Howard Shultz, the CEO of Starbucks, has unexpectedly backed out of a planned address at this week's Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit.
Some are questiong if Shultz's decision, which is still not reflected on the summit's web site, is based upon a recent petition that was launched by Asher Huey, a liberal political consultant. In his petition, Huey labeled the house of worship "anti-gay" and railed against Shultz's participation.
For Schultz, this Willow Creek appearance would have been a first. To advocates, it signified something sinister that would risk the company's stance as an example of inclusiveness. In describing his initiative on the progressive Change.org web site, Huey writes:
The church that is sponsoring the event on August 11th and 12th has a long history anti-gay persecution. For decades the church was a member of Exodus International, the organization that seeks to cure homosexuality through dangerous conversion therapy. The church split ways with the group, but in doing so stated that it wasn’t a change in belief but a change in focus. The church also has their own “outreach” programs to the LGBT community to spread their anti-lgbt message.
While questions are certainly being raised about the petition's involvement in Shultz's decision not to attend, at present Huey has only collected 787 signatures (and that's after a week of the poll being posted). Perhaps people love Starbucks' coffee too much to buy into the criticisms? When taken in sum, this petition has hardly setoff a firestorm of debate. So, one wonders: Was the decision not to speak made for other reasons?
Interestingly, Christianity Today (CT) reports that "Gina Woods," a woman who claims to be in the communications team at Starbucks, posted the following in the petition's comments section:
I work for Starbucks in Communications. I wanted to let you all know that Howard is not speaking at Willow Creek. The conference web site has just not been updated.
CT then conducted an interview with Woods and received a similar response. She said:
"I can only confirm that Howard Schultz will not be speaking at the Willow Creek Leadership Conference. Unfortunately, the event website was not updated to reflect this change."
As of Thursday afternoon, the following information was still posted on the conference's web site:
CT also wrote that Andrew Marin (based on a Tweet he sent earlier in the day), an individual who works to bridge divides between homosexuals and the evangelical community, would be replacing Schultz at the conference. The Tweet explicitly mentions Starbucks. Considering the allegations behind Shultz's exit, this choice is curious:
The leadership conference is held each year by the Willow Creek Association and, this year, it is expected to draw 165,000 attendees tuning in from 450 different locations. Each year, members of the "business, education, government and social sectors" are brought together to share their thoughts and insights on matters of leadership.
Their talks are then applied to both Christian and church leadership. Below, read part of the description given on the leadership summit's web site:
The Global Leadership Summit welcomes leaders from all these sectors and fully believes that the maximum influence and impact of the Church is felt when all of its Christ-centered leaders are at the forefront of establishing and growing well led local churches, companies, schools, governments and social enterprises. This is the Church at its best! This is when God's love and care inevitably spills out into our neighborhoods, towns and cities through acts of love, justice, mercy, service and restoration.
The decision not to attend the conference, regardless of the reasoning, has given advocates and bloggers something to talk about. Considering the ramifications on either end of the spectrum, Starbucks isn't likely to release the exact reasons for Schultz's decision not to speak.