Let’s Talk about What Happened Yesterday at World Vision [UPDATED]

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.

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This Is an Important Moment for Progressive Christians

In the struggle for who gets to define the gospel in 21st century America — which I happen to think is a good struggle to have — this weekend looks to be important. As happens every year as Easter approached, mainstream media is tuning in to religion in general, and Christianity in particular. And some cultural items have come to the front of the American consciousness.

I won’t call this a “battle,” because it’s not that. It’s a conversation, taking place in the public square, about what kind of vision we have for the gospel. And, believe it or not, it involves more than just gay marriage.

1) Who Will Sponsor World Vision Children?

Tweets today are reporting that World Vision has lost 2,000 sponsors of children since announcing on Monday that they would no longer discriminate against married gay persons in their U.S. hiring policies. Progressive voices like Kristen Howerton are campaigning for others to fill the gap and pick up those children. Having been to Sri Lanka on a WV trip, I can attend to their great work. I sponsor Afra, and I encourage you to sponsor a child:

 

2) Who Will See Noah?

This morning, I’m going to a press screening of Darren Aronofsky’s movie, Noah. Conservatives have already turned on this movie — some, like Rick Warren, tweeting that he wouldn’t see the movie (then deleting that tweet) — and a wholesale ban on the movie in the Muslim Middle East for breaking the Koranic prohibition on depicting a prophet.

The major objections among conservative evangelicals seem to be that Noah adds to the biblical account (um, just like every biblical epic movie ever), and that Noah uses a biblical story to make commentary on contemporary issues like the environment, climate change, and overpopulation (um, just like every sermon ever).

Book publishers have long wondered if there is a strong enough market among progressive Christians to sell books at the numbers that conservative authors sell. This weekend, movie studio executives are going to be asking the very same question.

3) How Much Freedom Do Women Have Over Their Bodies?

That’s one way to frame the question of whether the federal government can force Hobby Lobby and other corporations to pay for their employees’ access to all forms of contraception. The other way to ask it is, Can corporations have religious freedom?

How a corporation can claim personhood and the rights ensured thereto is still an open question in our society, and one that confounds many of us. “Corporations are people, my friend.” This may seem a distant concern to religious folks, until a corporation says it has religious beliefs.

 

Surely more issues will bubble up in coming days. To whom the New York Times and your local newspapers turn for quotes and analysis will be interesting. Pay attention to that. And also, let your voice be heard on these issues — in a letter to the editor, on your blog, on Facebook and Twitter, and on the sideline of your kids’ soccer game.

World Vision to Hire Gays

Some might call this shocking. I just call it another domino falling:

World Vision’s American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.

Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule. But a policy change announced Monday [March 24] will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at one of America’slargest Christian charities.

In an exclusive interview, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained to Christianity Today the rationale behind changing this “condition of employment,” whether financial or legal pressures were involved, and whether other Christian organizations with faith-based hiring rules should follow World Vision’s lead.

Stearns asserts that the “very narrow policy change” should be viewed by others as “symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.” He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.

Read the full story.

Remember Afra?

Lindsey Minerva with Afra and her friends.

Afra, the Sri Lankan girl I sponsor through World Vision didn’t only affect me. She also touched the heart of Lindsey Minerva, the WV staffer who led our trip. She’s blogged about Afra’s birthday party on the WV blog, and what she’s written is beautiful and profound:

After candles were blown out and cake had been cut, most of our group left. Tony and I stayed behind to spend some more time with Afra and her family.

Afra’s parents opened up to Tony about the incident, and Afra and I played together. Soon, there was a crowd of neighborhood children around us. I tried to think of games that were easily translatable to entertain them. We limboed, did what Simon said, and played duck-duck-chicken, because in Sri Lanka, there are no geese.

On the outside, I laughed with Afra and the children. Internally, my heart was filled with a somber, silent prayer. It sat in my chest and grew stronger the more time I spent with Afra.

My heart was filled with so much joy and desperation, all at once. By the time I left, the desperation had all but overtaken me. Seeing Afra smile so genuinely and freely kept me glued together.

Everything in me wanted Afra’s heart to be etched with the truth that she is beautiful, valuable, and loved. I don’t think I have ever wanted something so much for another human being.

I was desperate to drown out the message sent by so many in her life: the man who maimed her, her schoolmates, and her community. The message that she wasn’t enough; that somehow her disability made her less than human; that she wasn’t worth it.

I pleaded with God.

I hoped that somehow our gifts of cake and presents wouldn’t be trivial and temporary, but would speak a lasting message: Afra, you are worthy of celebration.

There are 10 children that I would like to see sponsored in Mundalama, Sri Lanka. I’m hoping that you, dear blog readers, will join me and sponsor the children who live around Afra and go to school with her. Here they are:

If you decide to sponsor one of these children, please email me so that I can take him/her off the list.

Thanks for considering it. These children are worth it.


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