Starbucks, Willow Creek Capitulate on Gay Agenda

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul?”  Mark 8:36 (KJV)

In a wonderful bit of irony, Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, pulled out of the annual Willow Creek Leadership Summit in South Barrington, Ill this past week.  You might ask what’s so ironic about that?  Well, it turns out Mr. Shultz was scheduled to speak about his new book, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul.  I don’t take Howard Shultz for a comedian, but that has to be one of the funniest book titles that I have ever seen.  Whether he realizes it or not, Starbucks has lost its soul, if it ever had one.

No, I’m not talking about how our post-modern, post-Christian Starbucks’ culture defines the soul.  Starbucks and other cultural accommodaters — both in the secular and church world — have radically redefined soul so that it is divorced from the Biblical concept of that which will live on forever — either in a very real place called heaven or a very real place called hell.  It should not surprise us in the least that Starbucks and its CEO have no grasp of that concept.  To write a book with such a title, one displays his or her failure to grasp the concept of eternity and the soul’s immortality.

What should surprise Christians — but which now seems so commonplace that the element of surprise is missing — is how churches themselves fail to grasp the concept of eternity and heaven and hell.  How else to explain Willow Creek’s response to Shultz’s abrupt withdrawal from the Leadership Summit?  In trying to massage the message, longtime Senior Pastor of Willow Creek, Bill Hybels, revealed a church that is moving precipitously close to capitulating on one of the most dangerous attacks against the church in our society today — the radical gay agenda!

It seems that, the radical gay rights group that started a petition to agitate for Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie to get married to each other on national television, put enough pressure on Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Shultz, that he backed out of his speaking engagement at Willow Creek.  You might think this was done because of Willow Creek’s “hard” stand on homosexuality, but you would be wrong.  In fact, targeted Willow Creek because of a past association with a group that has become anathema to gay rights groups and those who sympathize with gay rights groups.  That organization, Exodus International :

is a Christian organization dedicated to equipping and uniting agencies and individuals to effectively communicate the message of freedom from homosexuality, as well as how to effectively convey support and understanding to individuals facing the reality of a homosexual loved one.  Exodus upholds heterosexuality as God’s creative intent for humanity, and subsequently views homosexual expression as outside of God’s will. (see here for Exodus’  full Policy Statements)

As it turns out, Willow Creek severed their relationship with Exodus International in 2009, although this was not publicly acknowledged by the church until this past June.  Why did Willow Creek wait so long to divulge that they were no longer supporting Exodus International’s ministry?  We might begin to find the answer to that question when we read Pastor Bill Hybel’s explanation of Willow Creek’s approach to homosexuality within the church.  In a page right out of the Joel Osteen playbook for dealing with difficult moral questions that you really don’t want to answer Biblically, Hybels proudly proclaimed:

“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 Willow is not only not anti-gay, Willow is not anti-anybody,” Hybels said to applause. “Our church was founded on the idea that people matter to God. All people, all people of all backgrounds, colors, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.”

At first blush, this seems like a perfectly sensible statement.  Of course, for anyone who has watched Joel Osteen painfully answer questions about homosexuality (and other sins) during multiple interviews on  Larry King Live, you will recognize a “non-answer answer” when you see it.  And, that is exactly the kind of answer that Bill Hybels gave in response to the kerfuffle resulting from Mr. Shultz’s sudden no-show.  Every church should be founded on the premise that people matter to God — all kinds of people as Hybels describes — including those whose sexual orientation is homosexual.  Jesus Christ came to die on the cross for people — all kinds of sinful people.  His precious blood was shed as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of people — all kinds of people — who were separated and estranged from a Holy and Righteous God.

The problem with Willow Creek’s philosophy of ministry is not that they were “founded on the idea that people matter to God.”  The problem is not seeing that people matter so much to God that He sent Christ to die for their sins so that they would be “new creations in Christ,” and that their old lives would be forever changed by the power of the Gospel.  The Apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV):

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, byou were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Some will likely argue that Willow Creek believes what the Apostle Paul proclaimed in these verses, namely that those “who practice homosexuality” are sinners who can be “washed in the blood of the Lamb,” sanctified and justified by the Lord Jesus Christ.  That maybe true, but cutting ties with Exodus International is an odd way to support that thesis.  Even odder still is Pastor Hybels’ explanation of Willow Creek’s incredible tolerance for those on  a journey to discover Christ.

“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 grace-filled spirits knowing that confusion and brokenness that is rampant in our fallen world,”  he stressed.  “At Willow, we honor the journey of everyone who is sincerely attempting to follow Christ. (emphasis added)  So, its unfortunate that we could not have explained this to those that called us anti-gay and started this petition.”

