I recently came across this message from Willow Creek’s Bill Hybels. Apparently Willow Creek wanted to invite Starbucks president Howard Schultz to come speak for a leadership seminar, but the constituency of Starbucks had other plans. Believing the church to be “anti-gay,” over seven hundred angry petitioners came together in protest, threatening to boycott Starbucks unless Schultz declined the invitation. So he did.
At this point, Willow Creek had a choice as to how they could respond. You would like to think they would have said, “Well yes, as a matter of fact we are ‘anti-gay,’ and very proud of it too. Gee, isn’t it nice to be hated by the right people?” Unfortunately, Hybels’ response was a little different:
Where to begin? We could start by the fact that at the end he’s citing Matthew 18 (??) as their basis for trying to “meet with” the petitioners in order to “seek a better understanding” and perhaps come to a point of “mutual respect.” The petitioners, who are (we presume) not even remotely Christian and not associated with the church in any way, shape or form. That sounds like a private grievance with a Christian brother, not. But Matthew 18 seems to be the go-to thing these days… no matter what the situation, Matthew 18 must apply, somehow.
So that’s just weird, right there. But of course there’s a big picture problem here, namely that Hybels is somehow trying to have it both ways. Notice that he does say at one point that the church “challenge(s) homosexuals and heterosexuals to live out the sexual ethics of the Scriptures,” and he even elicits some applause. However, he immediately continues with some fluff about “grace-filled spirits” and “honoring everybody’s journey,” whatever the deuce that means.
Official stance aside, what is getting repeated over and over here? It’s this all-inclusive “welcome” message. “The mat on every door at this campus [campus--don't you love that?] has always read ‘welcome’. ” No, the church is not anti-gay. In fact, the church is not anti-anybody. (One would like to ask, “Does that include the world, the flesh, and the devil?” But moving right along…) That’s what he’s harping on, and harping on. Now granted, in a church that size, there wouldn’t really be much you could do to actively prevent somebody gay from walking in on Sunday. But it’s pretty obvious that there wouldn’t be much of an attempt to exercise church discipline on an immoral member, or to communicate a pointedly, explicitly anti-gay message from the pulpit that might “offend” [Edit: In fairness, I just read an article which quoted a 2007 sermon that did contain anti-gay messages. Whether Hybels would preach something similar today is another question.] The clear take-home message here is, “It’s all right, it’s okay.” Make no mistake, Hybels is trying to walk an impossibly fine line, and something has to give. We’re seeing a serious disconnect between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. It may take a few years, maybe even a decade or two, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see even the official policy quietly disappear one day.
But until that happens, the angry petitioners still won’t be satisfied. I can see it now: Church sets up the meeting (if the petitioners are willing to meet at all), and Hybels goes and spouts the liberal line, saying nothing at all about the church policy if he can help it. But sooner or later they drag it out of him, and then it’s all over because as long as the letter is there, they will fight it.
I see this as just one more part of an emerging trend: Christian entities (churches, organizations, etc.) are becoming more and more eager to invite completely secular speakers for secular purposes, in an effort to “find common ground.” Compare with Focus on the Family and Blake Mycoskie. The Church is actively extending these kinds of invitations: “Hey, let’s forget about our differences and have you come and talk about leadership, or giving shoes to poor children, or anti-AIDS charity, or [insert something else generic]?” When those secular leaders yield to pressure from their base to refuse the invitation because of the officially conservative values of the Christian entities extending it, said Christians react by saying, “Oh, we’re so sorry. We’re good little liberals, honest! Er, yes, well, we do officially have standard Christian principles of morality, but can’t we w0rk something out anyway? Pleaseohpleaseohplease? All together now: WE ARE NOT EXCLUSIVE.” Instead of which they should realize, “You know, maybe that’s what we get for trying to work with somebody who doesn’t particularly share our values, at least not enough to stand up to a vocally complaining left-wing base. Let’s invite x solidly Christian speaker next time instead.”
The Church wasn’t built to grovel to the world. She was built to overcome the world. And if taking a stand for what’s right means that we are reviled and scorned… well, somebody kind of important once said that we should count that as a blessing.