The World Vision fiasco, and how it shows what’s wrong with the Church

Originally published by Venn Magazine.

What a difference a week can make. In the case of World Vision, the respected Christian aid organization went from being, well, a respected Christian aid organization, to a beleaguered “defender of the biblical definition of marriage” in a nation intensely divided by culture war.

The dramatic shift in public opinion brought on by WV’s public relations nightmare echoes the furor in 2012, when Chik-fil-A was transformed, almost overnight, from a fast-food restaurant chain that is oddly closed on Sundays to the official purveyor of fried poultry to conservative Christian families everywhere.

Though the two incidents dealt with similar issues, the reactions and results contrast sharply.

Just to recap, in June 2012, Chik-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy described same-sex marriage as the equivalent of “shaking our fist at God,” and declared that his company supports “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

(He did not specify exactly which “biblical definition” of family Chik-fil-A upholds, whether it is the Adam-and-Eve definition, in which one’s childrenare expected to marry and procreate with one another; the Abraham-David-Solomon-and-lots-of-other-godly-dudes model, in which multiple wives and concubines is A-OK, even if you have a thousand of them; the example of the Apostle Paul, in which lifelong celibacy is the preferred state; or something else entirely.)

Chik-fil-A took a flogging in the press for Cathy’s statements, and conservative Christians rallied behind the chain in record numbers, swelling the company’s sales by 12 percent for the year and making billionaires out of its founders.

In March 2014, the World Vision U.S. board of directors voted unanimously tomake a narrow change in its hiring policy that would allow the employment of gay Christians who choose to marry.

Unlike Dan Cathy’s comments in 2012, in which the president of a private fast-food chain presumed to define a complex biblical issue for an entire community of faith, the board was making what it believed to be a unifying gesture: deferring to an individual’s church and denomination on certain divisive theological matters, rather than dictating to them.

But this time, however, Christians pulled their financial backing from the organization in question, canceling their support of starving children just as immediately, and with as much apparent relish, as they had gobbled up chicken and waffle fries two years prior.

When the dust settled, more than 10,000 kids had lost their sponsorships.

Let me repeat that: 10,000 CHILDREN in poor and developing countries went from knowing exactly where their next meal was coming from to having no idea.

And if you think that’s not a bad thing, that it’s an acceptable casualty in our righteous battle against the powers of darkness in the culture wars, then I must confess that I simply do not know the Jesus you claim to follow, because he doesn’t look anything like mine.

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What World Vision was trying to do seemed so perfectly reasonable. World Vision is not a church; it’s a parachurch ministry. Its calling is to serve the poor and spread the gospel in remote areas of the world, not to dictate positions on social issues in the American theo-political arena.

The board was simply acknowledging that weighing in on complex theological issues is not part of its mission. The directors wanted to leave it up to their prospective employees’ congregations and spiritual leaders: Do you come from a church that believes same-sex relationships are wrong in any context? Fine. Do you come from a church that believes same-sex relationships are not wrong in the context of a martial union? Well, that’s OK, too.

It makes sense to me. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to World Vision for guidance on confusing theological matters. I go to World Vision because I believe giving of oneself to the least of these is a central component of what it means to be a Christian, and I think they do a good job of helping people.

But my views in this case are obviously in the minority. Most of my fellow evangelicals are clearly not content to let World Vision be an aid organization that is neutral on policy debates like same-sex marriage. They forced World Vision to dramatically reverse course, to the point that its president, Richard Stearns, had to issue an apologetic statement that characterized opposing gay unions as “core to our Trinitarian faith.”

It isn’t. Jesus did not say he would judge the nations according to how we responded to civil marriage rights being granted to same-sex couples. He said he would judge us according to how we responded to the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the needy.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic (which I normally avoid at absolutely all costs), this fiasco — and especially, those 10,000 kids — highlights what is deeply, profoundly wrong with American evangelicalism.

We as followers of Christ — as redeemed, forgiven sinners, beloved and transformed by the living God — should be known as people of grace. “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

But we are not. It is not grace that colors everything we do. It is politics. It is not grace that we are known for. It is our stance on a select few social issues.

And worst of all, most frustrating of all, is that most Christians seem to think this is exactly as it should be.

Originally published by Venn Magazine.

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One thought on “The World Vision fiasco, and how it shows what’s wrong with the Church

  1. This is definitely a problem. I admire the evangelical fervor of faith, I really do. I think Christianity needs that, especially in places like the Pacific coast and Europe, where G-d is needed.

    But stuff like this is one reason why so few want anything to do with Christianity.

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