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Bill Hybels on CEO Howard Schultz's Withdrawal: 'Buy a Starbucks and Show Some Christian Goodwill'

At Leadership Summit, pastor says he'll try to meet with petition creators who called his church anti-gay.

At the Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit this afternoon, senior pastor Bill Hybels confirmed that Howard Schultz withdrew over an online petition calling the Illinois megachurch anti-gay and threatening a boycott. Hybels said the association let the Starbucks CEO out of his contract and he encouraged the summit's attendees (an estimated 165,000, between the main South Barrington campus and 450 other locations) to write encouraging notes to the company and to buy Starbucks coffee and Schultz's new book on leadership. Hybels said he is also trying to meet with the creators of the petition. The full text of his remarks after the video below.

In the last seven days an online petition was started to boycott Starbucks if Howard Schultz did not cancel his signed contract to this event. The issue driving this petition, which so far has been signed by 717 people, is homosexuality. The petition claims that Willow Creek Community Church is anti-gay. Therefore, if the president of Starbucks speaks here, then Starbucks should be boycotted, or so the thinking goes. Now, Howard and his leadership team had a tough decision to make. [Willow Creek Association president] Jim Mellado and I spent 45 minutes in a very constructive conversation with the leadership at Starbucks, 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 decided to let him out of his contract without any penalty.

Now, this whole thing is sad to me on a number of different levels. First, if the organizers of this petition had simply taken the time to call us, we would have explained to them (as we have to many others ) that not only is Willow not anti-gay, Willow not anti-anybody.

Our church was founded on the idea that people matter to God. All people. All people of all backgrounds, all colors, ethnicities, and sexual orientation. The mat at every door on this campus has always read "Welcome." And for over 35 years we have flung the doors of this campus open to the widest array of humanity I have ever witnessed in the global church. And thousands–tens of thousands–have come to learn the teachings of Jesus. So to suggest that we check sexual orientation or any other kind of issue at our doors is simply not true. Just ask the hundreds of people with same-sex attraction who attend our church every week.

Now what is true is that 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.

But even as we challenge all of our people to these biblical standards, we do so with grace-filled spirits, knowing the confusion and brokenness that is rampant in our fallen world. And at Willow we honor the journey of everyone who is sincerely attempting to follow Christ. So it's unfortunate that we could not have explained this to those called us anti-gay and started this petition.

Second, what's further saddening to me is the growing trend, specifically in the United States culture, to throw stones first and ask questions later. We see this in our political system and it's rapidly making our country ungovernable. Jesus taught and modeled a better way: to treat everybody with respect, to believe the best about others, to seek to understand other we might disagree and if we must disagree then attempt to do so respectfully.

Anyway, our team spent some time in prayer and discussion about the situation and here's how we plan to respond. First, as I said, we decided to let Howard out of his contract with no penalties. He had a tough business decision to make and he made it.

Second, Howard had to read through some threatening e-mails. I read through many of them myself, and I must admit that the vitriol was quite hard to handle. So we would like to ask you to give Howard some other kinds of reading material. We would like you to write an email to starbucks.com (and then it says how do you contact us, you click on that). And with genuine Christian love, I don't need to say it twice, just communicate, Howard, our churches are open to anybody and we would love to have you back at the summit someday. And I think just reading that will have an impact on him.

Third, buy a copy of Howard's book, Onward. It's one of the best leadership books I've read in a long time. I had to read it four times in my preparation to interview him, so I'm really up on this book, Onward. Jim actually apologized to me when Howard had to cancel. He said, "Bill, I feel bad, with all you have on your plate you had to put all that work into an interview that you're not giving." I shot an email back to him and I said, "Don't ever apologize to me about this again because I read a great book four times and I'm a better leader because of it." And I strongly encourage you to buy a copy of Howard's book, Onward. You'll be a better leader if you read it.

Fourth, pray for Jimmy and me because we're going to follow the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 18 and we're going to see if we can meet with the people who started this boycott petition. We're going to just sit down and see if we can talk. Then, with a reconciling spirit, we're going to see if we can come to a better understanding and maybe a point of mutual respect moving ahead.

Fifth and finally (and finally means something this time), buy a Starbucks coffee in the next couple days and just show some Christian goodwill. Can you do that? All right, so that's all I want to say about this.

The good news is that one of the highest rated faculty members in Summit history has agreed to step in and fill Howard's slot. Patrick Lencioni is a best selling author and fantastic communicator and he's not intimidated by anybody. He's coming and he's going to show up courageously and so you can look forward to that.

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