World Vision, Priorities, and 10,000 Children
Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. The latter do so from love because they know that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause trouble for me in my imprisonment. What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18 NET, emphasis mine)
This was a bad week for the public image of the Kingdom of God.
Others have done a far better job than I would do of summarizing what’s gone on this week with World Vision, one of the premier and absolute best charitable organizations on the planet (according to Forbes, $1.07bil of their $1.22bil revenue  goes directly to charitable services — that is an extremely respectable level of leanness and lack of overhead).
I would insert a quote from The Princess Bride here about explaining and summing up, but my heart is too heavy to joke about this. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the facts as I know them right now:
- Last fall, World Vision‘s Board of Directors made a decision, in World Vision’s hiring practices, to respect the authority of their participating churches, with regard to same-sex marriage. World Vision is registered in the US as a 501(c)3 “religious charity,” which allows them to apply religious moral standards in the context of hiring and continued employment. They require pre-marital abstinence and fidelity in marriage — violation of those things can constitute grounds for dismissal.
- Their decision was basically to say that LGBT Christians, whose marriages were sanctioned by their own congregations, were no longer automatically ineligible on moral grounds for employment with World Vision.
- This decision was not publicized at the time that it was made, and as far as I know, no input was sought from the donors, upon whose financial charity the organization depends for its very existence.
- Christianity Today either ran or was going to run a story, sourced from someone within World Vision who was unhappy with either the decision itself or how the process was handled (or both). World Vision tried to get out in front of the story and explain the rationale behind it.
- Their call center was almost immediately overwhelmed with donors calling to cancel their sponsorships. 2000 in the first 12 hours, almost 10000 within 48 hours — at which point World Vision announced that they were reversing their original decision. The cancellations stopped almost immediately; calls began coming in from people attempting to take back up their original sponsorships, but at nowhere near the volume of cancellations.
Over the course of the week, I’ve participated in several discussions with other Christians, trying to wrap our heads around all the facets of this nightmare. I’ve gotten angry with folks on different sides of the matter; I’ve prayed, cried, and facepalmed myself into a stupor. I’ve turned things over and over in my head and out loud, and here’s where I think I stand.
NO ONE WAS RIGHT. NO ONE. I’m going to start with where I think World Vision went wrong, but please stick with me all the way through, and please don’t assume, because I make points from the perspective of either WV or those who object to WV’s decision, that you can discern my own thoughts on same-sex marriage. I promise that you can’t, and that my thoughts are different from your thoughts about it (that doesn’t mean I’m right, either — just please don’t create a straw man — let’s talk about THIS and what I think about THIS, not that)
- The board of World Vision was wrong to make the decision on their own. They’re a non-profit whose focus is serving — in the name of Jesus Christ — the most powerless, the poorest of the poor around the world. It is sheer madness to throw your hat into the ring of such a hot-button issue when the stakes are that high. This caused its donors to feel helpless, and that they were deceived into participating in something morally forbidden to them.
- World Vision was wrong to carry out the policy change in secrecy. This added to the sense of alienation and exploitation felt by many of their donors.
- World Vision’s explanation, couched in double-speak and innuendo, did more harm than good. One simply cannot say at the same time
- we are “NOT affirming same-sex marriage” (emphasis mine), but
- we NO LONGER consider sexual activity between a legally-married same-sex couple to be a violation of our sexual immorality employment policies
- Were they wrong to backtrack? I’m not sure.
- On the one hand, once the flood of calls began, it became their only choice.
- On the other hand, they let themselves be backed into that corner by relying on secrecy and thus allowing a staff member to manipulate the company. In my opinion, a company has every right to terminate WITH CAUSE any employee who allows their privately-held opinions to detract from that company’s mission. Not everyone who wants whistle-blower status is, in fact, a whistle-blower. Some are just angry that they aren’t getting their way.
NONE OF THAT CAUSED IRREPARABLE HARM, TO WORLD VISION OR TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. I CAN’T SAY THAT ABOUT WHAT FOLLOWS.
- Cancelling the sponsorship of children should have been an ACT OF LAST RESORT, not an initial reflex.
- The donors, no matter how powerless they might have felt, were not IN FACT powerless at all. They could have:
- Petitioned for redress of their grievances;
- carried out an #Occupy-style sit-in of the areas surrounding World Vision’s offices;
- used the myriad forms of communication at our disposal in 2014 to plead and pray for World Vision to change their decision
- WE ARE CHRISTIANS — WE ARE NEVER POWERLESS. And feeling powerless is never an excuse for sin.
- According to the CEO of World Vision, Richard Stearns, “the people manning their call centers were screamed at, berated, and accused of being Satan’s instruments by outraged ‘Christians.'”
- The callers in question inflicted their indignation upon the most helpless and powerless employees of World Vision.
- No matter how angry Jesus Christ became (cleansing the Temple, Matthew 23, etc.), he expressed his righteous indignation towards the powerful themselves, not their helpless servants.
- As a former waiter, I have experienced the kind of berating that Stearns describes, and it is one of the most horrible and dehumanizing experiences I’ve ever endured in public.
- For Christians to behave this way TOWARDS SERVANTS, towards helpless low-wage men and women doing their best to be of service, is COWARDLY BEYOND THE PALE.
- The donors in question are by all means free, in Christ, to decide how to appropriately invest the resources over which God has granted them stewardship.
- THEY WERE NOT FREE TO BREAK TEN THOUSAND PROMISES, without first exhausting all other means of influencing the organization for change.
- WE ARE CHRISTIANS! OUR simply given WORD (Mt 5: 37) IS SUPPOSED TO COUNT FOR SOMETHING. Promises of sponsorship, made to 10,000 children and their communities, were broken BECAUSE IT WAS EASY. THIS IS SIN.
- What’s worse is that it compounds itself with the sin of hypocrisy, because it is sin carried out in the name of purity. Claiming to seek purity, Christian men and women made themselves liars to 10,000 children. THIS IS SIN PILED ATOP SIN.
- Christians are NEVER free to choose convenience over commitment.
This post opens with a quotation from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the churches in Philippi. He has some extremely negative things to say about some of his fellow evangelists, but the key to this is how the inspired Apostle evaluates the work they are doing. What matters?
CHRIST IS BEING PROCLAIMED.
No matter WV’s stance on homosexual marriage, Christ was being proclaimed into the lives and communities of 10,000 children around the world.
Why wasn’t that the most important thing?