"Every wall is a door. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to the end requires courage. --Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today is a red letter day at Soulforce, where I work. We practice relentless nonviolent resistance to religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, their families and allies. One of the organizations with whom we have worked, Willow Creek Community Church, has finally ended its formal relationship with Exodus International.
News that the South Barrington megachurch (30,000 members) and its co-founder, Bill Hybels, have severed affiliation with Exodus, the world's largest ex-gay ministry was under the radar until late June.
Willow Creek has been listed as the most influential church in America the last several years in a national poll of pastors.
Scott Vaudrey of the elder response team at Willow Creek said in writing that Willow Creek's decision was not intended as a social or political statement, "rather an indication of a season of reviewing and clarifying some of our affiliations with outside organizations."
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, disagrees:
The choice to end our partnership is definitely something that shines a light on a disappointing trend within parts of the Christian community which is that there are Christians who believe like one another who aren't willing to stand with one another, simply because they're afraid of the backlash people will direct their way if they are seen with somebody who might not be politically correct.
Chambers directly blames Soulforce for Willow Creek's decision. Would that we were that powerful! My heart tells me that the good people of Willow Creek, under the relentless influence of the Holy Spirit have felt the waters stirring and responded to the gentle, still voice of God through Jesus Christ, the Great Includer. If we had any part in that movement, we are blessed.
In 2008-2009, Soulforce was on the Willow Creek campus to meet with Pastor Bill Hybels to encourage his congregation to cease its prominent partnership with Exodus, which included "equipping events" at the church to help Willow Creek leaders and other local pastors work with those experiencing same-sex attraction.
Those of us who long for the Church Universal to equip its saints in the walk of peace and justice and inclusion are celebrating today that Willow Creek has found a door in the wall of religious bigotry and walked through it in such a public way.
The leadership of the church and its congregants may still disagree doctrinally with any position that affirms LGBT people as whole children of God entitled to full membership and relationship within the Beloved Community. We have not yet heard where they stand on these issues.
Yet, their disaffiliation with Exodus and its harmful reparative therapy is a blessing that I want to affirm and thank Bill Hybels for doing.
As a minister of the Good News shared by Jesus Christ, I am grateful for Good News today.
Thank you, Pastor Bill. Thank you, Willow Creek Elders and Congregants. May the movement of the Holy Spirit continue within your community and one day may we all share a meal at the same Table of Grace.