Willow Creek Hosts Soulforce

What happens when the word of God about homosexuality is greeted with hostility at an “evangelical” church, while open and unrepentant homosexuals are welcomed with open arms? On June 8,2008, a group called Soulforce visited Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) in South Barrington, IL in suburban Chicago. Soulforce is an activist group of proud homosexuals and cross-dressers who call themselves believers, yet they want a few in-house changes to God’s truth. Those who disapprove of homosexuality are guilty of “spiritual violence,” according to Mel White, the founder, who is an ex-speech writer for Jerry Falwell. White conceived of Soulforce after he left his wife and kids for a homosexual lover while maintaining he was still a Christian.

Such is the character of the group visiting influential mega-church Willow Creek as part of a cross-country bus tour to coerce churches to acknowledge and meet with them. Their stated purpose was dialogue, but as the Episcopal Church USA could attest, dialogue leads to more dialogue, which leads to guilt trips, leading to compromise, and after the coup, you end up with openly “gay” ordained ministers while doctrine and genuine belief are overthrown. And two- thirds of your members leave the denomination.

Soulforce’s methodology is to gain publicity through these confrontations. They announce a visit and ask for a meeting. Understanding the weak conviction of many pastors and elders who allow themselves to be manipulated, it’s a brilliant strategy if a church is the size of Willow Creek, because such a meeting tends to change public opinion both inside and outside the church.

Willow Creek is a gigantic organization, with several branch campuses and over 20,000 worshippers on a typical week-end. Well-known pastor Bill Hybels has invited questionable guests in the past, including former President Bill Clinton, who spoke at a conference there in 2000 and to whom Hybels was a spiritual advisor for years. WCCC also recently hosted a youth ministry conference called “The Shift,” where Brian McLaren and Mark Yaconelli, proponents of contemplative spirituality ( meditation), were featured, as well as Shane Claiborne, who has spoken in the past about the need for "gay" couples to be welcomed in our churches.

So, on the Sunday when Soulforce visited Willow Creek,according to a church spokeswoman, a group of pastors and elders met and ate with them. It was a cordial meeting, according to Soulforce in a prominent article in the Chicago Tribune. Willow Creek has yet to issue a formal press statement.

Meanwhile, Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality took note of the Soulforce plans and decided to show up at Willow Creek with a pertinent biblical message. He and fellow Christian Dan Musick prepared a prominent sign as a gentle, Scriptural reminder. The sign read, “Homosexuality Is Sin—Case Closed.—God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)” ["Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."]

Soulforce’s homosexual contingent would meet inside later that afternoon with Willow Creek’s pastors, but LaBarbera and Musick, with their rather tame scripturally-based sign, were getting rude treatment outside. First, Musick was told by Hybels’ bodyguard and Willow Creek security chief, Bob Irwin, that he and LaBarbera were not allowed on "private property." Musick responded politely that the sidewalk was public property and that they were allowed to peacefully demonstrate there. After Irwin angrily insisted that he had no right to hold up his sign, Musick took out his cell phone to call the South Barrington police to confirm his First Amendment right. A belligerent Irwin then grabbed the cell phone out of Musick’s hand and refused to give it back. LaBarbera then arrived on the scene and reiterated to Irwin that Americans For Truth had a constitutional right to be there, and urged him to give Musick’s cell phone back. He refused.

When I called Willow Creek spokeswoman Susan DeLay, I asked whether the demonstrators had been treated well. She said, “Oh, yes, I believe so.” Yet LaBarbera just days before had related the whole incident to her, including how rudely they had been treated. I asked DeLay if they had signs, and she said yes, and she even knew what the Americans For Truth sign said. “They weren’t like some of those really hateful folks are,” she said.

So the sign was not terribly offensive, yet a Willow Creek official felt threatened by its presence and two silent protesters outside the church. What if they had held a sign that said, “Idolatry Is a Sin. Case closed—Signed, God.” Would that have created a furor? Or is it only affirming the biblical passages on homosexuality that creates such a fuss? (In addition, LaBarbera and Musick were subjected to a condescending lecture by one Willow Creek attendee who insisted that their message lacked Christian love and would turn away “gay” seekers; the critic was unaware, as was the rest of the WCCC congregation, of the Soulforce-Hybels meeting.)

Another interesting sidelight is that in 2006, as Protect Marriage Illinois (PMI, www.protectmarriageillinois.org) and the Illinois Family Institute (www.illinoisfamily.org) were amassing a statewide petition drive on the issue of traditional marriage, Willow Creek turned down their requests to gather petitions at the mega-church, according to LaBarbera, who was IFI’s executive director at the time. Hybels and the WCCC elders met on the Protect Marriage issue and decided against cooperating with PMI. Hybels himself recommended against it, according to a parishioner who inquired with the Elder Assistant on the matter.

Presumably, Willow Creek rejected a high-profile, pro-defense-of-marriage effort because it might offend “seekers.” Yet WCCC’s sister church, Salem Baptist — a largely African- American church on Chicago’s south side pastored by Hybels’ close friend, James Meeks — opened its arms wide for PMI and was glad to defend marriage in Illinois. In fact, Meeks devoted part of his sermon to the issue and oversaw a sophisticated petition drive one Sunday morning using dozens of PMI volunteers; it yielded thousands of signatures.

PMI and IFI fell short by several thousand signatures in their effort to put a pro-marriage advisory referendum on the Illinois ballot. They might have made it had Willow Creek mobilized its huge flock and affiliated churches to support marriage like Pastor Meeks did at Salem Baptist Church in Chicago. Evidently there are none of those intimidating "seekers" in the urban area.

Willow Creek should not have met and ate with an organized group of self-labeled believers who are working hard to overturn the Word of God. In 1 Corinthians 5:11, Paul tells us not to keep company or even eat with sexually immoral people who call themselves Christians (or idolators, or the covetous, or revilers, or drunkards, or extortioners ). When Jesus ate with sinners, they weren’t an activist group of brethren proposing a false faith.

One wonders who else Willow Creek would meet with. A faith-based pornographers’ association? The born-again goddess-worshippers? Or other self-proclaimed Christians who clearly violate pretty much every core Christian doctrine, like maybe Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama?

Individuals who are truly seeking reconciliation should always be welcomed into the chamber of a Christian pastor, and they should be invited to attend a service if they are peaceful. But those whose stated intention is defiance and rebellion should either be rebuked during the service before all, or they should be ignored.

And the world doesn’t shape our faith—God does. If His clear truth is not welcomed on church property, but open deceivers are, then let’s call what is happening within such congregations by its proper label. The pastors and elders themselves are in rebellion. They will have to account for misleading the Soulforce individuals; those who read about the encounter in the Chicago Tribune those who witnessed the shoddy treatment of truthful protestors; and their own congregation. Many will believe homosexuality is acceptable and those who oppose it are not.

When are true believers going to put on the full armor of God and stand against these internal church assaults?

(Linda Harvey, www.missionamerica.com )

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