Was World Vision rightly rebuked for their bizarre and contradictory public affirmation of same-sex marriage? The answer to the question is both “Yes” and “No.” Yes, they needed to be rebuked, but that doesn’t therefore mean all those that took it upon themselves to do the rebuking, did so with the right motives or in the Spirit of Christ. As I have read various responses on the blogosphere from across the spectrum, I have been struck by the viciousness of people’s remarks towards World Vision. It is indeed sad. However I have also been struck by the indifference and subdued reaction by leading Christians who felt World Vision should have been given a pass simply because of the nature of their work. Though I am a big fan of Scott McNight I believe his critique and response falls in this category.
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.
… 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 .
Now I do like what McNight does here with James in addressing the vicious vitriol that World Vision has received by alleged Christians. He is quite right about that. But he is wrong if he thinks James’s statement to “keep oneself unpolluted from the world” is primarily a reference to uncharitable, vicious, mean-spirited attacks on our brothers and sisters. This just isn’t correct. In James 1:14-22 he clearly has in mind sinful passions, moral filth and disobedience to God’s moral commandments and mandates (which would necessarily include prohibitions to engage in homosexual acts, making marriage out of the question.)
Moreover McNight is profoundly mistaken if he thinks World Vision’s near decision to approve of same-sex marriage (and thereby jettison God’s sacred vision of family) is less significant or secondary to World Vision’s humanitarian efforts on behalf of widows and orphans. On the surface it is understandable why one might think that if “widows and orphans” are being helped, then everything else must necessarily become secondary by default.
But this is not so–especially because of World Vision’s unique claim to be a para-church ministry. It is misnomer that “all sin is equal” in the eyes of God. Though we all may be equally in need of forgiveness and a Savior, there are certain sins and behaviors that are more of a threat to God’s created order than others. In particular God instituted both sex and marriage to exist in a sacred context for the betterment of humanity. We live in a day wherein that sacred context is not just being questioned but undermined from multiple directions. There exists a concerted attack by the enemy to subvert the very foundation of God’s creative genius in encapsulating the fragility of human life within the strong cords of marriage and family. To overthrow God’s genius and replace it with “what seems good to us” can only result in discord where there was once order.
As such this discord will spread and create more victims out of the most vulnerable–like the very orphans and widows World Vision seeks to aid. Sin is nothing less than behaviors and attitudes that lie outside God’s moral intuitions for the betterment of humanity. God in his wisdom informs us that the virus of sin can only be contained by repentance not redefinition.
Since World Vision’s decision would have made women and children even more vulnerable to a discordant, fallen world, then it matters little that their end goal is to ultimately alleviate the suffering of widows and orphans. Like a doctor with tuberculosis coughing all over his patients as he makes his rounds to treat them, World Vision would unwittingly be spreading a destabilizing, secular anthropology in the name of Christ. That’s the crucial point not to be missed. We cannot forget that World Vision markets itself as being the premier humanitarian arm of the Church. This is not an article that is trying to put that assessment in doubt. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence they do excellent work around the globe. But to intentionally subvert a core pillar of Christian anthropology through redefinition is to become a carrier of the very infection that creates scores of orphans and widows in the first place!
And that is the central thesis I am making. I believe many well-intentioned individuals have grossly miscalculated and underestimated what was truly at stake with World Vision’s decision (prior to its retraction) to affirm gay marriage as being within the scope of their biblically informed policy concerning marriage, fidelity and family.
Let us note that the ruin of any nation begins with the family.
Nothing less than a return to God’s glorious vision of family can heal the open wounds of a culture wherein orphans and widows are the collateral damage time and again. The Church has the only true anthropology for humanity and as such is its only hope. The social ills of our world are a result of successive generations willfully departing from God’s creational intention and sacred anthropology.
As someone who has worked with both orphans and widows in South East Asia for 6 years I can assure you that the majority of orphans and widows are a direct result of the systemic breakdown of the family– namely sexual promiscuity and fathers jettisoning their parental responsibilities and putting their wives and kids on life support. This in turn creates desperate poverty and greases the wheels for child-human trafficking.
I fully recognize that individuals like Scott McNight are opposed in principle to gay marriage on biblical grounds. Yet they seem to imply if people were to lift their donations due to World Vision’s seeming disregard of (biblically informed) sexual morality, that itself would be wrong.
Why? Once again the implied narrative is that humanitarian efforts trump sexual mores imbedded in Scripture. Well that may be true if one is already dealing with a secular organization that has no affinity to the Church and does not claim to speak for her. For example I would have no problem giving a donation to the Red Cross for tsunami relief no matter their standing on gay marriage. It just isn’t an issue. But again the Red Cross doesn’t proclaim to be the Church in action.
