What a whirlwind.
Then, just yesterday, less than 48 hours later, World Vision reversed their decision, issuing an apology (mainly to their conservative constituency).
Several reports cite a nearly instantaneous loss of 2,000 child sponsorships when World Vision made the initial policy decision. That, along with the speed of this reversal, indicate that it was likely a matter of financial and organizational survival, not, as many conservative evangelicals are saying, a matter of conviction and repentance over theological sin.
But the much larger issue here, at least as I see it, is the damage inflicted on evangelicalism as a whole over the past few days. This has been an eruption of the Real. And while the fault lines have been rumbling over the last 5-10 years, we may have just experienced the Big One.
Nothing will ever be the same.
As Benjamin Corey so astutely demonstrated, World Vision’s initial decision produced such intense backlash from the conservative and fundamentalist segments of evangelicalism that nuanced/centrist, progressive, and emergence evangelicals were fully pushed out by the majority. It was nothing less than an excommunication. The “Farewell” was not fond – it was final. The mainly younger progressive camp was sent a decisive message: you are not True Evangelicals, you are probably not True Christians, you are no longer welcome. It was an act of ecclesiological alienation. Cut off.
But then came the reversal. And this is where the truly devastating damage occurs, in my view. For instead of this merely being a message from the conservative majority in response to a hopeful step for progressives, now that hopeful step was rescinded entirely, confirming the enduring political power that mainstream evangelicals hold. While debates up to this point had been about protecting children affected by the withdrawal of conservative funds, now it has been shifted right back to whether or not gay married couples (and their allies) can be truly Christian, evangelical, etc. And the importance of the conservative evangelical ideology on this matter has fully trumped the importance of widening the tent for the sake of local ecclesial discernment and greater kingdom impact in the world (i.e. feeding more children).
In other words, sacrifice has trumped mercy.
A friend and leading progressive evangelical voice tweeted this after the reversal:
I doubt she is alone in this, because it’s very clear that there is no longer any room for nuanced/centrist, progressive, or emergence expression in the evangelical tent.
Finally, to get some clarity on what is going on underneath this reversal, I asked this question on Facebook and Twitter: Do you think the World Vision reversal was based on money or repentance/theology?
The answers demonstrate the eruption of the Real, the big quake, the damage done:
So what say you? Have we just witnessed a large scale evangelical schism? Is there a way forward, or should those of us outside the conservative evangelical tent jettison the word entirely?