Tomorrow I will be attending the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, along with over 100,000 other leaders from the church world, non-profit sector and business. ?One of the speakers I was excited to hear from was Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. ?However, Schultz has apparently withdrawn from the conference (see Christianity Today report here), reportedly under pressure from gay-rights advocates unhappy with Willow Creek's position on gays. (Note: Patrick Lencioni is replacing Schultz — he is awesome! I have heard him a number of times at the Summit).
Willow Creek, Gays & Starbucks — Oh My!
Apparently, Bill Hybels plans to address the issue at the Summit tomorrow, when it opens. This all comes just a few weeks after Willow Creek publicly?disaffiliated?with Exodus International. ?Among other things, I am sure that Hybels will publicly reaffirm Willows theological position that all homosexuality is sinful, etc. ?(He will do so, I am also confident, with class, compassion and appropriate pastoral care.)
So what do I think about all of this, as a gay evangelical Christian who is no longer leading a Willow Creek Association affiliated church, largely due to being outed as gay? (along with my own sinful behavior).?
Will I still attend the Summit? ?Do I still support Willow Creek and Bill Hybels?
Yes, I am going. Yes, I will listen to Bill say he things I am a sinner. ?Yes, I am disagree with Hybels — on the homosexuality part, not on the part about me — and him — being sinners :-). Yes, I still strongly support Leadership Summit, the Willow Creek Association, Willow Creek Church and Bill Hybels.
So many reasons…
(1) I have a deep respect for Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek ministry.
I have met Bill, spoken to him on a few ocassions (he would probably have no memory of this) and benefited from his teaching, leadership and ministry more than I can articulate. ?He is the real deal. ?He really loves people — including gay Christians like me whom he disagrees with and gay people far from God that he just hopes would encounter Jesus. ?He is a man of integrity and wisdom. ?The fact that disagree with his reading of scripture on the issue of homosexuality does not change any of this. ?And not only is he all these things, he is also my brother in Christ — as I am confident he would say of me… despite our disagreements.
(2) Leadership Summit is precisely the kind of place where we learn from people we may not agree with.
As Bill has pointed out over the years, Leadership Summit is about learning from the best, and applying those teachings in our specific contexts. That is why Summit always includes business leaders, non-believers, seekers, etc. ?We are all stretched and challenged and that is a really healthy dynamic.
(3) Willow Creek is not Anti-Gay People
Listen, I am not naive about these things… I know that their recent?disaffiliation?with Exodus?International?did not mark a radical change or correction for Willow — though it was not insignificant. ?Willow has always had, and will have, ministries that help Christians who don't want to be gay. ?Regardless of how I feel about these ministries, I respect the individuals who choose to seek help that way — seeking integration with their faith. ?Willow also provides ministry support to parents and family members who have gay children, parents, siblings, etc. ?And more than almost any church I know, Willow has addressed the topic from the pulpit many times — always with compassion, love, theological nuance and pastoral care. And every time I have heard them speak on the topic from up front — at Axis, at the main weekend service, at New Community, at the Arts Conference or elsewhere — it always includes a call to dialogue and discussion and an admission that these issues are hard and complex. ?Again, I disagree with where the church has landed at this point on the issue; and I assume they disagree with me. ?But that doesn't make them "anti-gay" anymore than it makes me a heretic or non-believer. ?It just means that faithful Christians can come to different faithful answers. ?And for the record, while I disagree with them, I have never known Willow to gay bash, attack, judge, etc.
So I will be at (a?satellite) location of the Leadership Summit again this year (in Bloomfield, CT). ?I will worship, laugh, probably cry, be challenged, be encouraged, be envisioned and be energized. ?I will learn and I will leave more in love with God's church than I started. ?My vision will be renewed and stretched. ?And while I will miss learning from Howard Schultz — and there may even be some awkward moments that make me uncomfortable — I am deeply thankful from my brother in Christ Bill Hybels and the entire Willow team.