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In August, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz withdrew from a speaking engagement at the Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit. The reason: An online petition had called the Illinois megachurch anti-gay and threatened a boycott of the coffee giant.

The petition had only 717 signatures. Senior pastor Bill Hybels said the church is "not anti-anybody" but believes the Bible reserves sexual expression for marriage between one man and one woman.

Around the same time, Apple removed iTunes from the Charity Give Back Group (CGBG), formerly known as the Christian Values Network. The action came after activists collected more than 20,000 signatures complaining that the online hub allows customers to support "anti-gay hate groups" such as the Family Research Council.

CGBG's CEO, Jed Prosper, blamed the "hate group" claim on a "bullying campaign fueled by false information."

Earlier, TOMS Shoes distanced itself from Focus on the Family after 500 people signed an online petition on Change.org about the company's relationship with an "anti-gay, anti-choice group."

The backlash came from a brief mention of TOMS' budding relationship with Focus in a Christianity Today cover story on Focus's shift away from politics back toward an emphasis on the family.

At least two major factors appear to be at play as some Christian organizations find it difficult to partner with businesses: stereotypes and public opinion.

"Some evangelical groups [may] feel unfairly stereotyped," said John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron. "Whatever their views on gay rights, a pressure campaign could paint all evangelicals … the same."

The Internet has increased the speed at which such stereotyping travels as well as how quickly ...

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October 2011

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