Why would one want to honor the journey of those who are following the broad road that leads to destruction, however sincere he or she might be?  One can be sincere in their attempt to follow Christ, but he or she could be sincerely wrong in the path that they travel.  It is one thing to honor people made in the image of God.  It is quite another thing to honor all that they believe in, particularly that which is at variance with God’s Word.  I believe that Pastor Hybels sincerely wanted to explain Willow Creek’s position to and help this radical gay rights group understand that Willow Creek is not “anti-gay” or “anti-anybody.”  Somehow, I think trying to explain that to the same folks who want two male puppets on a long-running Children’s television show to get married is a lost cause.  But, better capitulation than losing, right?


10 comments for “Starbucks, Willow Creek Capitulate on Gay Agenda

  1. SFG
    August 15, 2011 at 2:40 PM

    Bill Hybels also said:
    “We challenge homosexuals and heterosexuals to live out the sexual ethics taught in Scriptures, which encourage sexual expression between a man and a woman in the context of marriage,” said Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek. He added that the Bible prescribes “sexual abstinence and purity for everyone else.”

    When you only quote part of what Hybels says you are misrepresenting the totality of what was said. I would call this bearing false witness against your brother.

    • August 15, 2011 at 5:53 PM


      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Your comment actually helped me to realize that my post did not publish as I had saved it and as I formatted it to be published. When I went back and reread the post, I realized that a paragraph and a full quote (including that which you quoted in your comment) was left out of the post. It has taken me 30 minutes to try to get this to re-publish correctly. I do not know what happened, but I take full responsibility for not having read the post after it had published. Until I read your comment, I had not had time to even do much on my blog today. You still may disagree with the revised post, but at least Dr. Hybels has not been taken out of context. I can certainly understand how you would have come to your conclusion because of the missing paragraph and quote. Thanks again for the comment. God bless,


  2. sj
    August 15, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    Hi Howell.
    I’ve been reading your posts for many months now. Appreciate your insights and the way you present them. Missed your blogging during the convention and following, but I’m glad you’re healthy and back in the saddle again.

    Just a quick request: In paragraph 11 that starts, “Some will likely argue…”, would you please change the typo in the phrase, “washed in the blood of the Lame,”. Like fingernails on a chalkboard when I read it. Ouch. Thanks.

    • August 15, 2011 at 9:02 PM


      Thanks for reading and for the kind words. I appreciate you pointing out my typo. In response to SFG, I went back and discovered that the paragraph with “washed in the blood of the Lamb” phrase and the quote from Hybels that followed that paragraph were missing from my post, even though it was saved and that’s how I had thought it had published. When I went to insert the missing paragraph and quote, it still would not publish it. So, I had to retype that paragraph and quote entirely, thus coming up with the typo. Thanks for catching it and letting me know. Apparently, there were gremlins in the software. God bless,


  3. Lydia
    August 16, 2011 at 7:29 AM

    Since I was in the seeker mega church growth movement for years, I might be able to help interpret this for you. We did a ton of business with WC where one could buy sermons, dramas, etc.

    What Hybels means is that seekers are about putting bodies in the seats. It is all about church growth and we must be seen to be nice and accepting of everyone. So, we create a false dictohomy.

    So, if you pin us to the wall, we are going to admit that homosexual “sex” is wrong but we are quick to say we want them in church because they have a better chance of getting saved if they are here…with us. Even though we preach 3pt sermons with one or two proof texts so they won’t hear much truth to convict them. This is where the “journey” comes in. It could be a long journey with such shallow teaching!

    Then there is the whole false dictohomy of “we love the person and you don’t so you are a mean fundy who hates homosexuals”. I know the drill, quite well.

    This quote lays it out for us what is really going on if we know how to read it properly:

    “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”

    Those who are Born Again and being sanctified do not have to be challenged to ‘live out sexual ethics’in a works style of redemption. They are under conviction and wrestling with temptations as we all are. They are broken by their sin and must rely on the Holy Spirit every minute of every day. Exodus International understands this.

    Salvation is free but it is not easy. Hybels, Warren and others want you to think it is easy. Brokeness is not easy. But it is Joyful.

    I lived and worked in this Holy Spiritless world for many years. I have come to the conclusion that the Born Again life is walking on a beam at times. Too far to the left and you have license for sin and cheap grace. Too far to the right and you have legalism and man made rules. Only by Abiding in the Vine and being fed continuously do we stay on the beam. The Holy Spirit helps us stay there.

    • August 16, 2011 at 8:01 AM


      Thanks for those insightful comments. Without being able to read minds, my interpretation of the quote from Hybels is the same as yours. With one mouth we talk a “good” Biblical game and with another mouth we in effect negate what we just said. I think the “journey” language is exactly that. You put even more clarity and understanding on it from your own experiences. I was talking to one of my church members on Saturday about my blog and he said that I have a lot of good commenters. He mentioned, “Lydia always has good things to contribute.” I would agree! Thanks for letting me know about the new look of the blog. Wanted to try something different. When I find the “office,” I’ll let you know! 🙂 Have a great day. God bless,


  4. SFG
    August 16, 2011 at 8:04 AM

    You revised posting does make your position clearer, and it is clear that you are NOT “bearing false witness against your brother.”

