A colleague expressed frustration yesterday at the accusatory back-and-forth that has resulted from World Vision’s initial decision earlier this week to allow people in legal same-sex marriages to work for their organization, and reversal of that decision two days later. Certainly there is some of that happening. But as I explained to her, my grief and anger over what happened isn’t about accusing other Christians of being hateful or homophobic. Briefly, these are my biggest concerns with what happened this week:
World Vision’s initial decision recognized that there is a diversity of Christian opinion regarding gay marriage. Their reversal does not. World Vision’s initial claim, that they value Christian unity despite different opinions on gay marriage, was refreshing, particularly coming from an organization that leans right/evangelical. There are so many on the far right who believe that acceptance of gay marriage calls one’s Christianity into question; those voices were some of the loudest that protested World Vision’s initial decision. In two crazy, difficult days, the organization went from a thoughtful decision that supported unity in Christ despite sociopolitical differences to a retraction that reinforces (whether they meant to or not) the notion that there is only one acceptable Christian view on gay marriage. This decision is a huge blow to the very unity with diversity that World Vision held up in their initial decision.
By reinforcing the notion that Christianity necessitates opposition to gay marriage, World Vision’s retraction builds up a popular idol in Christianity—the idol of sexual orthodoxy. A significant cadre of Christians have taken a marginal issue in the Bible—homosexuality—and transformed it into a test of who is and is not a true Christian. Those up in arms over World Vision’s initial decision to welcome those in same-sex marriages accused them of essentially abandoning the faith. When we make people’s opinion on gay marriage or any other sociopolitical issue a central marker of whether their faith is authentic or not, that is idolatry. Christians are defined by our being followers of Jesus Christ. We will always disagree about the details of how to do that. Jesus calls us to unity anyway. I believe that ethical and theological issues around sexuality (and reproduction—another issue that can be idolized by Christians) are important. But they are not central.
These are the two main reasons that I’m grieving World Vision’s retraction. But I don’t think anyone involved in that retraction is evil or hateful. I found this Religion News Service interview with World Vision’s Rich Stearns to be helpful and moving, although I’m still sad and confused. Stearns said,
World Vision has been aware that this issue has been dividing churches, denominations and families in a heart-breaking way. Our board was trying to make an honest attempt to wrestle with a divisive issue. We created more disunity by our action and we blurred the image of World Vision in the eyes of our supporters and church partners, so we took steps to rectify that and be quite clear in where we stand.
That claim, while heartfelt, seems to ignore how the World Vision retraction also created disunity and blurred all sorts of things, including World Vision’s intentions and motivations. But I admire Stearns for his willingness to make himself available when he probably wishes he could just shut his office door and go back to World Vision’s important work serving those in poverty.
Of all that has been written this week about World Vision, this post by Benjamin Moberg is the most moving, the most heartfelt (and heartbreaking), and the most marked by grace for those at World Vision whose actions have caused many people, including Moberg, deep hurt. I’m trying to follow his example of extending grace to those whose actions I still find inexplicable and deeply painful.