Willow Creek Community Church is not anti-gay nor anti-anybody, the founding pastor said Thursday as he addressed the sudden decision by the CEO of Starbucks to cancel his speaking engagement at the church this week.
“Jim Mellado (president of Willow Creek Association) and I spent 45 minutes in a very constructive conversation with the senior leaders at Starbucks explaining to them in no uncertain terms that Willow is not anti-gay. But at the end of the day they decided that the downside business risk was just too high for them,” Pastor Bill Hybels said on the first day of the annual Willow Creek Leadership Summit in South Barrington, Ill.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was scheduled to speak about his book, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul, at the leadership summit on Friday. More than 7,000 people are attending this year with an additional 65,000 people watching the conference broadcast at meeting locations throughout the U.S.
But an online petition calling for Schultz to denounce Willow Creek had gathered more than 700 signatures.
Under pressure from a homosexual activist group accusing the hosting Willow Creek Association and its affiliated Illinois church of having an anti-gay stance, Schultz canceled his talk just days before the summit. However, Starbucks officials are not attributing the cancellation to the campaign launched last week at change.org.
The coffee company is currently investigating allegations that an openly gay staff member at a New York location was fired for discussing his personal life. Starbucks policy includes “zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”
After giving his opening talk on Thursday, Hybels later made a special announcement addressing the issue. Hybels began the announcement by saying:
“In the last seven days an online petition started to boycott Starbucks if Howard Schultz did not cancel his signed contract to this event. The issue driving this petition, which so far has been signed by 717 people, is homosexuality. The petition claims that Willow Creek Community Church is anti-gay. Therefore, if the president of Starbucks speaks here then Starbucks should be boycotted, or so the thinking goes.”
Activist Asher Huey of Washington, D.C., criticized Schultz for his planned appearance at the church because of its association with Exodus International. However, the church cut its ties with Exodus International, considered the world's largest ministry specifically addressing the issue of homosexuality, in 2009.
“If the organizers of this petition had simply taken the time to call us, we would have explained to them as we have to many others that Willow is not only not anti-gay, Willow is not anti-anybody,” Hybels said to applause. “Our church was founded on the idea that people matter to God. All people, all people of all backgrounds, colors, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.”
“The mat at every door on this campus has always read ‘welcome.’ For over 35 years we have flung the doors of this campus open to the widest array of humanity I have ever witnessed in a local church. And thousands, tens of thousands have come to learn the teachings of Jesus,” he continued.
“So, to suggest that we check sexual orientation or any other kind of issue at our doors is simply not true. Just ask the hundreds of people with same-sex attraction who attend our church every week.”
The senior pastor went on to clarify the church’s stance on homosexuality.
“Now, what is true is that we challenge homosexuals and heterosexuals to live out the sexual ethics taught in the scriptures which encourages full sexual expression between a man and a woman in the context of marriage and prescribes sexual abstinence and purity for everybody else.”
“But, even as we challenge all of our people to these biblical standards we do so with grace-filled spirits knowing the confusion and brokenness that is rampant in our fallen world,” he stressed. “At Willow, we honor the journey of everyone who is sincerely attempting to follow Christ. So, it’s unfortunate that we could not have explained this to those that called us anti-gay and started this petition.”
Hybels also said he was saddened by the growing trend in U.S. culture “to throw stones first and to ask questions later.”
“We see this in our political system and it’s rapidly making our country ungovernable,” he added.
Hybels ended his announcement by saying that he and his team of leaders plan to meet with the activist group and come to "some sort of mutual understanding." He also asked conference attendees to send a positive email to Schultz as a response to the many threatening emails the CEO received from homosexual activists.
Also, he encouraged those in attendance to buy a copy of Onward, and said it is “one of the best books on leadership I have read in a long time.”
“Finally, buy a cup of Starbuck coffee in the next couple of days and just show some Christian goodwill," he said at the conclusion of the special announcement.