How Christian Hatemongers Hold the Needy Hostage

Last week, the giant Christian charity World Vision announced that they were changing their rules to permit the hiring of employees in same-sex marriages. As an explicitly Christian organization, World Vision requires its employees to be Christian and to obey a code of conduct which includes no sex outside marriage, and they weren’t changing either of those rules. As they took pains to say, they weren’t even endorsing same-sex marriage. It was merely a statement that they no longer considered a person’s views on homosexuality to be a litmus test of Christian belief, given the reality that many mainline Protestant churches now perform and sanction them.

Even for such a small step toward tolerance, the backlash was immediate and ferocious. Many religious-right spokespeople raged against the decision: Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention called the decision “unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish“, and Albert Mohler called it “a grave and tragic act that confirms sinners in their sin [and] violates the gospel of Christ“. John Piper said it “trivializes perdition“. Trevin Wax of the Gospel Coalition wrote, “I hope you feel a sense of grief” for the children who will suffer “needlessly”, because World Vision’s donors clearly would have to punish those children by pulling their support… and so on and so on.

In response to the blowback and angry messages from thousands of donors, World Vision almost immediately caved in, issuing a groveling apology and reinstating its former rule. Progressive Christian bloggers who cheered the initial change were horrified and heartbroken, as well they might be. As Rachel Held Evans wrote:

This whole situation has left me feeling frustrated, heartbroken, and lost. I don’t think I’ve ever been more angry at the Church, particularly the evangelical culture in which I was raised and with which I for so long identified. I confess I had not realized the true extent of the disdain many evangelicals have toward LGBT people…

Or from Slacktivist:

The word “Christian” ought to have more to do with World Vision’s gospel-driven service to the poorest than with the sanctimonious contempt of the white evangelical bullies.

But when the armies of hate are on the march, insisting that “We are Christians and we do this because we are Christians and because this is what Christians do,” then we have to recognize that the word is changing for the worse, whether we like it or not.

While I sympathize with their frustration and anger, I have to say that none of this should be even remotely a surprise. Has Evans really never noticed the depth of evangelical Christian hate for LGBT people until now? It’s not as if they’re subtle about it. What about the evangelical groups proposing laws to unperson gay people? What about the Christian groups praising Vladimir Putin’s pogrom to the skies, or their support for Uganda’s brutal Jail the Gays law? Why was this the straw that broke the camel’s back?

Similarly, I don’t think the meaning of the word “Christian” is changing to include anti-gay bigotry. I think it’s obvious that Christianity has been synonymous with homophobia for a long time. What may be happening is that the contrast is growing sharper: as tolerance and acceptance of LGBT people is fast becoming a cultural consensus, the holdouts become easier to spot, and their behavior seems more reprehensible.

I don’t blame progressive Christians for wanting and hoping for better things from their community. But the cold reality is that the evangelical gatekeepers, the people in positions of power and influence, have a solid lock on power and are immovable in their bigotry, while the more tolerant mainline Protestant churches continue to dwindle. No doubt this advice is tinted by self-interest, but I think it’s true nonetheless: trying to change Christianity from within is like banging your head on a stone wall. The best thing to do is to withdraw, to deny your support to the churches and religious institutions that have prejudice rooted so deeply in their fabric.

I understand the moral dilemma of not wanting to punish needy people who depend on help from World Vision. But my view is that doing that good doesn’t outweigh the harm of supporting religious hatred, considering that that same good could be accomplished by donating to secular non-profits which help people without perpetuating discrimination. We can’t let hatemongers blackmail us by using the poor and the needy as hostages. (In some comment threads, anti-gay apologists asserted that they’re not driven just by malice, that they really do believe that homosexuality is a sin, as if that matters or changes anything. Sincerely held bad beliefs are no less bad, as I’ve argued.)

From an atheist’s viewpoint, the real outrage is that World Vision is supported in part by public funding, meaning my tax dollars are going to support a sectarian charity that discriminates against people like me. Given their doctrinal qualifications for employment, that would be infuriating even if they hadn’t rescinded their no-married-gays policy, but their craven return to bigotry just makes it all the worse.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Nathaniel

    This whole mess shows how risky it can be to donate to a religious charity. It often turns out that the people its really serving aren’t the ones you thought it did.

