Monday, March 31, 2014

World Vision and the Great Reversal

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
John 9:39-41

Last week, Rich Stearns, the president of World Vision, announced a new policy which showed vision. Stearns announced that the agency was changing its personnel policy to allow gay Christians in same sex marriages to serve as World Vision employees. The change, he said, would make their policy “more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues.” While denominations and individual churches might be divided over the issue of marriage equality, World Vision would look beyond the sectarian battles to a unity built on the common goal of feeding hungry children. Under the new policy, the sexual standards for gay and straight employees would be the same: abstinence for those who were single and faithfulness for those who were married.

In a letter to employees announcing the change, Stearns wrote, "I want to reassure you that we are not sliding down some slippery slope of compromise, nor are we diminishing the authority of Scripture in our work. We have always affirmed traditional marriage as a God-ordained institution. Nothing in our work around the world with children and families will change. We are the same World Vision you have always believed in." The decision, he said, was made without external pressure and was overwhelmingly supported by the World Vision board.

In terms of what we generally identify as Evangelical Christianity, it was a light shining in the darkness. But sadly, in this instance the darkness did overcome it.

Reactions were swift and even more judgmental and self-righteous than one might have feared. And there was no shortage of hyperbole. Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, declared, “This isn’t, as the World Vision statement (incredibly!) puts it, the equivalent of a big tent on baptism, church polity, and so forth. At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Michael Brown, who writes a blog called “In the Line of Fire,” and hosts a “Christian” radio program, posted his commentary under the title, “The Apostasy of World Vision.” In it he wrote, “Let it be stated plainly to the leadership and board of directors of World Vision U.S.: The Lord Jesus is no longer central in the corporate life of your organization. You have denied His lordship by your actions.”

Never mind what Jesus actually said. Apparently what he meant to say was that the key test of discipleship is whether or not we offer sufficient condemnation of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.

Before I had time to write a blog affirming what World Vision had done, they reversed themselves. They apologized for the heartbreak they had caused in the evangelical community. They repented of their inclusive vision and compassion.

In an interview with Sarah Pulliam Bailey, published in the Huffington Post, Stearns was asked whether any of the World Vision employees had resigned as a result of either their initial decision or their reversal. He said that a few had resigned because of the stress. “You can imagine some of the folks in our call center that are answering our 800 line. They’re receiving an earful of anger. I think we had a few people who couldn’t handle the stress and the anxiety created by the incoming calls.” He went on to say that, “Within an hour of the reversal, the call volume dropped. The angry calls stopped and dropped to a much lower level. Some of the sponsors called back to reinstate their sponsorships.”

World Vision initially lost nearly 5,000 sponsorships, totaling over $2 million in annual revenue. But Stearns reported that after the reversal, many called back to reinstate their sponsorships. “They’re forgiving, they’re saying, ‘Hey we stand with you.’”

As a Christian, it is hard not to feel both shame and anger at this episode.

For the past several years our youth group has participated in the “30 Hour Famine” to support World Vision. All day Saturday and part of Sunday they fast together. They do service projects (yes, on an empty stomach), they do Bible study, they pray together, and they learn about world hunger. They also raise money for World Vision. Each year our group raises a few thousand dollars.

If you go to the 30 Hour Famine page on the World Vision website you will see a tab for the “Famine Study Tour,” a special study opportunity that those who participate in the famine can apply for. One of our kids, Adam Sticca, was chosen from among thousands of applicants to participate in last year’s tour. In the group picture, he’s right in the center, wearing a T-Shirt with the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples when they asked him what to do about the hungry crowd following them, “You Feed Them.”

We will be participating in the famine again this year.

We have never been fully on board with the theology of World Vision, but we are in one hundred percent agreement with their mission.

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