However World Vision does. And that’s the difference.
The Church and it’s para-church ministries are not only called to alleviate human suffering. They are called to be carriers of a Christian anthropology that recognizes that people are held captive to the lies of the Enemy from which many of the world’s social ills arise. They are called to bring a message of hope and healing in Christ that redeems, restores and realigns people as they are ushered into truth, light, justice and love. This is the Kingdom of God.
And sexual identity and conduct is not an issue on the peripheral fringe of the Kingdom. It lies at the core of the Christian ethos on what it means to be human and how we are to relate to each other. The Kingdom of God is identified by what it forbids just as much as by what it approves. We often forget that.
Furthermore we ought to clear up the misconception that someone’s sponsorship of a child goes directly to that child. That is not how it works. It goes into a pool. I don’t believe any child was actually dropped. Secondly those that I have read who did withdraw their support from World Vision did not subsequently pocket it. They reinstated it into organizations believed to be more consistent with biblical teaching. After all if World Vision is going to distinguish itself as being an extension of the Church in action, then they ought not take a position so clearly at odds with Scripture.
But the larger point is that money in the form of child sponsorships IS NOT the cure and never will be. Rather it is modeling God’s Kingdom revelation of how men and woman come together and stay together. It is reaching into broken lives and introducing them to a vision of what God intended FAMILY to be– for the sake of the next generation. I cant stress that enough.
As good as World Vision is on the humanitarian front, there is no denying they attempted to trade in God’s vision of family for one concocted and fabricated by un-renewed minds and self-centered hearts– earthly, worldly wisdom as James would no doubt put it. Any organization or church that does so will cease to be God’s agent of transformation. Instead they will enter into a work solely of rehabilitation. They will attempt to rehabilitate what is wrong, rather than transforming what is wrong into God’s Kingdom likeness.
People we cant rehabilitate what the Bible clearly tells us needs to be crucified– our passions, desires and natures that miss the mark of God’s ideal . World Vision wanted to make it easier for those outside the orbit of what God accepts as a family to be part of their worldly informed idea of what it means to a family. In turn they would be importing and disseminating a worldly-wise definition of family around the globe, but not a Godly wise one. As a friend once stated to me: “Things either promote the kingdom or they resist it.”
World Vision would have unwittingly become part of the very problem they are trying to alleviate. They were right to be called out for it. Does McNight not think James would have called them out too? Notice I said “called out.” I am not judging anyone for departing from them or sticking with them– that is not my place. But they definitely needed to be rebuked. As a fan of Scott McNight I am a little disappointed that he does not appear to discern how World Vision was almost co-opted by the Deceiver to subtlety attack the family as God intended it for the health of our world– and in so doing put at risk an even greater number of widows and orphans.
Same-sex marriage is nothing less than a deceptively subtle attack on the sacredness of family as God intended. We are talking i-beams people! Not wallpaper and trim. Let the secular world go about its way redefining and recasting humanity into its own image. But let it not be so with us the Church!
UPDATE: On the one hand I applaud World Visions president Richard Stearns for wanting to take a position that is fair and equal to all. But on the other hand, as a professed, evangelical Christian representing a Christian charity, he ought to know that not all actions and behaviors are equally endorsed in Scripture. This is not to say that World Vision or any Christian organization can’t hire persons who admit to same-sex attraction. Same-sex attraction is a state or an orientation. An individual can be a homosexual and still be a born-again Christian. The Bible only condemns homosexual acts. So whether it be genetic, developmental or a combination of both, homosexual attraction or orientation by itself is not sinful. However it is a defect and tells us something is amiss. The mere fact that it is impossible for any homosexual union to reproduce life should be the first tip-off that something is awry and ought not to be considered normative or healthy for human flourishing and family. All that to say the Church desperately needs to distinguish between homosexuality as a state or orientation and homosexual acts. To better understand the difference see the following article: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-christian-perspective-on-homosexuality
World Vision would have been better served if they simply released a statement saying they will hire homosexuals who choose not to act on their orientation for the sake of Christ. Such people do exist and see it as their present cross to carry. They ought to have an equal place of service in God’s Kingdom work. I would have applauded World Vision big time had they made such a policy qualification. But to approve of same-sex marriage is to endorse homosexual acts– acts that scripture clearly condemns.
Lastly I wholeheartedly welcome Richard Stearn’s humble retraction of World Vision’s short-lived policy mistake and applaud the genuine spirit of teachableness and humility he demonstrated in allowing their core values to be realigned by their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is my hope that God would use this experience to grow and expand World Vision’s capacity to be a torchbearer of the light of the Kingdom around the world.