When I think of World Vision and the monies Kris and I send to World Vision (and still will send should you care to know and we are thinking of adding to our support — and believe when I say I despise the culture wars and our support of WV has nothing to do with that), I think of words from the brother of Jesus at James 1:27, words that many of the critics of World Vision’s recent decision need to read with some integrity- and soul-searching:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
A brief commentary on the verse now. The word “religion” refers to what it obviously means; there’s nothing tricky. God the Father “accepts” (an inserted word by implication) this kind of religion. Or, The kind of religion that stands “pure and faultless” before our God and Father. And this good-before-God religion is what?
Notice what James does not say. For James the good-before-God religion is not a list of faith statements, even if the only one who can say “God the Father” is the one who embraces the Jesus of this book (“Lord of glory” in James 2:1) and that means the one who died and who was raised … even if implied James goes right to where he wants to go, and it is where many don’t want James to go:
“to look after orphans and widows in their distress”
The critics of World Vision, if the numbers are right, may be right in their own minds about what to believe, but they won’t be right before God if they lift those donations and don’t sink them into compassionate donations toward those in need in our world. And they are surely not right if they have merely taken an opportunity to pounce on brothers and sisters though they do not care about orphans and widows (this is not just about children, folks, it is about widows, the most neglected segment in the church today — read Miriam Neff’s book about widows, please).
Yes, many critics of World Vision will appeal to the last clause, a clause that says the kind of religion that stands before God the Father is about keeping “oneself from being polluted by the world.” But this clause does not sanctify what many think it sanctifies.
What is the world? In James that word will refer most especially to power-mongering, violence, and verbal assaults on one’s brothers and sisters. Notice James 1:19-21 and then 2:5 and 4:4 and especially James 3:13-15. James, as always, has much to say.
A good-before-God religion cares for the needy and eschews violence against one’s brothers and sisters.
You can see more of my thoughts on this passage in my commentary on James (The Letter of James, NICNT, Eerdmans).
Any inappropriate remarks about same-sex marriage will be deleted; this is a post about good-before-God religion and what it is, and what it is James defines. It’s a good word for today.