BILL HYBELS, the senior pastor at one of the largest churches in the United States, Willow Creek Community Church, Illinois, insisted that his church was not “anti-gay”, after an online campaign, suggesting that the church “had a long history of anti-gay persecution”, led the chief executive of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, to cancel a speaking engagement there.
More than 700 people signed an online petition on the website change.org, threatening to boycott Starbucks if Mr Schultz spoke at the Willow Creek leadership summit. The petition said that the church had practised “dangerous conver-sion therapy to ‘cure’ people of their sexual orientation” and “spread . . . [an] anti-LGBT message”.
Speaking at the summit on 12 August, Mr Hybels said that he had spoken to “senior leaders” at Starbucks and had explained that “Willow [Creek] 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 [Schultz] and his team decided to cancel, and we agreed to let him out of his contract without any penalty.”
Mr Hybels said that “all people . . . of all backgrounds, colours, ethnicities, and sexual orientations” were welcome at the church, and that “hundreds of people with same-sex attraction” attended. But, he said, “we challenge homosexuals and heterosexuals to live out the sexual ethics taught in the scriptures, which encourage whole sexual expression between a man and a woman in the context of marriage, and prescribes sexual abstinence and purity to everybody else.”
Mr Hybels said that Mr Schultz had received “threatening emails”, and he urged people at the conference to email Mr Schultz “with genuine Christian love”, explaining that “our churches are open to anybody and we’d love to have . . . [Mr Schultz] back at the summit some day.”
The senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Kansas, the Revd Adam Hamilton, wrote on the Huffington Post website that “characterising Willow Creek as persecuting LGBTs . . . and then succeeding at seeing Schultz back out of speaking at the conference will serve to further alienate moderate Evangelicals and actually hurt the LGBT cause”.
Mr Hamilton said that Willow Creek was “far more moderate than many Evangelical churches”.
In July, Willow Creek announced that it had ended its formal relationship with Exodus International, an organisation that says that it encourages homosexuals “to grow into heterosexuality”.
An average of 24,000 people attend Willow Creek each week.