SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. — In the wake of demands by gay advocate groups, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz pulled out of being the featured speaker at an evangelical megachurch's Global Leadership Summit.
In a terse email statement on Tuesday night, Starbuck's public relations department told the Deseret News, "Just to clarify, Howard Schultz is not scheduled to appear at the Willow Creek Leadership Conference. The conference organizers will be updating the website shortly to reflect this."
Although no stated reason was given at the time for Schultz's last-minute decision, Starbucks had been coming under criticism from gay advocates to not speak at Willow Creek Community Church at their annual Global Leadership Summit because the church is "anti-LGBT" and "dangerous."
Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels spoke about the cancellation Thursday and confirmed that it was pressure from gay advocates that caused Shultz to cancel at the last minute. An online petition, virtually signed by more than 700 people, claimed "victory."
Hybels talked about how Schultz was threatened with a boycott of Starbucks if, as Hybels categorized it, he did not agree to "cancel his signed contract to this event." Hybels said he spent 45 minutes talking with Starbucks executives explaining to them "in no uncertain terms 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 and Howard and his team decided to cancel and we agreed to let him out of his contract without any penalty."
Ironically, Willow Creek was recently in the news for ending its relationship with Exodus International, a religious group that believes gays can change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Although this news about Exodus International broke recently, the actual break took place in 2009.
Hybels said the church was not anti-gay. "Willow is not anti anybody. Our church was founded on the idea that people matter to God," Hybel's said, his voice breaking as he continued. "All people. All people of all backgrounds, colors, ethnicities and sexual orientations."
Hybels clarified that the church teaches the "sexual ethics taught in the scriptures." Those ethics were, he said, sexual expression is for a man and a woman in the context of marriage and proscribes sexual abstinence and purity for everyone else.
He also said he will try to sit down with the organizers of the online petition. "We're going to just sit down and talk … we're going to see if we can come to a better understanding and maybe a point of mutual respect moving ahead."
The Global Leadership Summit began in 1995 to help church leaders increase their skills by learning from other leaders in business, government and other church groups. Event organizers expected more than 165,000 people to participate this year through live satellite feeds and delayed broadcasts.
Schultz was replaced in the summit by Patrick Lencioni, the founder and president of The Table Group.
After Hybels announced Schultz was not appearing, he encouraged people to buy Schultz's book "Onward" and also a Starbucks coffee and "just show some Christian good will."
Watch a video of Hybels talking about Schultz's cancellation
Leadership summit mixes business and religion