I’m not going to recount the facts. Others have done that. I’m going to tell you what I know from unnamed sources inside the World Vision headquarters and I’m going to opinionate about what this means for the state of Christianity in America, especially in regards to GLBT issues.
According to my sources, many staffers at WV headquarters in Seattle are very upset. This is a change that had been talked about and planned by the executive team for several years and was being rolled out department-by-department. It was a minor human resources change establishing non-discriminatory hiring policies in accordance with Washington State law (marriage equality became law in Washington on February 13, 2012 and was approved by voter referendum on November 6, 2012).
Someone on the WV staff leaked this change to Christianity Today magazine, CT informed WV that they were going to run a story with or without WV cooperation, and WV president gave CT an exclusive interview to explain the change.
My thought: Granting an exclusive to CT may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was like throwing red meat to hungry lions. A better PR strategy would have been to go to the mainstream media — probably the New York Times — rather than trying to explain this policy change to evangelical insiders. The fact is, the vast majority of people who have a sponsor child on their refrigerator door are not reading CT, nor are they particularly concerned about whether gays work at WV headquarters in Seattle.
But the evangelical intelligentsia does care, and they pounced hard. As progressive Christian leaders like Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Kristen Howerton were encouraging people to support WV by sponsoring children on Tuesday, conservative leaders were both publicly and privately pulling their support from WV. I’ve been told that the response to those bloggers was tremendous on Tuesday and that WV took in a huge amount of new sponsorships. But the withdrawals of sponsors outweighed the new donors.
By Wednesday afternoon, WV flinched. They caved to conservative critics who gave the pretense of Matthew 18 confrontation (covered recently in the NY Times). Some conservatives were beside themselves with glee on Twitter, while others took a more humble and patronizing stance.
Today, WV is in grief. The president gave a tearful address to the staff this morning. He has admitted to media that he hadn’t gotten enough outside counsel before making the policy change. Many there are distraught about both the continuance of discriminatory polices and the loss of child sponsors.
Now, here are some of my thoughts:
- Most of the supposed 2,000 sponsors who quit WV in the 48 hours will not be back. They’ll think that WV showed its true colors, and they’ll find more ideologically conservative organizations for their donations.
- Twenty years from now, WV will be hiring married gay employees in Seattle.
- Some conservatives are gleeful that they won a battle in the war over marriage equality. But it’s the first battle they’ve won in a couple years. And they’re going to lose the war — even Ross Douthat admits that all that’s left is the terms of the surrender.
- This battle was primarily ideological. I don’t think that openly gay persons were lining up at the HR office of WV on Tuesday, looking to get hired.
- However, there are real people involved. My sources at WV know gay people who work there and who have to hide their identities and their partners. Now they will have to continue to live in hiding. If any of them revealed their sexual identities to their supervisors on Tuesday or Wednesday, I expect they’ll be fired. That is tragic and sinful. UPDATE: A WV employee reports that at the staff meeting today, Stearns said that gay and lesbian employees will not be fired and that gay and lesbian Christians are welcome to work at WV. This was met with applause by the assembled staff. (But I assume this means that the gay and lesbian employees are expected to be celibate.)
- On the one hand, progressive Christians shouldn’t pull their money from WV because of this policy — Courtney and I will still sponsor Afra. On the other hand, there are organizations that do not discriminate against GLBT persons, and our future donations will go to those orgs rather than WV.
- World Vision’s reversal showed just how theological hamfisted they are. Here’s what an evangelical pastor friend of mine — Rev. Dr. John D’Elia, senior minister of the American Church in London — wrote on Facebook:
“What we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs.” (Richard Stearns of World Vision US)
This is such a misguided statement. Want to know what’s “core” to our Trinitarian faith? Wrestling with the idea of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit–the community at the center of all existence. Perpetuating the lie that issues of human sexuality are somehow central to Christian doctrine, only ensures that our collective eye will remain firmly off the ball. Let’s simply reflect on the weight of God’s word: The poor and needy are mentioned 400+ times, while homosexuality gets a paltry two mentions (four, at most). Let’s at least agree to order our own lives and ministries according to God’s clearly stated priorities. For a day or so, it looked like World Vision US was taking the lead in doing this. Who would dare now to have that kind of courage?
- Finally, this: A lot — and I mean a lot — of younger evangelicals watching this unfold on social media. Many of those already have one foot out the door of the church. They’re looking for — even hoping for — some advance on the issue of rights and love and equality for GLBT persons. That’s what will keep them in the Christian faith. Without that, they’re gone. They’re the new Nones. What WV did yesterday, on a large, public scale, pushed scores of younger people out of the church and out of the faith. Some of them for good. There are many tragedies about how this all went down, not the least of which is the message that Christianity is a faith that is run by ideological bulli
Note to readers: this post was read and commented on before it was posted by two WV staffers who wish to remain anonymous.