The Right Lesson to Learn from the World Vision Kerfuffle

The Right Lesson to Learn from the World Vision Kerfuffle March 27, 2014

It’s been months since I’ve written a proper blog post, but the kerfuffle around World Vision draws me out of my cave.

I have a lot of sympathy for the leadership of World Vision. They are doing extraordinary, life-saving work. They are captaining a billion-dollar organization that’s global and complex and fraught with dangers on all sides. In the United States, they sought to take a position on same-sex marriage that would establish neutrality on a “culture war issue” in order to maintain the focus on their core work of saving and supporting the impoverished. I really get it.

I have a lot of sympathy for the people who were upset by their decision. And frankly I have a lot of sympathy too for the people who applauded the policy change and now find themselves mortified at the reversal. These are tough issues.

The core of the mistake, it seems to me, is precisely in regarding this as merely a “culture war issue.” When Richard Stearns addressed the Q Conference in Los Angeles in April, he pointed to Westboro Baptists as an example of “angry Christians protest[ing] gay marriage.” He then admonished Christians to be outraged by the right things. “As far as I know,” he said, “no one ever died of gay marriage.” That statement, I think, set off alarm bells amongst some Christian leaders, and that framed how they interpreted this change of policy. Even in the letters and phone calls and statements since the reversal, the leadership of World Vision has explained that they were trying to bracket a “culture war issue.”

That’s the problem right there. This is not a culture war issue. It’s much more than that.

It’s hard to imagine any issue more profoundly moral and theological than marriage. It’s hard to imagine anything more important to the cultivation of healthy societies than the cultivation of healthy marriages.

When Stearns and his team call it a “culture war” issue, that belittles the significance of the issue. It makes the people who work for healthy families (and therefore for healthy environments for children) feel that their labors are devalued. And it shows, I think, a limited engagement with scripture and the theological tradition on the issue as well as a shortsighted vision of God’s redemption of the world. It’s extraordinarily important to serve the poor. Putting food in the mouths of children who would otherwise starve is sacred and eternally significant work.

But it’s also extraordinarily important to strengthen families so that fewer people will be poor in the first place. It’s also extraordinarily important to speak for God’s truth and the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that more people — rich and poor alike — can enjoy a reconciled relationship with God forever. And it’s also extraordinarily important to uphold the truths and values of God, because people who embrace anything short of that are, ultimately, embracing self-destruction.

It feels as though Stearns and team, regrettably, have bought just a little into the left’s narrative that feeding the poor is driven by compassion while fighting for a biblical model of marriage is driven by anger.

It’s simply not so. God loved humanity enough to give us the sacrament of marriage. We should love enough to give that sacrament to one another. And when a secular and skeptical society raises the cost of standing up for the truth about marriage, we should love enough to stand up for the truth anyway. Not because we’re angry. Not because we’re hateful. But because we want the best for people.

At that talk at Q, Stearns went on to say: “We’ve got to see the world as God sees it. We need to love what Jesus loves, we need to value what he values. And we need to let our heart be broken by the things that break his heart.”

To which I say: Just so.

And to Mr Stearns, offered in all humility: You are loved. You are respected. You do the Lord’s work. I will still give to children through World Vision. But the lesson here is not that “There’s no escaping culture war issues.” The lesson is, “This was not merely a culture war issue. This too is core. This too is sacred, significant, and compassionate.” It’s not your mission, but it’s a worthy mission. Your brothers and sisters who stand up for God’s model of marriage are doing the Lord’s work too.

Pax Christi.

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