World Vision – A Drama in 5 Acts

In stark public detail where social media blurs geographical boundaries and the world congregates, we have had a drama played out with disappointing, frustrating, and far-reaching consequences.

Act 1:  On Monday, World Vision US made public their decision to honour churches who affirm marriage equality by indicating that committed gay Christians who were married would be welcome to join them in Jesus’ mission to eradicate global poverty.

As this drama opens, a major Christian organization took a significant risk to make a fair decision to recognize the theological embrace of justice for sexual minority persons that some of the denominations in their constituency have adopted.  Their statements were careful – not exactly joyously welcoming – but rather insisting that this was not an affirmation of marriage equality but an effort to nurture generous spaciousness.  Well ok – they didn’t use the term generous spaciousness – but they did talk about wanting to prioritize Christian unity by making space for diversity on this non-salvific, sanctification matter.  They acknowledged the reality that there are deeply devoted Christians, who happen to be gay, and who happen to be married, who feel the call to work to eradicate global poverty.  And they said they would no longer put up a barrier to them fulfilling such a calling through employment with World Vision.

Despite the fact that WVUS has had to reduce staff because of decreased revenues, they made this move.  And they made it because they believed it was the right decision to make – no lawsuits, no pressure, no gimmicks.

Act 2:  From the moment the announcement was made public the reactions came fast and furious.  People who lead significant organizations and movements, who stake their credibility on defending the inerrancy of scripture and who perhaps saw the opportunity to pull frightened donors into their fold, made very clear and certain statements in opposition.  Words like apostate.  Messages like World Vision no longer believing or upholding the bible.

Of course, there were other voices – voices lauding this decision – encouraging people to sponsor a child through WV and demonstrate solidarity with this significant decision.

But it was the opposing voice that seemed to reverberate through the remnants of Christendom – at least on this continent.  And the battle lines were drawn.  “Are you with us or against us?”  No room for conversation, dialogue, nuance, reflection, consideration, sharing of stories, honouring of people’s consciences, enlarging of the tent, or heaven forbid humble acknowledgement of diversity in the Body of Christ on this question.  And certainly no room to consider how such harsh opposition might ring in the ears of gay Christians who have often already endured so much at the hands of the church.  And alarmingly no consideration of the impact on the public witness of followers of Jesus to an increasingly gay-positive society.

Act 3:  Astonishingly, people actually pulled their financial support of their sponsored children because of WV’s movement towards generous spaciousness.  Well, actually, I suppose it is not completely astonishing.  Perhaps shocking is a better word.  There are thousands of references in scripture challenging the people of God to work for shalom – where all people can flourish.  Central to the ministry of Jesus is the notion that if we live according to his teaching there will be no poor among us.  How can it smell like Jesus to pull your support of a specific person, a child, for the sake of right doctrine?  The apostle James said it this way, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Note: For those who might indicate that any openness to gay married Christians is worldly pollution …… would we be so quick and careless with the efficacy of the cross of Christ?  Is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we anticipate in this season of Lent so weak as to not be powerful enough to enfold those who interpret six texts differently than you do – yet who eagerly receive the free gift of God’s grace through Christ to be reconciled with Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Act 4:  World Vision has been clear in its focus on the mission to serve the poor.  The loss of revenue over just more than a day was significant enough for them to agonize over reversing the decision.  Given that they had embarked on a journey of prayer and reflection for more than a year prior to making the decision, I feel confident that it is apt to say they agonized over trying to prioritize their mission at the cost of reversing their decision.  And so today, Wednesday, they indicated that they will not move forward with hiring gay married Christians.

And now many, who privately applauded WV’s move are wrestling with whether to speak up or not.  Especially those in Christian non-profits who depend on the donations of Christians to continue to do the word of justice in the world.  Without the realities of power and money – how would this have played out?

I have often said in my tenure with New Direction that we need to be “innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents.”  In my context that meant reading the readiness of the community I was invited to engage and be discerning about what to introduce, how to introduce it, and to exercise much more patience than is my natural bent.  Though God has called us to nurture generous spaciousness through the values of humility, hospitality, mutuality and justice – I cannot say all that I want to say in all the contexts I find myself in.  That’s because I know that this is a marathon – not a sprint.  I’m in it for the long haul.  And I’m up against deeply internalized and ingrained positions with invisible but significant blind-spots that resist the systemic change that I believe is needed to fully embody the love and justice of Christ.

One of those internalized and ingrained positions seems to put the Bible above Jesus himself.  I would call that idolatry.  Others would call me apostate.

Another of those internalized and ingrained positions seems to elevate gender complementarity over the good news that Jesus has broken the dividing walls of hostility between male and female.  I would call that limited. Others would call me heretical.

I could go on.  I could talk about dismissal of historical cultural context on matters that don’t personally impact the white, straight, cis-gender, men who raised the biggest ruckus about the WV decision.  I could talk about inculturated disgust that energizes much theologizing about matters of minority sexuality.  I could wax and wane about simplistic, theoretical rigidness (“the body parts don’t fit”) that seem to ignore God’s outrageous accommodations of grace that minister to so many aspects of our human condition.  But now is not the time to argue or debate.

Now is the time to reflect on what has actually happened here – and consider what can be done now.

Act 5:  This was a significant opportunity to profile the Christ-centered, unity-focused, humility-shaped, justice-energized possibilities of generous spaciousness.  Oh how I wish WV’s decision had been received with joy.  Or even just with humble caution.  But we know that the loudest voices went for the jugular in their opposition.

Is all lost?  No!  A step was made.

It was taken back.  But you can never take back the reality that the board of such a prominent organization took this risk.  Prayed and reflected a long time.  Believed it was the right decision to make.  And made it.

In these early hours of response to rescinding, I am mostly hearing sadness, disappointment, frustration – but priorities in the right place – not wanting to damage WV’s work with the poor.

It reminds me of the death of Fred Phelps – still recent news.  So many voices reminding us to not respond to hate with hate – but with mercy.

So, what can we do?

Send a letter to World Vision thanking them for taking this risk.  Express sadness but also understanding.

Watch your social media comments – be consistently gentle and gracious (God will help you – I know it is hard to do when emotions are strong).

Tell your story.  Tell folks why this matters to you.  Tell people how the reactions and reversals have made you feel.

Persevere in hopefulness.  Prayer and dialogue brought WVUS to the point of this decision.  I believe the Spirit was at work.  The Spirit will not be thrown off course by the unfolding of this situation.  The Spirit is at work in so many organizations.  In the past few months I have been working with many different Christian organizations involved with social justice for the poor.  It isn’t easy – but many are struggling to move forward into generous spaciousness as an outworking of their relational hermeneutic and commitment to justice.  Be sad – but do not be discouraged.  We are in the days when we must endure in our conviction that God is working in the church to fling wide the doors and welcome all who call on the name of the Lord.

And if that is too hard to do right now – then be still my friend and rest in the love of God.  I (and so many others) will hold the Christ-light for you, in the night-time of your fear.  I will remain resolute in working towards generous spaciousness and I will not give up hope!

“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  ~ Martin Luther King Jr.