The controversial cancellation of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's speech at Willow Creek Community Church's annual Leadership Summit was addressed by Senior Pastor Bill Hybels himself Thursday.
Schultz, who was scheduled to speak Friday to the group of about 8,000, canceled earlier this week as a result of an online petition aimed at getting people to boycott Starbucks if he did not, Hybels acknowledged.
But he said the basis of the petition was a misunderstanding that Willow Creek advocates an anti-gay agenda.
"We explained in no uncertain terms that Willow Creek is not anti-gay," Hybels told the summit's post-lunch audience. "Willow Creek is not only not anti-gay, it's not anti-anybody."
Rather, the church was founded on the principle that everybody is important to God, Hybels added.
While the church welcomes people of every race, nationality and sexual orientation, he said Willow Creek does believe Biblical scripture challenges both heterosexuals and homosexuals to see full sexual expression between a man and a woman occurring in the context of marriage and to prescribe sexual abstinence and purity between everyone else.
Hybels said he and other Willow Creek leaders would attempt to meet with the organizers of the petition, which he said had collected 717 signatures the last time he'd checked.
But because of the pressure Schultz had been under, Willow Creek released him from his speaking contract Friday without penalty. The conference is being transmitted live to 185 locations and videocast later to more than 270 cities around the world, reaching about 165,000 people.
"Howard (Schultz) and his leadership team had a tough decision to make," Hybels said.
But he encouraged those in attendance to counteract the hateful messages sent to Schultz at starbucks.com because of the controversy.
"With genuine Christian love, explain that our churches are open to everyone and that he's welcome back," Hybels said.
He also strongly encouraged the audience to buy Schultz's book "Onward," the basis of his invitation to the summit.
"You'll be a better leader if you read it," Hybels said.
And just to prove there were no hard feelings, he suggested audience members drop by Starbucks for a coffee in the near future.