Recapping the World Vision Schism

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I’m inclined to agree with many others like Zach Hoag and Ben Corey in saying that the recent 48 hour span of events surrounding World Vision has changed evangelicalism. I’m going to try to recap the events and the consequences as succinctly as I can:

The Initial Decision

World Vision USA publicly announced that they would now hire legally-married and sanctioned-by-their-churches gays and lesbians. Although it went on to backfire, this should have been a great move for two major reasons:

Ecumenism

World Vision claims to be an ecumenical organisation but was also a favourite of conservatives and their requirements for staff lifestyle reflected that. By making this move, as they explained in their announcement, they were admitting that honest Christians disagree on this question. As a non-profit, it was not their job to enforce it and they would leave it up to the denominations that support them to discipline their own. They did not shift allegiances from the conservative church to the liberal church. They switched from being theoretically ecumenical but very conservative to being slightly more ecumenical but still mostly conservative. They shifted I’m not sure why this is radical.

Gay Rights

Obviously. It made a statement that gay people deserve jobs if they can do the job as well as straight people. Contrary to what many conservatives engaged in culture war mentality said, this was not a statement in support of same-sex marriage. WV shifted from conservative to neutral on gay rights, not from conservative to liberal. This shouldn’t be radical either.

The Child Hostages

Conservatives responded by withdrawing something like 2,000 sponsorships in the first day. This was by far the most painful thing to me as they declared that they would rather abandon their children in need than accept that a gay person might be a part of helping that child. What statements did this make, unintentionally or not? Because of the scale, I honestly think these will take a very long time to undo and they can never be undone under the name of evangelicalism.

Children Are Interchangeable

Yes, many would redirect that donation to another source, sponsoring another child with another group. But using this as a defence to me implies that you think every child is the same. Hopefully, those donors have developed relationships with their children. Most write letters regularly. Some even visit. The children usually view their sponsors in such high regard because the sponsors have literally saved their lives many times over. These real children have to be told that their lives are not safe anymore, that their benefactor has abandoned them. I wonder how many wrote goodbye letters to their children, trying to explain to them that they will more than likely die because we could not risk letting a gay person help them.

Doctrine Trumps Love

This is the way that most were phrasing it themselves. The great commandment, conservative edition, is very clearly to make sure sinners are punished. Not all sinners, of course. Only the ones that are different than us. But yes, this is the standard false dichotomy between truth and love, or if you’d rather put it in the terms I wrote about before, it is confusing legalism with justice. In other words, they want to forget the consistent message of the entire Bible which is summed up in the words “love your neighbour” because making a statement that their doctrine of heteronormativity is an absolute essential.

Evangelicals Really, Really Hate Gay People

Some of us have been really optimistic about this. I still insist that there are a lot of people who don’t think God sanctions same-sex marriage but who are immensely loving to gay people anyway. I have met many of these people, been in very close fellowship with many of those people. Some of these people stood up and said that while they don’t think same-sex marriage is approved by God, our priority is still to love, in my case mostly people I know from The Meeting House.

But as a whole with so many of those voices drowned out, American Evangelicalism came out with a clear and unambiguous statement: we hate gay people. We hate them so much we would rather children die than give them a job. We hate them so much that we’ve declared our complete separation from them as Gospel, that is, the Good News of Jesus. Yes, the Good News of Jesus is apparently that God hates gay people and Christians have to as well.

Evangelical Opinion = The Bible = God

Yes, Christians have to hate gay people. I am no longer a true Christian according to at least one former pastor of mine. It isn’t even because I support same-sex marriage. It is because I don’t believe that hating gay people is a requirement for being a Christian. This is how the logic goes:

  1. My tradition’s reading of the Bible says that gay people are sinful and need to be excluded (from not just the church but pretty much anything as long as there is at least one Christian involved).
  2. Therefore the Bible clearly says that gay people are sinful and need to be excluded.
  3. Therefore God clearly says that gay people are sinful and need to be excluded.
  4. Therefore you cannot claim to be a Christian and have any disagreement with the idea that gay people are sinful and need to be excluded.

A maddening part of the conversation for me is that many people had no problem saying that there is room for interpretation on a range of issues like free will vs predestination or the nature of the Eucharist. It isn’t like most of them are saying every single aspect of their doctrine is indisputable. They have just picked this one topic, which has at most 6 ambiguous Bible texts talking about it, to say is a necessary part of the Gospel and they could give absolutely no reason why other than that “the Bible clearly says.”

