Lent Blog #23: World Vision: Would Jesus Pull Out His Support?

This week, the Christian community got all a quiver with the release of World Vision’s new statement of faith and values; World Vision, a previously more politically and theologically conservative Christian mission organization, reassessed its theological trajectory and mission and decided not to define marriage as between a man and a woman in its employee manual, and therefore recognize same-sex marriages of its employees. Additionally, World Vision stated that they would not discriminate against the hiring of employees in same-sex relationships or marriages – a first in the non-profit’s history. Suffice it to say, moderates and liberals – both Christians and otherwise – across the nation let out a sigh of relief and a shout of huzzah. But for the conservatives, this decision was not a breath of fresh air. Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention were quoted as expressing outrage at this decision, citing that “The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman; World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Scriptures consistently teach that marriage is between a man and a woman and any other marriage relationship is sin.” (Franklin Graham, an evangelist and son of renowned preacher Billy Graham) Uhhhhh an effort to unite the church is sin? Wellll ok Franklin, I’ll just let you keep thinking that! But since everything means something, what are you REALLY afraid of? Are you actually afraid of coming to the Table of Jesus Christ with the very people who were also created in the Image of God, just as you were – flawed, broken, and in need of forgiveness? God forbid we all recognize that we are not perfect.

It is much easier to think of sex – same or different, heterosexual or homosexual, gay, straight, bisexual, no sex or every sex – as being the issue, when in all honesty, the real problem is far deeper than the definition of marriage. For the Religious Right (the former moral majority of the 1980s), it is easier to fight the biblical battle of the biblical definition of gay marriage than to address the real issue beneath, as this requires asking true theological questions for which there are no human answers, only God answers.

In all seriousness, World Vision took a huge leap of faith in making this new proclamation of theological faith; the face of mission and evangelism is changing. Gone are the days of the Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist Convention being the predominant faces of the mission front abroad. These days, the PC(USA), the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Reformed Church in America (my own denomination and sponsoring church for ordination) and the United Church of Christ are prominent faces in the growth of Reformed Protestantism (and in the case of the UMC, John Wesley…) abroad. Recognizing the changing theological “face” of sorts (or rather, theological demographic) of missions, it is only natural that World Vision would see the need to prayerfully reform their stance on an issue that is more or less accepted in the more progressive denominations at work in God’s mission field. This doesn’t, however, exclude the fact that the Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist Convention, Pentecostal Churches, non-denominational/non-affiliated missionary churches, who tend to be more conservative are still present and objecting to such a change.

The reaction this week was massive and judgmental to say the least. Conservative pastors called for their churches’ and congregants’ withdrawal of support to the mission organization. It was estimated that World Vision would lose close to $500,000 in donations as a result of this simple, inclusive, loving statement, just from their conservative constituency.

What is more horrible is that under the pressure of supporters, and under the pressure of financial boycotting, World Vision has reversed its decision to recognize legal same-sex marriage. Decide what you want, but the Conservative, Moral Majority, Religious Right with its inaccurate, proof-texting manner of scriptural interpretation won, simply by choosing to sit on their wallets.

But is this bullying, this cowardice in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? In the last two years, the Fundamentalists have banded together behind Chik-Fil-A, behind Hobby Lobby and the providing of contraceptives to its employees under Obamacare, and that’s just what we know of, what’s publicized. Christianity is not a faith tradition that honors and rewards vengeance, as the reaction of the conservative, fundamentalist Christians did in this case. This is not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about.

The larger issue at stake here is the care of the poor and the impoverished right here and right now in God’s kingdom, who frankly don’t care about liberal or conservative, gay or straight, married or single, white or black. All that matters is that the Love of God is being extinguished by people who can’t see beyond a political issue that is irrelevant thousands of miles away to those who just want to be loved, fed, clothed and shown some Christian compassion. Unfortunately, this love is not as simple as embracing another, or cooking a meal and running it around the corner, since the corner is thousands of miles away. The money involved is politically and theologically charged, or unfortunately has become so in the last few decades.

The Global poor will not suffer because World Vision decided to stand up for larger equality, as God incarnate in the form of Christ decided to show God’s love for all of creation – even the most physically unappealing, those with sores, those who were social outcasts, those who were suffering and those who weren’t the most beloved. The Global poor will suffer because a large group of theologically stubborn and proof-texting Christians decided that a certain point of view didn’t work for them and so they would protest with their money until they got their way, regardless of the ramifications this would have on others. This doesn’t seem very Christian, let alone very Christ-like. But unfortunately, this is the direction the American church has taken, and the response each side has taken is indicative of our faith.

The only people who got hurt in all this were the kids, families and the organization; no conservatives were truly harmed in the making of this decision. Despite their attempt at self-victimization. And in reality, they were the victors, since their voices were more loudly heard than those children sponsored by World Vision; they won because World Vision chose to return to their initial statement of faith after tremendous financial and political pressure – less than 48 hours later.

We should not be more focused on acting with our checkbooks than acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. Regardless of how you feel on the issue of marriage and how you define it, these children don’t care. They need love, need food, and deserve to feel and know love, apart from politics, dispute, and this ridiculousness. They don’t care about politics, they care more about their connection with the person who chose to love them when no one else would.

Regardless of how you feel about “the gay issue,” you picked these kids, you pray for them, you write that $35 check every month (which is a huge financial commitment in these times, especially for us students, post-grads, “Millennials…”). On Monday, before World Vision changed their statement, the amount of money didn’t matter, the politics didn’t matter, but the child that check stood for mattered a whole lot. On Wednesday, did something change drastically? Yes. The so-called faith statement of the institution sponsoring your beloved little child changed, but that child loving you didn’t change one bit. And now, now that World Vision’s statement of faith has changed again, still nothing about your child has changed. Your position, the taste in your mouth about World Vision may have, and I respect that. Mine certainly has. But my desire to sponsor a child hasn’t, and my desire to prayerfully and financially support a segment of the Global poor as much as I am able, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with a teeny bit of their politics. The child didn’t ask to be caught up in the politics, and therefore, shouldn’t be punished for what happens thousands of miles away.

So do you? Are you a doer of justice, lover of kindness and one who walks humbly with God, even in the face of adversity? What does your decision indicate about your faith? What will you do?

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