Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz cancelled an appearance at one of the most prominent megachurches in the country after an online petition condemned the congregation as anti-gay _ a charge the church denies.
Schultz had been scheduled to speak Friday at The Global Leadership Summit organized by the Willow Creek Association, based in South Barrington, Ill. The annual event draws tens of thousands of viewers via satellite. Past speakers have included former President Bill Clinton, GE's Jack Welch and rock singer Bono.
A Starbucks spokeswoman confirmed Schultz would not speak as scheduled, but she declined to say more.
However, at the start of the event Thursday, the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Bill Hybels, said Schultz had cancelled suddenly after a petition was posted on the Internet a week ago that said his participation would be unacceptable.
The petition at Change.org accused the megachurch of "anti-gay persecution" over Willow Creek's past relationship with Exodus International, a Christian ministry that offers to help gays and lesbians change their sexual orientation. Willow Creek cut ties with Exodus in 2009, church spokeswoman Susan DeLay said.
Hybels said that Willow Creek does expect its members to follow biblical ethics and reserve sex for marriage between a man and a woman, but welcomes worshippers of all backgrounds.
"To suggest that we check sexual orientation or any other kind of issue at our doors is simply not true," Hybels said. "Just ask the hundreds of people with same-sex attraction who attend our church every week."
Hybels asked members of the audience to write Schultz "with genuine Christian love" and say he'd be welcome at any future summit.
"Buy a cup of coffee in the next couple of days and show some Christian goodwill," Hybels said.