  • R Vogel

    “trying to change Christianity from within is like banging your head on a stone wall. The best thing to do is to withdraw, to deny your support to the churches and religious institutions that have prejudice rooted so deeply in their fabric.”

    From someone not tainted by self interest, this is absolutely 100% the correct and morale choice and the only one left to those of us who don’t want to show solidarity with this kind of evil. There is a point where you have to acknowledge that the foundation is so hopelessly cracked that the only choice is to pull the whole thing down and start again. How many are strong enough to do it, though? When you have spent a lifetime immersed in the Hero System that calls itself christianity, leaving is failure the consequence of which is potentially your soul. People have to be told that shedding the label ‘christian’ does not mean you have to abandon your faith. It means that your solidarity is first to the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, as many of us believe Jesus taught, and not to some conception of ‘the Church’ where we are supposed to consider those who would literally deny bread to poor children to enforce their ideology as ‘brothers and sisters.’

  • R Vogel

    What can we do to fight World Vision continuing to receive public money?

  • Korey Peters

    I made the mistake of reading some of the comments posted in the World Vision retraction link. To hear about people stopping their support of children because of some stupid policy was heartbreaking and disgusting.

    “Faith drives a wedge between ethics and suffering” – Sam Harris

  • L.Long

    He said “……violates the gospel of Christ“ and where did jesus say hate the gays!!!
    He said “….marriage is between one man and one woman” and this is DIRECTLY stated by jesus where???

  • Mimmoth

    It’s not that some Christians are becoming more homophobic; it’s that some Christians are becoming *less.* And now they’re starting to notice what the rest of Christianity is.

  • Science Avenger

    “What may be happening is that the contrast is growing sharper: as tolerance and acceptance of LGBT people is fast becoming a cultural consensus, the holdouts become easier to spot, and their behavior seems more reprehensible.”

    I had this very experience with an old favorite movie, Animal House, although it concerned racism rather than anti-gay bigotry. The movie is the same, but the norms have shifted so much that what I used to consider mainstream humor now strike me as offensively racist, and with roots in the deep south, I’m not exactly the most sensitive person in the world on that score. Or consider an episode from M*A*S*H, not exactly a favorite of Foxnews viewers. They had one punchline where one character acted “gay”, and the other says “Oh my god, you’re one of those too.” Big laughs. Not any more.

    But with the O’Reilly crowd (mediun age 69 IIRC), all of that is still mainstream. And many of them really don’t understand why they are offending the rest of us so.

  • J-D

    When I see something or somebody described as ‘immovable’, I can’t help being reminded of descriptions of the _Titanic_ as ‘unsinkable’, and when I see an assertion that something can’t be changed, I can’t help reflecting that nothing lasts forever. A cursory look at history suggests that Christianity has changed over time.

    On the other hand, I emphatically agree on the importance of recognising instances where particular changes are unlikely in the extreme for the foreseeable future, so that efforts in those particular directions can only be regarded as waste, but this does not require over-generalising.

    It always strikes me as odd when unbelievers are as committed to a vision of a religion (Christianity or any other) as being unchangeably homogeneous as any believer could be.

  • Adam Lee

    As far as I know, nothing. The Supreme Court slammed the door in our faces by ruling that taxpayers have no right to challenge the giveaway of public funds to religious institutions.

  • Adam Lee

    I’m not suggesting that Christianity is unchangeable; far from it. But to the extent that change is happening, it’s in the wrong direction.

    The mainline Protestant churches, the ones that are the most tolerant, are in demographic free fall. The denominations that are growing most rapidly are the evangelical ones which are the most culturally and socially conservative. This is especially true in developing countries, which look likely to become the center of gravity of the Christian world in the next few decades.

  • J-D

    It’s good to be aware of what current trends are, and also of what they are not, but that doesn’t require regarding any trend as irreversible.