Last year I wrote a book entitled, When Christians Get it Wrong, confessing, among other things, that Christians often get it wrong in how they speak about homosexuality. Today it was not Christians but the supporters of LGBT persons, at least one particular group, that I think got it wrong.
Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area annually sponsors a Leadership Summit that brings together outstanding voices in leadership from the academy, the public and private sector and the church. Speakers have included luminaries like U2's Bono, former President Jimmy Carter, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
This year a group called change.org started a petition drive to protest Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz' plans to speak on leadership at the event. Willow Creek was described as having a "long history of anti-gay persecution" on the change.org website. 766 people signed the petition and Mr. Schultz chose not to speak. This would seem, at first glance, to be a victory for change.org and for the LGBT cause.
Here, however, this particular group of LGBT supporters got it wrong. The question change.org and others might want to ask is, how do we positively influence people who see the world differently than we do? Petitioning Howard Schultz to not speak, characterizing Willow Creek as persecuting LGBT's (Willow is arguably the most influential church in the U.S. and one that is far more moderate than many evangelical churches) and then succeeding at seeing Schultz back out of speaking at the conference will serve to further alienate moderate evangelicals and actually hurt the LGBT cause.
There are some 160,000 leaders from as many as 40,000 churches (representing millions of Christians around the world) who will be present at the Willow Creek event. Rather than influencing these pastors and leaders towards greater understanding and compassion, change.org has created greater misunderstanding and alienation. Rather than building bridges it has created walls.
There are many different voices within Christianity when it comes to homosexuality. Some Christians see the biblical teaching on homosexuality as reflecting the culture and times in which the Bible was written and not reflecting God's eternal perspective on homosexual people. Others believe these scriptures represent God's timeless will for how human beings practice intimacy. Some of the latter are militant in their anti-homosexual position. But most thoughtful evangelical pastors struggle with the tension between their desire to welcome and and love all people and their desire to be faithful to the scriptures regarding sexuality as they understand them. Willow Creek is among the latter and their pastor, Bill Hybels, from my perspective, is someone who has sought to welcome and love gay and lesbian people while holding to traditional understandings of these biblical texts.
I believe change.org's petition mischaracterized Willow Creek and ultimately negatively impacted the cause they seek to support.