In 2001, my husband Bill was jolted out of racial complacency. Through books he read and conversations he had with African-American pastors, he was broken by the reality of ongoing racial injustice in the U.S. He describes it as having a kind of "second conversion," where the scales fell off his eyes and he suddenly saw with horrible clarity of something that broke the heart of God and ought to break his heart.
In response to the stirring in his spirit, he began to study and then to teach our congregation the history of slavery and the ongoing reality of discrimination and systemic injustice. He read the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and became outspoken about racial reconciliation and our need to intentionally pursue greater racial diversity in our church.
He didn't just speak on these issues once or twice; these themes began to bleed through every dimension of our church life. In fact, the church leadership team decided to "institute" the value of racial reconciliation by dedicating an entire weekend service each January to the values taught by Dr. King.
The first time we did an MLK service, Bill received letters from people who said, "We don't come to church to hear your left-wing politics." Bill and I were horrified by that response, but it just fueled Bill's passion to help our congregation understand that racial reconciliation and the fight against injustice are every bit as important as evangelism, small groups, prayer, Bible study, and all the other practices and disciplines Christians leaders so enthusiastically lift up.
This weekend, as I was considering the approach of MLK day, I re-read some of Bill's past MLK messages on racism, systemic injustice, the working poor-and on God's call for us to join him in fixing whatever is broken in our communities and in the world. This year our MLK service will fall during a teaching series on family. The weekend message will focus on how to create truly inclusive homes and raise children committed to celebrating diversity and pursuing justice. I pray that many people will experience a "second conversion" that compels them to reach their hands-and extend their lives-across the racial divide.
While Willow has a long way to go in every measure of spiritual maturity-including racial reconciliation-our congregation is no longer the white suburban church it used to be. The racial diversity of our congregation now reflects the increasingly diverse demographic of our community, and we are experiencing both the challenges and the blessings that always accompany a journey closer to the heart of God.
Lynne Hybels is the Advocate for Global Engagement at Willow Creek Community Church and author of Nice Girls Don't Change the World.
You can download PDFs of some of Bill Hybels' sermons on racial reconciliation at these links: