By Bruce Koblish
I’m a child of the ’60s, and my generation is no stranger to racial tension in our country. So I guess I should not have been surprised that when I became the president of the Gospel Music Association, I faced these same issues within the world of Christian music.
The second day on the job I found myself in a room with 30 African-American members of the gospel music community, from artists to managers to attorneys. I may have been ill prepared to deal with such a setting, but I listened intently and resolved early in my job to do everything I could to bring harmony between all factions within the world of Christian and gospel music.
Good progress was made from 1991 to 1995, but I was not fully prepared for an encounter in 1995 that began very badly, but ended in reconciliation and even friendship.
My wife and I are loyal Green Bay Packer fans, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when right before our annual convention I received a call from Reggie White saying he wanted to meet with me. I was thrilled because the “Minister of Defense” was now a Packer and was going to take us to the promised land! And he wanted to meet with me!
When he and his wife, Sara, came to my temporary office during GMA Week, I could tell from the beginning, although they were very cordial, there was more to this meeting. He asked in that gravelly voice, “Bruce, is there a place we can go to talk?”
“Sure,” I said, and quickly arranged to meet in one of the hotel suites we had for the week.
After we arrived at the suite, a few other prominent members of the gospel music community eventually joined us and Reggie began talking. He spoke of the injustice that had been done to the gospel music community, the lack of opportunity for blacks in the industry, and the feeling of being held back.
At one point he asked if I would consider going before the national media and apologizing for the past sins of the Christian music industry against the black gospel community. He reminded me that with his position in the NFL, he could have all of the major networks there on very short notice.
At that moment, as I was rapidly thinking of how I was going to respond, I felt very disappointed. Being confronted by the NFL’s quarterback sacks leader was rather intimidating, to say the least! I had worked so hard to build bridges and to correct wrongs. But now Reggie White, the man I loved as a football player as well as what he stood for, was saying it was still all wrong! How could that be? Though the words were hard to hear, there was no anger, but rather a passionate cry for change.
I got tears in my eyes and had to speak from the heart. I said I personally could not apologize for things I did not do or know about. I said I didn’t even think that would be scriptural since I personally was not the offender. I went on to offer a possible course of action, while in my mind clinging to the verse that says God will give us the words to speak when we need them the most. And boy did I need them!
You see, I believe trust is the key to any relationship. If trust is the glue that holds relationships together, then a broken trust is what causes separation. I told Reggie I was willing to work with him to try to rebuild this trust. I would agree to do something and then actually do it, and he would do the same. Maybe, just maybe, if we did this with integrity, vulnerability, and complete transparency, some progress could be made.
That was my commitment to him. Not in front of reporters and television cameras, but brother to brother. I asked him the first thing he wanted me to do, and he said he wanted to meet with the CEOs of the Christian record labels. “Done,” I said.
When the convention ended and I went back to my office the next week, a flood of relief and fulfillment came over me as I walked into my office, and there on my desk was an NFL football signed “Reggie White #92,” with 1 Corinthians 13 under his autograph. “Love is patient, love is kind . . . ”
And as I had promised, Reggie and I, plus Sara and several record executives, soon sat down to a lunch in Nashville. We talked about how to be reconciled one to another and how to create opportunities for the kids Reggie and Sara loved so much—kids growing up in underprivileged neighborhoods who needed love, respect, and eventually a career. It was powerful.
Sometimes changing is just a matter of choice. I invited Reggie to be a presenter at the Dove Awards the next two years, stayed in his home, went to Packer games (even the Super Bowl!), and had numerous other encounters that would make most football fans drool, but this really was all about something much deeper. Two men, two races, and two hearts wanting desperately to achieve one goal: that all men and women would love and respect each other.
(OK, the fact that my family and I may have the only picture in the world of us with Brett Favre outside the Packer locker room at Lambeau Field—taken by Reggie—helped to build our trust a little bit!)
Reggie is gone now, very prematurely, but I will always love that man for who he was more than what he did, and what he did was pretty spectacular on and off the field. Sometimes misunderstood, sometimes not using the words the media wanted to hear, sometimes accused for using his platform to talk about his faith, but always a passionate, loving, caring person who wanted to see change. And he proved it on that day when we committed to rebuilding relationships one trusting step at a time.
Christ showed us how to love one another. Rebuilding trust, one act at a time, can be powerful. As one person builds trust with another, others can see it is possible. I thank God for showing me how he wants to make this happen in all of our lives.
Bruce Koblish is president and CEO of The Worship Network in Franklin, Tennessee.