Willow Creek Association: A really big tent

Researching the relationship between Canyon Ridge Christian Church and the Willow Creek Association, I corresponded briefly with WCA’s Executive Vice President, Steve Bell. I reported the initial statement provided by Mr. Bell regarding their relationship with Canyon Ridge in Salon on July 2:

The 10,000 churches that belong to Willow Creek Association are aligned by their mutual agreement with a statement of faith that reflects a historic, orthodox understanding of biblical Christianity.   WCA membership does not imply that the WCA supports or agrees with a church’s position on social or political issues. Willow Creek Association’s goal is not to interfere in the political processes of other nations.  Rather, its sole mission is to provide resources and training to church leaders around the world that will assist them as they minister to people in their communities and help them find a deeper understanding of God.

I followed up with questions regarding their stance on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the participation of Canyon Ridge in the upcoming Global Leadership Summit. Mr. Bell wrote back quickly to clarify WCA’s positions. 

WCA membership does not imply that we support the social or political positions of our member churches.  We align with them theologically and we take that very seriously.  But we don’t try to judge or interfere with their social and/or political positions (example: Episcopal churches).  And we don’t take outright stands on political issues within countries.  Our goal is to influence and support faith-based communities, not governments.

To be specific and clear, Canyon Ridge will be a host site church for the Global Leadership Summit in August.  However, that does not mean the WCA supports their position vis-à-vis Martin Ssempa, anymore than our relationship with Episcopal churches implies our advocacy for homosexual pastors.

I take from this response that some churches in WCA support the ordination of gay clergy. To be a member in the WCA, one must pay a fee and agree to their statement of faith.

One may locate a WCA church from their website. Seekers are greeted with this disclaimer:

While we do not oversee the ministry expressions of individual churches, WCA Membership is intended solely for churches that hold an orthodox understanding of biblical Christianity. All WCA Member Churches have affirmed the central doctrines of the Bible reflected in the WCA Statement of Faith and also presented in the historic creeds of the Christian faith. WCA Membership is open to churches of any size or denomination that are marked by a deep commitment to furthering the cause of Christ.

It appears that WCA does not make stances on cultural issues a condition of membership. They seem to want to be a big tent where many different perspectives are included. From the sound of Mr. Bell’s response, gay affirming or non-gay affirming churches may join. On this point, I am curious to know how any WCA gay affirming churches would regard Canyon Ridge’s support for Martin Ssempa. On the other hand, I wonder how other non-affirming churches regard the inclusion of Episcopal churches who affirm gay ordination.

Can a tent be too big?

I am conflicted a bit on this. I am generally a big tent person. I like to fellowship with believers of various opinions and perspectives where the focus is on the core elements of the faith. However, I do think that some issues cry out for leadership and I think the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is one of those issues. I do not believe that the bigtentness of the WCA should prevent them from expressing a critical view of the bill or of those who support it. 

The WCA’s position statement regarding stands on social issues has not stopped Willow Creek Community Church pastor, Bill Hybels, from taking a stand on immigration. Pastor Hybels recently introduced President Obama’s speech on immigration at American University (video on his favorably remarks). His wife, Lynne, offered support for immigration reform on behalf of herself and Rev. Hybels before the Senate Judiaciary Committee back in October, 2009. 

I suspect WCA does not monitor member churches on immigration reform, but I do wonder what they would say if one of their churches supported doing violence to undocumented people.

Those in leadership with the WCA have evaluated the work of Martin Ssempa on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and come to a different conclusion than member church Canyon Ridge. However, I do not think it would do harm to their big tent if they went a step further and made explicit their concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren started where WCA is now but soon determined that a clear condemnation was needed. Will Willow Creek do the same?

  • http://www.comingout4christians.net Dave

    Well .. I am a bit conflicted as well. I do think Christians should ban together as this association has done .. On the other hand .. I did a search on their website for the word ‘homosexuality’ Result is here

    I did not find any affirming views .. I did find some celibacy views and perhaps some political views and concerns. So I am not so sure what all this tent contains. I have no conclusion here… I am just saying that for me .. the jury is still out.

  • Lynn David

    While the Catholic church doesn’t believe so, I guess you could have men who are homosexual as well as ministers/priests, but if the WCA thinks their churches are all ‘orthodox’ then I would assume there would be no such thing as a ‘gay-affirming’ church in the association.


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