When I saw the video that Nicholas Kristof posted on Facebook yesterday I was shocked that the link carried me to a set housing Kristof and Senior Pastor Bill Hybels on Willow Creek's main stage. (bizarre that I highlighted their 'sanctuary' in just my last post.)
It also comes on the cusp of this article, an anthropologist arguing that if liberal politicians would simply tweak some of their language they would in little time with minimal effort win over a large chunk of evangelical voters. My husband, brother, and I have been in an e-conversation about whether or not one can differentiate fundamentalists from evangelicals in this context. However, I bring it up to say that the Kristof video is a fascinating experiment in liberals and conservatives mixing company, and doing so well.
I see Nicholas Kristof as a modern day prophet. His work, in the company of his wife Sheryl WuDunn, on gendercide, sex trafficking, and female empowerment in the developing world inspires even the most cynical. He speaks for the marginalized by sharing the story of the individual with the masses to effectuate a response among the privileged, and he does so by derailing the (ab)use(s) of poverty porn; he upholds the struggling women and girls with dignity and awe... And a difference he makes.
Bill Hybels sits beside him in the video clip with a beautiful tan that I assume he picked up while sailing on his yacht. Despite my ambivalence about megachurch efforts to seek social justice causes (who knew that some of them are trying to now), Hybels warrants more respect from me than any other evangelical pastor because he makes so much effort to grow alongside his congregation. He does not claim a monopoly on (conservative) theology; he does not participate in trendy/swanky/hipster-y culture topics that circulate regularly in evangelical subculture (consider Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, and that dork in TX who are all obsessed with sex these days). I see Hybels as more concerned with following God and winning lost souls to Christ in ways that are relevant and transformative for suburban chicago-ites. He's less concerned with being cool. He tries really hard to be a good, authentic evangelical. It just so happens that it has also made him a lot of money, and pretty cool in his circles, in the meantime.
Hybels reads Half the Sky, and it's clear by the time he gets to the second question in this video interview with Kristof that his world is turned upside-down. Hybels cannot finish articulating many of his initial questions. (I've never heard Hybels say, "uh..." when public speaking.) He doesn't know where to go with all the dramatic facts about gendercide and prostitution and plights of women in a global context. The viewer sees him repositioning his body several times during the interview as if to speak on behalf of the thousands of followers in the congregation, "we are all uncomfortable with this. We don't talk about things like this in here. This isn't the individualized, hyper-pious, feel-good mantra we are used too...but keep talking, because we need to know and respond to this. Educate us, Kristof." And in his generous, unassuming, incredibly kind way, Kristof fields the questions, engages the congregation, and puts Bill at ease. I find it astounding and worth emulating. Not that I wanted Kirstof to bury Hybels or Willow Creek for just now waking up to these "liberal" issues, we just don't ever see these groups in dialogue because it is so uncomfortable. I was nervous at several points in the interview, and Kristof kept putting me at ease too with his graciousness and authenticity. Neither leader was trying to be someone other than who they were, and it worked.
Hybels' honesty, Kristof's generosity and intellect, tempered by a setting that is willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of their gospel is moving. The first time I watched the video I was annoyed with Hybel's naiveté. (Because I already have this all figured out, right?) The second time I was overcome with emotion at his earnestness to grapple with such realities. Issues that even many liberals cannot acknowledge. The third time I watched it I cried with Hybels at the end when he asked Kristof why he does this work and Kristof responded about the Polish nun in Congo.
It starts small for Kristof. It's the grain of yeast and the mustard seed. It's telling the story of one woman in one country. It's reaching out to one church in one suburb. It's writing one op-ed for the Times in an effort to conjure up a response. And it's all so damn honest and humble. Kristof speaks, and writes for that matter, with no pretense. I want to be best friends with him and his family. I want to drink wine with them at the dinner table during transformative conversations that run late in the night. I want to travel to Cambodia with them. I want to learn from them and work with them. I want to know the women that he knows. And since I must do so indirectly through his work and vicariously through other higher profile people (like Bill Hybels even), I'll take what I can get. I can't believe I'm saying this, "Thanks Willow."
I won't even get in to how Kristof is a contemporary, married, privileged, educated, white, male redeeming so much for me by way of each category I just plugged him in to. So thank you, Kristof, for living from your heart and sharing it in ways that minister with peace.
Disclaimer: as tech savvy as mega-churches are, it's unfortunate that I cannot embed the video. I am not sure how long it will be accessible on Willow's website. And no, I did not watch the other videos in their current series on Hope. --Don't want to ruin a good thing, know what I'm sayin'?