Thursday, March 27, 2014

Riding the World Vision Roller Coaster

I was all set to post something on the issues related to World Vision's move away from its evangelical commitments to allow "legally married" gay Christians to work for the organization, when yesterday they announced that they had made a great mistake, were rescinding their decision, and returning to a position in line with their own doctrinal statement This press report from World Magazine gives the details of that reversal, and this article from Christianity Today cites the Richard Stearns, President of World Vision's U.S. branch, in explaining the reversal.

On Facebook, I had expressed my disappointment at the initial decision, and then my happiness at the reversal. In both cases a few people disagreed, thinking that WV was only doing what was consistent with compassion, and now that they have reversed course, expressing the idea that we would rather see children starve than support any endorsement of gay marriage. Christian response against WV's decision was called "sinister and anti-evangelical" by one commenter.

Just to be clear: when asked, I never told anyone to stop supporting a child, but if they wanted to register their disapproval, to let World Vision know that support in the future for new children would be directed to ministries with a high priority on gospel proclamation, scriptural fidelity, and compassionate ministry to children and families. I stand by that advice.

There are other lessons to be learned in this; here are a few.

1. Bad decisions can be reversed, but consequences likely to endure. World Vision will suffer for their decisions, in many ways. My guess is that there has not yet been a widespread evangelical abandonment of children sponsored, and that most will continue to be cared for. Liberal (or "progressive" as they prefer to be known) voices were immediately raised in support of the initial decision and encouragements to donate followed. With the reversal, I wonder how many progressives will still want to feed the children through World Vision. Evangelical leaders, like Jim Daly from Focus on the Family and Leonard Wood, president of the Assemblies of God, have urged supporters to return to supporting World Vision. However, many evangelicals will be looking for other, more gospel-centered agencies, such as Compassion International. And "progressives" will be up in arms (and rightly so from their perspective) at the reversal. But is this "sinister and anti-evangelical?" How about "effective" and "expressive of evangelical priorities"--the gospel, scriptural fidelity, and compassion for the poor must be held together by all who claim to serve in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ. Let supporters of same sex marriage join in supporting children, just as they could and perhaps did before--no one is rejecting their gifts, only keeping them from serving within an evangelical ministry. Or, if they don't like World Vision's, or Compassion's, or the Salvation Army's, or Catholic Charities' views and hiring policies, let them start new agencies and multiply the effect. Christians I know are already returning to their sponsorships. But WV's own statement on the reversal says the original change was inconsistent with their own doctrinal statement.

2. Evangelicals have every right to expect ministries that they have brought into being to adhere to policies and practices that affirm the clear teaching of Scripture, and to express displeasure when those ministries disregard the Scriptures (and in World Vision's case, their own commitment to scriptural authority) for any reason. "Feeding the children" is not the essential message of the gospel, even though it is a necessary outworking of it in the lives of believers and the church. I'm not really worried that my "gay marriage affirming" friends (yes, I have a few of those) will think that I'd rather see children starve than help an agency that endorses gay marriage. They already think that. I won't ask them how many children they support with World Vision themselves, but I will say that I'm OK with evangelicals, within evangelical circles, having a say about the direction of those ministries they have begun and funded to be gospel-representing, Scripture-believing ministries within their spheres of concern. Evangelicals pressured an organization to remain faithful to its evangelical principles, and the organization responded. Would that more groups (and governments) would be as responsive to their stakeholders. Besides, has anybody done a more effective job using public outcry, financial pressures and boycotts to make their point than those who support same sex marriage?

3. Rethinking evangelical approaches to ministries of compassion is in order. Many of us prefer direct connection with workers we know and trust in places of great need who are doing laudable work among the poor, and not forgetting the gospel in the process. If you don't have such a connection, I can help you find one. When individuals and local churches here connect with local workers and churches nearest the need, Christian compassion can be a strong testimony to the message and power of the gospel. Sadly, World Vision has regularly gone beyond the need for sensitivity in their ministry within countries where gospel witness is frowned upon. They have gone so far as to put non-Christians in charge of projects, forbid Christian witness, and alienate local Christian churches and workers. Mention World Vision to local leaders I have met in various places in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia, and you hear two things--they don't help Christian witness and they have lots of money and spend accordingly.

4. Christians, we should expect more such controversies to come our way. The spirit of the age is one of "compassion above all" (defined as doing temporal good to others that makes you feel good about yourself), commitment to "kindness" (defined as rejecting any standard--including Scripture--that tells someone that their preferred way of thinking, believing, or acting is wrong), and the supremacy of contemporary thought (the belief that we are inherently smarter, wiser, and more perceptive than all those who have come before, meaning all "historic," "ancient," "long-standing," and worst of all, "traditional," views on a subject must fall before current beliefs and contemporary thinking and exegesis).

"Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." Paul told this to new churches in Asia Minor during his first missionary journey. Some of those would be created by leaders who emerge within the church, according to his warnings to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. Others would come through the hatred of the world, since they weren't crazy about Jesus and his followers. Let's do our best to endure well when faced with such trials, answer firmly, faithfully, and charitably when questioned or attacked, and realize that losing battles here isn't the final result.