World Vision, donors, scripture and ‘online speculation’

It took a few days, but the newspaper of record has now produced a solid story on the World Vision U.S. firestorm. The piece includes several interesting facts and observations, including a rare sighting of the term “liberal evangelicals.”

The key to the story, at this point, is the emerging reality that there is no way for nondenominational groups to find a safe, compromise position on the redefinition of marriage or on attempts to edit thousands of years of doctrine stating that sex outside of marriage is sin. Here is a key chunk of that New York Times report:

From the start, World Vision’s decision to open its staff to married gay men and women was a test in tightrope walking. Richard Stearns, the charity’s president, called it a “very narrow policy change” and “not an endorsement of same-sex marriage” in an interview announcing the change in Christianity Today — like World Vision, one of the bedrock institutions of American evangelicalism.

Mr. Stearns explained that World Vision’s staff members belong to more than 50 denominations, and since some Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Congregational churches are now marrying same-sex couples, the charity’s board had decided to be “neutral.” He said this was no different from World Vision’s practice of deferring to churches on other doctrinal matters, such as divorce and remarriage, women in leadership and evolution.

The story contains relevant quotes from articulate, qualified people on both sides of the debate and it’s clear that the Times did everything it could to talk to World Vision leaders who are now avoiding telephone calls. All well and good.

At one point Stearns said the board’s action was rooted in its desire to “avoid divisive debates.”

Good luck with that. If board members ever respond to calls from journalists, that’s a key statement that must be clarified. A majority of the board felt that this action would not be controversial? Stearns added this:

“What happened is we ended up creating a great deal more division than unity,” he said. “Our closest partners” told the board that “we had veered from our core values in a way that created a lot of dissonance in our own community.”

He said that despite online conjecture, World Vision had not been pressured by the government to hire married gay employees. World Vision’s annual budget is $1 billion, and the government provides 18 percent of its revenues, while 61 percent is from private cash contributions, a spokesman said. But the decision to make a U-turn was made after donors canceled “several thousand” child sponsorships in two days, Mr. Stearns said.

So, is it safe to say that I can be listed among the people gathered under that “online speculation” umbrella?

The article quotes the World Vision leader as saying that his organization “had not been” — past tense — pressured by government agencies. In my post on that topic, I said, concerning the organization’s nearly $1 billion budget:

Question: Where does most of that money come from? How much of it is from religious groups, how much is from donors and, crucial point, how many of those dollars now come from private foundations and government sources that may be lobbying for the modernization of any nasty old doctrines that define World Vision’s mission?

Trust me, there is a story there. … Let me stress that at World Vision, people on both sides of this sexuality dispute share a commitment to social justice and serving the poor. The issue is whether they can still work together, while also working with government and secular foundations. That’s the story. Which matters most, the endorsement of thousands of ordinary Christian donors or the support of key players in government and in foundations (think Bill Gates and similar activists)?

Reading that now, I realize I needed one more sentence to stress that I was not saying that governments had already — past tense — put pressure on World Vision.

My goal, to be clear, was to state that one of realities facing the leaders of World Vision and similar nondenominational ministries is that the momentum — at the level of government policies (such as in World Vision’s home state of Washington) and among elite philanthropists (again, think about the nearby Gates empire) — is clearly toward support for gay marriage. Correct? Therefore, was it strange to ask if fear of being cut off from these sources — future tense — may have been on the minds of some board members when they proposed this change?

In other words, changing ancient doctrines on sex and marriage is controversial among religious traditionalists.

Yet at the same time, concrete actions to defend ancient doctrines on sex and marriage, especially when those doctrines affect hiring and similar public-square policies, is now highly controversial in courts, legislatures, corporate board rooms and other locales in which modern elites make decisions that shape the writing of big, big checks.

Surely World Vision board members have noticed the controversies swirling around, for example, key Catholic charities that cannot do their work without interacting with government agencies and major foundations? Can you say Catholic Charities of Boston?

And one more thing: What is that third question in the “infamous tmatt trio,” those questions I have long used to probe the fault lines inside Christian organizations in this day and age? Might this question be relevant in this story?

(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?

Just asking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Bob Smietana

    Some of the churches and individuals that support World Vision would yes to all three, and then would extend the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples. That’s a new twist on the TMatt Trio

  • http://outofthedepths.blogspot.com/ steve

    And, the TMatt trio are open to re-interpretation. Also, there are other former fault lines that have changed. Consider the many centuries that divorce was anathematized.


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