Will My Resume get me in trouble some day?; Starbucks, TOMS, Global Leadership Summit & Petitions

by Anna Blanch on August 12, 2011

I admire innovative forms of social protest. I think they are helping to promote conversation on a much broader scale. But there’s some things that have been troubling me of late about the ease with which someone’s character can be called into question by calling into question their “associations” and their speaking engagements.

Last night I was alerted to Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz pulling out of the Global Leadership Summit as a consequence of a change.org petition alleging that WillowCreek, the church behind the conference (with an attendance of around 165,000 people across close to 150 locations around the world – some live, some videocast at a later date) to be anti-gay. The conference where Schultz was to speak was a conference on Leadership. Schultz recently published his second book on leadership, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul. Willow Creek Church invites a series of world renowned leaders and speakers – Seth Godin is another of this year’s speakers – to teach about how to be a better leader.It is a platform that allows those with a variety of beliefs to speak – it isn’t political and it’s not evangelical per se. A great opportunity for someone who wants to see change occur to have a platform for their thoughts and ideas, no?

Earlier this year, I followed the situation of Blake Mycoskie (founder of TOMS) who pulled back from any involvement with Focus on the Family as a consequence of allegations that they are not just homophobic but “anti-gay” in part as a consequence of their (Focus on the Family) relationship with Exodus International and the Family Research Council. At the same time, it has been widely reported that their future direction will be less political and more focused on advocating for families after the departure of former President, James Dobson. Mycoskie was scheduled to give a talk about the extraordinary life-changing work of TOMS at a conference on “Faith in Action.” I really hope that TOMS is able to find a way to work with organisations of all types to see their aims of improving the living standards, through footwear and now eyecare, in some of the poorest parts of the world, met.

Are these two situations about inferring guilt by association? Are business leaders so vulnerable to the ability of groups to manipulate public opinion through the construction of a scandal of some kind that they really feel fear?

Bill Hybels, senior pastor of WillowCreek, gave this statement:

You can read a full transcript here.  What struck me about the response was its humility and its note of sadness at the characterisation of WillowCreek as being anti-anyone and at the misrepresentation of the church’s links to this other organisation.  This response from Bruce Smith, an attendee at the Global Leadership  Summit was thought-provoking.

It raises some other questions too.

Even if the way Willow Creek is characterised in the petition (as anti-gay) is correct, am I assumed to hold exactly the same views as any organisation I work for or with? I’ve worked for organisations in the past where it certainly wasn’t the case that I agreed with all positions held or their modes of operation. What are the limits of this?

Is this a new form of McCarthyism?

Why is it that part of me feels like I need to say “I don’t know these people” – I don’t, but why would I feel the need to get defensive about it? I suspect there might be situations in my future where someone may look at the organisations I’ve worked for and be able to construct a scenario where I’m compromised – not holding opinions that accord with an agenda of “tolerance” in a liberal sense. Am I to be held responsible for organisations I’ve worked for, with, or in anyway collaborated with, and the decisions they’ve made in the past and future?

As you can tell, I’m somewhat concerned by the longterm ramifications.

Treating anyone badly because of their sexual orientation is wrong. I am of the general opinion that being bullied into “shunning” organisations on the basis of perceived belief about what they are about is also disturbing to me; even more so, when the perception is based on a relationship with a third unrelated organisation. It appears that “tolerance” only goes one way – and Free speech is only protected sometimes.

Although, here’s the twist. If we are all really honest with ourselves, we don’t actually believe that tolerance is unlimited and free speech is always protected. there has to be limits. What if that third party organisation were the Klu Klux Klan? or an oppressive government; honestly i’d struggle to have a problem with challenging someone about their dealings with an organisation that had close association with that third party.

So where are the lines?

I know I have beliefs and have opinions that many wouldn’t agree with.

What am I to do about that?

While we’re on the topic though – seriously – the behaviour of “Christians” who wrote over 8000 messages of hate and vitriol (including death threats) have appalled me. It is deeply shameful. There is some serious Citizenship Confusion going on. There are ways to disagree with someone without resorting to the vitriol and laziness of threats of violence. It’s the last resort of the intellectually and morally weak. Actually, it’s probably the last resort of the spiritually weak too, come to think of it.

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