Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington (August 11 and 12). It was a phenomenally inspiring event that far exceeded my expectations. The leaders who spoke were culled from diverse and varied fields of expertise, including business, academia, government and church leaders. What an awesome event! Religious leaders humbled themselves to sit under the teaching of secular leaders, and vice versa. The one commonality shared by everyone in attendance was their desire to improve their skills as leaders. As WCCC senior pastor Bill Hybels made clear, "When a leader stops learning, that leader should stop leading."
The only downside to the entire Summit was the failure of Starbucks founder and CEO, Howard Schultz, to appear as scheduled. It was not Mr. Schultz's absence that I found so disappointing, as the insightful and dynamic Patrick Lencioni was able to fill in and delivered an outstanding and challenging message. Rather, it was the reason for Howard Schultz's decision to drop out of the Summit that bothered me so much.
Apparently, an online petition had been started by some Starbucks patrons protesting the CEO's appearance at the Summit based on the erroneous belief that Willow Creek Community Church is anti-gay. These misinformed patrons threatened to boycott Starbucks if Howard Schultz spoke as planned.
As a member of Willow Creek Community Church, I can categorically state that no charge could be further from the truth. The church is not defined by opposition to any persons or communities; rather, we are defined by radical inclusiveness. God's arms are open wide to all people in invitation and love. As a church, we seek to be a welcoming community where all are warmly received, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, political views, nationality, language, disability or sexual orientation. God's heart is full of love for all His creation; as a group of followers devoted to the teachings of Christ and striving to walk in His footsteps, we aim to live out that truth.
It is unfortunate that some ill-informed people were able to block Mr. Schultz's appearance based on incorrect assumptions. However, I am so proud of the way this situation was handled; the church's response to this disappointing news showcased the grace that we profess. Howard Schultz was allowed out of his contract without any penalties or fines. In a gesture of goodwill and with a spirit of reconciliation, Willow Creek Association leadership has reached out to the organizers of the petition and invited them to a round-table discussion in order to set the record straight regarding our position towards the gay community. Mr. Schultz's book, Onward, was still promoted. Furthermore, every attendee was challenged to go out and purchase a Starbucks coffee in a show of support for Mr. Schultz and his company.
I sincerely hope that slanderous accusations, threats and bullying will not be allowed to rule in our society. I am confident that a world-renowned leader like Howard Schultz will stand up to the intimidation and show us all the real meaning of courageous leadership. I would love to see Mr. Schultz be a future presenter at the GLS. The doors of our church are always open to him (and anyone else who wishes to enter!).