Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, was scheduled to speak at an event called Global Leadership Summit, hosted at Willow Creek Community Church. Summit is a conference about leadership and church marketing that I would never, ever attend. At the last minute, Schultz backed out of the event due to a “boycott Starbucks” campaign by a gay-rights group.
Bill Hybels is one of the senior pastors at Willow Creek, and one of the event coordinators. He addressed the event crowd, and summarized the situation, and responded the following way.
1. Hybels said that Willow Creek is not anti-gay (as the boycott was alleging), because Willow Creek is not anti-anybody. It was founded on the idea that God is for everyone. He backed up this assertion by drawing attention to the “hundreds” of same-sex couples who attend Willow Creek every week.
2. Hybels further observed that Willow Creek does believe that the expectations for Christian discipleship laid out in the New Testament call for a specific sexual ethic. Willow Creek accordingly calls all homosexual and heterosexual Christians to live according to such an ethic, and reserve sexual intimacy for the confines of man and woman within marriage.
3. He described how he explained all of this to upper-level management at Starbucks, who were unimpressed because they had to make a “business decision.” So he said of course they allowed Schultz out of his contract to speak, and were not going to hold his contract against him. “He had a business decision to make, and he made it.”
4. He lamented that the gay-rights group would resort to throwing mud first rather than talking to a Willow Creek associate to understand their perspective. But that is the culture, he implied, what do you expect?
5. He asked the church to pray for him and other leaders as they attempted to follow Mt. 18 and meet specifically with those who started the boycott. “We’re gonna just sit down and see if we can talk.” (Mt. 18 is actually addressed to someone within the church who sins against you, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment.)
6. Hybels encouraged participants at the Summit to purchase a copy of Schultz’s book on leadership, saying that it was really a very good book.
7. Finally, he encouraged members of the church to hit Starbucks sometime during the Summit, to buy some coffee and to “show some Christian good will” to Howard Schultz.
What do you think of the situation? What do you think of Hybels’ response? Would you call his position “anti-gay”? Should he be afraid of being labeled “anti-gay?” Did he respond in a Christian manner to the threat of boycott, and to Howard Schultz’s decision to back out?