If you’re going to draw a line in the sand for anything, I want to stand up to those who Jesus stood up to: spiritual abusers, those neglecting the poor, and those caring more about the rules than the heart of God behind them. Jesus got himself killed for being a heretic, daring to expand God’s love farther than the leaders of his day wanted. Maybe following that makes me not a true Christian, a heretic, an evildoer, etc., by your definition. But I really don’t care because I follow Jesus, not your Christianity.

The Rally of Love

Great encouragement came thanks to the many who I am connected with over blogs and Twitter and Facebook as people rallied to care for the children left behind. Some oppose same-sex marriage. Some support it. It just didn’t matter. What mattered was that great commandment to love, especially the least of these. We did our best to make sure no child was left behind or seen as interchangeable with another child. We did our best to widen the circle of conversation so that we are not stuck as one-issue Christians. I saw Jesus in so many who were rushing headlong into the fray to sponsor children and make donations. Thank you so much to all of those people.

The Tragic Reversal

World Vision caved in the loss of the effectiveness of their ministry. I can’t completely blame them as much as I sometimes want to. The original statement was a claim that they did not want to get into theological debates, leaving it to the churches. They are virtually single-minded in their love for children in need. The rest is peripheral. World Vision was denied their beautiful, world-changing, Gospel-breathing ministry.

Following the Money

I don’t mean that they followed the money in the sense that they were greedy. I simply mean that they realised their ministry would suffer in huge ways. As their initial statement showed, they care about helping children in need. Unfortunately the American conservative church put them in a position where they could not carry out their mission as effectively. I think they backed up, going against their own principles when it comes to embracing different views within the church on same-sex marriage, so that they could continue to do their job well. Sure, maybe I want them to have made a bigger stand on principle because it could have helped others make similar steps. But I definitely can’t blame them for putting the children in their care right now ahead of that stand. Those children were being held hostage, so they gave in to the demands. It makes me angry that they were put in that  get it.

Apologizing to the Wrong People

The part where I most blame World Vision is that their apology was nothing short of ass-kissing. They came out to say that they were wrong and the angry bigots were right. They really shouldn’t have gone against the Bible, even though a few days early they acknowledged that different Christians have different views on what the Bible says (if anything) on this topic. Poor oppressed conservatives who were forced to abandon children because of World Vision’s mistake. Excuse me for not pitying the hostage-takers.

There was no apology to the gay people who submitted an application to work there on the day they would told they were finally allowed to. There was no apology to the Christians who do support same-sex marriage who have just been told that we aren’t real Christians. There was no apology for all the gay people who were investigating Christianity but then seeing how Christianity results in hatred have changed their minds. There was no apology for the millions of young people leaving any association with the life-giving Jesus behind, not so much because of the theological divide, but because of the way that we treat people around us including gay people and children in need. These people have become victims of this reversal and they will likely never be acknowledged by the people who caused it because they people simply don’t matter when all that matters is asserting how I am right and you are a wrong dirty sinner.

The Defeat for the Kingdom

This reversal is a defeat for the Kingdom in many ways. It is not just the loss of gay rights. It is also the victory of judgement over grace, which is a Kingdom value exemplified and taught by Jesus. It is a victory for exclusion when Jesus went to those who are most excluded and built his Kingdom on them. It is a victory for bad theology that treats all issues as the same and bad biblical studies that equates your interpretation of Scripture with Scripture itself.

Love Will Win

It is that rally that gives me so much hope in the eschatology that I affirm: love will win in the end. Jesus said that the Kingdom is like a mustard seed. It starts out very small. It’s ignored. It’s insignificant. It doesn’t really have any influence in the world. But it is that seed that grows into the Kingdom. It may be slower than we often like, but it will grow into a majestic tree. I believe that the actions of the past few days constituted some trimming of that tree. We have hurt the Kingdom.

But we have not destroyed that tree. That tree can never be destroyed. It may have its setbacks but it will continue to grow. Love will always win over hate. Grace will always win over judgement. We may feel hopeless today, but we remember that the Kingdom of Heaven is ours. We may grieve today, but we remember that we will be made glad. The rich and powerful who use that power to hurt others might have won this day, but it is the meek who will inherit the Earth. We remember it is the poor, the hungry, the thirsty who will be fed until they are full. We may want to fight judgement with judgement, making our hearts impure, but we remember that it is those who show mercy who will receive mercy and see the face of God who is mercy. We may want to wage war, but we remember that it is the peacemakers who are called God’s children. We may be hurt that we have been cut off, told we’re not good enough to hang out with the true righteous people like the Pharisees, but we remember that it is those of us who are harassed for our unrelenting justice who will receive the Kingdom of God in our lives now and forevermore.

Thanks be to God.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.