celebration of Hope series about helping the poor. It was the first sermon I've ever heard by Bill in which I didn't notice him mentioning either God or sin. (I could have missed something. Listen for yourself here: http://media.willowcreek.org/weekend/celebration-hope-2014/.)
It was a surprising omission to me because Bill's first question was "Why are the poor poor?" Bill offered several possibilities. He did not, however, offer the obvious Willow answer - because we live in a fallen world.
I was glad to see Bill then note the plight of the extreme poor has improved in recent decades. But I was surprised to see no credit given for that to the era of freedom beginning with the fall of the Berlin wall, nor to the resulting wave of free enterprise.
Next, Bill mentioned how he and Willow evolved from only offering compassionate help to the poor, to also supporting justice, and recently becoming involved in politics.
The example Bill offered was of recently writing editorials, meeting politicians, and attending demonstrations to solve the problem of illegal immigration. As usual, nothing was said on behalf of applicants for legal immigration, who wait years for a decision.
The new focus on justice and lobbying over compassion is a huge switch for Bill and Willow, but deja vu for a retired United Methodist pastor. Forty years ago, we in the UMC tried the same thing. For example, Bread for the World (bread.org) told us we could raise more money to feed the poor with one vote in Congress than from any number of individual charitable gifts. Theoretically true -- but not magic. Unless a majority of voters agree, members of Congress seeking re-election won't long support any idea.
When I first attended (in 1990), Willow had a different approach, called "Life by life." Rather than lobbying politicians, Willow built individual relationships. This resulted in such sights as Congressman Bobby Rush attending a Willowcreek Leadership Summit, and Bill's monthly visits with then-President Bill Clinton.
There is value in both approaches, but hearing the UMC argument coming from Bill's mouth left me wondering who now reaches people life by life?
Like many reaching the end of a career, Bill has recently become more willing to express controversial sentiments, coming out as a Democrat, much as I came out as a Libertarian on many issues after retirement. But part of me would like to return to the days when pastors were more careful not to drive off half a congregation by too fervently supporting only one side of a controversial issue in which major parties disagree and Biblical truth is elusive.
Update:Here's a contrary view from today's news, noting
that George Soros is funding a group in which our pastor's spouse is
involved. That's the conservative equivalent of telling a liberal
something was funded by the Koch brothers: http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2014/04/23/the-faux-conservative-evangelicals-fighting-for-immigration-reform/