World Vision and Gay Christians

World Vision and Gay Christians March 27, 2014

Yes, I’m writing another post about World Vision (for my first two, see here and here). But bear with me, because I have a reason for doing so! I think we need to be very clear about what this moment is—and is not—about. Put simply, this is about whether one can legitimately be both openly and proudly gay and a Christian. For a brief moment, World Vision stated publicly that an individual could legitimately be both openly gay and truly a Christian, and evangelicals could not accept that. 

This isn’t actually about hiring practices. World Vision would not hire me, for example, because I could not affirm their statement of faith. According to the Supreme Court, religious organizations like World Vision are not subject to nondiscrimination laws. This is called the “ministerial exemption.” So yes, World Vision may legally require its employees to affirm its statement of faith and abide by its employee code of conduct. But this is all rather irrelevant, because what’s at issue is not whether World Vision can set their own requirements but rather what requirements they choose to set. (In case anyone is wondering, the law differs in other countries, and in those countries World Vision’s hiring policies differ.)

World Vision requires its employees to be Christians in good standing. However, because it is a parachurch organization, the organization does not take a position on various evangelical doctrinal disputes and instead leaves these differences up to individual churches. This includes things like infant baptism. When the organization changed its policy earlier this week, they made a deliberate choice to treat opposition to homosexuality as a doctrinal dispute. In other words, they determined that opposition to homosexuality was not a defining characteristic of Christianity but was instead, like infant baptism, a mere doctrinal disagreement.

This was about gay Christians. More specifically, this was about whether believing that the “homosexual lifestyle” is sin should be a litmus test for determining who is or is not a Christian.

Within mainstream Christianity, an increasing number of churches and individuals today advocate for equal rights for LGBTQ individuals and argue that there is nothing sinful or ungodly about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. And in recent years, some evangelicals have begun making this same journey. Most evangelicals, however, do not believe that it is possible to be both gay and Christian.

Yesterday, an evangelical Christian commenter on one of my posts about World Vision argued that the belief that homosexuality is sin is a part of Christianity. The idea that someone could be both gay and Christian was foreign to him. He argued that this was about gay activists trying to force World Vision to hire people who weren’t Christians—but that is not what this was about. This was about World Vision deciding, for a brief moment, that one could be both gay and Christian—something this commenter could not even grasp.

This isn’t a conflict between Bible-believing Christians on the one hand and gay people who reject the Bible and yet claim to be Christian on the other. It’s a conflict between two groups who both claim the title Christian and both claim that the Bible backs up their position. By and large, evangelicals don’t understand that. This is why so many evangelical leaders this week have quoted various Bible verses as though they are self-evident proof, apparently without realizing that gay Christians read those same verses and come to very different conclusions.

Evangelical Christians often insist that atheists know deep down that there is a God. This is of course untrue, but I see something similar going on here. Here, evangelical Christians insist that gay individuals who call themselves Christians know deep down that the Bible condemns homosexuality. This, also, is untrue. 

Evangelicals currently use opposition to homosexuality as a litmus test. This issue serves as a dividing line between Christian, and not Christian. But they are wrong. There is currently disagreement within Christianity, though evangelicals refuse to either see or accept that. For a brief moment, World Vision saw and accepted that, and evangelicals responded with horror and anger. The real losers here are gay Christians, and especially gay evangelicals. I grieve for how this must make them feel.

I honestly don’t know what will happen as time goes on. I’d like to think that evangelicals will be able to shift their theology and broaden their understanding of God, but I worry that they’ve dug in so far on this issue that they won’t be able to reverse course. I’ve heard some argue that it will be a good thing if evangelicals hang themselves on this issue, and consequently fade in to marginalization and obscurity. I’m not sure I can get on board with this, because evangelicalism has long proven to be more tractable than its critics expect, and because every gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender child growing up in an anti-gay evangelical home will face years of repression and self-loathing. I would much rather evangelicals change their position than otherwise, but I am increasingly skeptical that this will actually happen.

And World Vision’s about face hasn’t helped my optimism.

Disclaimer: Not all gay Christians approach individual Bible verses, the Bible as a whole, or Christianity in the same way. I am speaking principally of those gay Christians who view the Bible as inspired and spend time studying the context, culture, and original language of various key passages and of the Bible in general. 

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