    I do think you draw unfair conclusions from these quotations of Bill Hybels that were in response to a very specific specific situation, and not a full blown theological answer. Hybels does clearly call all people whether “homosexuals and heterosexuals to live out the sexual ethics taught in Scriptures.” We would all agree with this. This is not a “non-answer answer”.

    I don’t see that being honest enough to say that, “But even as we challenge all of our people to these biblical standards we do so grace-filled spirits knowing that confusion and brokenness that is rampant in our fallen world…At Willow, we honor the journey of everyone who is sincerely attempting to follow Christ” is capitulation. He clearly says we live in a fallen world where sin and brokenness is rampant. He does not say he believes that say that all roads lead to Jesus. Nor does he say that all behavior is correct. In contextualized speech that is trying to communicate to a hostile critic he says that his church is willing to walk alongside people who are sincerely journeying toward Christ. He has made it clear that homosexual behavior, as well as any sexual behavior outside of marriage is wrong. But Willow Creek Church is willing to walk along people in love to bring them into salvation and sanctification. My prayer is that many more of our churches would be willing to do this.

    • August 16, 2011 at 8:27 AM


      Thanks for the follow-up comment. I may draw unfair conclusions, but I would encourage you to read Lydia’s comment to see how she interprets the comments that Pastor Hybels made. It is one thing to make “it clear that homosexual behavior, as well as any sexual behavior outside of marriage is wrong.” But, how do we put that belief into practice? We obviously want to be loving and grace-filled toward those who are struggling with sin — be it homosexual or heterosexual sexual sin. However, grace does not mean “license.” Too many churches today — and perhaps WC is not one of them — say they believe one thing on a particular issue, but then negate their beliefs by their own actions. That’s the danger that I see with how WC has responded to the Starbucks kerfuffle and the danger that many churches face in addressing this most difficult Biblical, moral, and cultural issue. Thanks again for taking the time to read and to respond. God bless,


  5. Lydia
    August 16, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    SFG, Had I not been in the seeker movement, I might not get it. But I do get it. Where we missed the mark is that we did not have sincere brokeness for people. Our hearts must be broken for them. We go to them with tears when we tell them they cannot “practice” their sin and remain with us. That is what Hebrews 10 is about. 1 John talks about it as in “walking in the dark” and practicing sin being lawlessness. (1 Corin 5 is the model for how we should handle such things)

    The seekers make the same mistake that I see becoming very popular in other venues: We are all sinners, therefore we cannot say anything.

    But I submit to you that even though Jesus raised the bar on the law and sin (as in lust is the same as adultery) it was for the reason that if we ACT on our temptations, we should really be concerned. It starts in our hearts. It is no longer an outward showing of what we do. We are changed from the inside…we no longer measure ourselves by the outward works of the law.

    Now that we know the thoughts in our minds are sin…acting on those sinful thoughts means we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It is all about what is in our minds/hearts. It starts there. When we continue to “practice” sin over a long period, we should question our salvation. It is healthy to do so. God will not present a perfect church to Himself but a “pure” one.

    All of this is about the indwelling Holy Spirit who was promised to us. Can the Holy Spirit indwell in one who practices sin willfully and continuously and is not convicted?

    It would be like me saying, Spouse abuse is wrong and I hate it. But, I want to walk along side the abuser, even though he is still abusing, and hopefully somewhere on this journey he will stop abusing.

    Does that work? It really does nothing but lessen the impact that sin has on the abuser’s life. We cannot be the Holy Spirit for people and sometimes we get in the way of serious conviction! That scares me even more. (Paul told the Corinth church to turn the man in sexual sin over to satan so he could be saved! Why wouldn’t he say to walk along side him in his journey?)

    It turns these sins into mere mistakes when they are really heinous sins against God. Yes, we battle sin in our minds all the time. But when we continue to “practice” them as confessing believers, we are basically saying there has been no sacrifice. (Hebrews 10)

    On the other side, I see legalism strangling the Body. Sin sniffing every little thing, just as bad.

    All of this stuff is, in my mind, an outgrowth of substituting works or humans for the Holy Spirit. I can try really hard on my “journey” but that is ME doing it and I will fail. I want regeneration. And that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    Remeber, there is a difference in what sin I battle in my heart/mind from the sins I “practice”. The first, you would not know about unless I tell you. The latter, you might know about and could become an enabler who stands in the way of the Holy Spirit convicting.

    For such ones, we must love them and with tears say, you cannot stay here and practice your sin.

    Howell, thanks for telling me about your blog reader. I am honored. I hope I get some things right. I sure got a lot of things wrong for many years.

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