This is a summit that both Bill Clinton and Bono have spoken at before; this year, speakers include Newark Mayor Cory Booker and marketing guru Seth Godin. Admittedly, the focus is on leadership and not pushing Jesus.
But Schultz was caught in a dilemma because of Willow Creek’s stance on homosexuality.
A couple months ago, Starbucks put out a press release about its “Dedication to Embrace Diversity“:
Starbucks has supported the LGBT community for many years, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.
But if his company is against any form of discrimination, why was Schultz speaking at a conference sponsored by a megachurch that had a relationship with Exodus International — a group that believes you can pray away the gay and promotes gay-to-straight therapy — for decades, opposes gay rights, and has spread lies about gay people in the past? (Willow Creek ended its partnership with Exodus a couple years ago, but their position on homosexuality hasn’t really changed.)
Asher Huey was concerned about that and he began a petition for Schultz to back out of his speaking engagement — or “at the very least, issue an immediate statement denouncing the church’s anti-gay practices and beliefs.”
For what it’s worth, I don’t really think Schultz’s appearance would’ve constituted hypocrisy. More on that below.
Needless to say, the petition worked.
Schultz canceled his appearance. (To their credit, Willow Creek let him back out of the contract without penalty.)
This is where it gets really interesting.
Willow Creek announced how this all went down yesterday (during day one of the two-day conference) (***Update***: The video below now works):
Pastor Bill Hybels told the crowd that he spoke with Starbucks officials…
… 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, so Howard and his team decided to cancel and we agreed…
He added that “hundreds” of people with same-sex attraction attend the church every week — so there.
To summarize: Someone accused the Starbucks CEO with attending an event sponsored by an anti-gay church. They church says they’re not anti-gay.
Which is it?
Well, let’s take a look at the facts.
Does Willow support gay marriage? No.
Does Willow support civil unions? No.
Does Willow support monogamous gay partnerships? No.
Does Willow support gay adoption? No. (Fair warning: If you click on that link, an annoying song will start playing.)
In fact, in that same video above, Hybels laid out his church’s current, “loving” stance toward gay people:
… 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.
Aww, isn’t that sweet of them to say? If you’re gay, just repress your sexuality and everything will be fine!
It’s kind of like that parable in which Jesus says to the homosexual: “Put that back in your pants.”
Want to know what else Willow teaches about gay people?
Well, as it turns out, I’ve subscribed to Willow Creek’s podcast for a few years now… every week, I get a new sermon. Good times.
Back in 2007, they uploaded a Hybels sermon called “Modern Day Madness – Part 3: Hope for the Homosexual.” (Edit: I don’t know the actual date the sermon was delivered.)
I still have it in my iTunes folder. It’s one of those sermons you hear and think, “I’m gonna save that one because it’s gonna bite him in the ass one day.”
Damn, I’m glad I did that.
So I gave it another listen last night. And now, you can hear it as well. Here. Download it. Spread it. (Click on: “Click here to start download from sendspace.”)
It’s bigotry at its finest.
In it, Hybels “dispels common myths” about homosexuality:
Myth 1) Homosexuals are born that way. (“This is a widely believed myth!… this myth is often spread aggressively by the gay liberation advocates…”)
Myth 2) Homosexuals lead happy lives. (“The gay life is anything but gay!… the homosexual lifestyle is a horrible lifestyle and a horror-filled lifestyle… did you know that the average — the average! — homosexual, over the course of a full lifetime, will have between 500 and 1000 sexual encounters with different men? It’s less for lesbians. They have fewer casual episodes or sexual encounters.”)
Myth 3) There is no hope for the homosexual. (“Friends, would you please try to put on the moccasins of a homosexual just one time before we conclude this service?… I frankly have never met a homosexual, or a lesbian, who went all the way to the point of sexual reorientation, sexual wholeness, without the help, without the careful longterm assistance, of a knowledgeable therapist…”)
That’s the kind, gentle, loving treatment of homosexuality you’ll hear at Willow…
So if Hybels honestly thinks his current explanation (that his church is not anti-gay) will change anybody’s perception of Willow Creek, or evangelical Christianity in general, he’s deluded.
They’re as clueless about homosexuality as they ever were. They’re the biggest obstacles we face in the fight for LGBT equal rights. And we need to continue speaking out against them and educating Christians about how misguided their views are.
Ok. All that said, if Schultz did go through with his appearance, would I think he was a hypocrite? No. Just because you speak at a church-sponsored event doesn’t mean you have to agree with all the church’s beliefs. Schultz was going there to talk about leadership, not theology. Mayor Cory Booker, also speaking at this conference, has voiced his support for marriage equality, and I don’t see anyone calling him a hypocrite. Hell, former American Atheists President Frank Zindler once took part in a debate sponsored by Willow Creek — and I know he opposes their beliefs.
On a personal note, I’ve also spoken at a number of churches — including Willow Creek — over the past few years. When I go, I talk openly about my atheism and my perceptions of Christian churches. When the opportunity has come up, I’ve made it clear that the evangelical Christian treatment of gay people has not only been bigoted and based on lies, it’s arguably the most destructive thing they’ve done to their own “brand.” I feel that accepting those invitations is a chance for me to speak about those issues and I appreciate the opportunities. In fact, in my book, I even wrote about how much I liked the sermons I heard at Willow Creek. (They’re not all as disturbing as the one above.)
I think Schultz did a good thing by canceling his appearance. But, to be fair, if he hadn’t canceled, I doubt we’d be talking about his supposed hypocrisy right now.